English translation


She looked rather cute, Lily
She came from Somalia, Lily
in a ship full of immigrants
who all came willingly
to sweep the streets of Paris.
She thought we were all equal, Lily,
in Voltaire and Hugo's country, Lily,
yet on Debussy's keyboard still
white keys outweight black ones1,
that's quite a difference.
She loved freedom so much, Lily,
she dreamed of brotherhood, Lily,
a hotel clerk in Secrétan street
made it clear to her that coloured people
were not welcome here.
She hauled crates, Lily,
she did all the dirty works, Lily,
she barks to sell her cauliflowers
while in the street her coloured brothers
accompany her on their jackhammers.
And when they called her Snowwhite, Lily,
she did not fall for the old trick, Lily,
she found it quite amusing,
though she had to grit her teeth,
she would not give them the satisfaction.
She met a handsome blond guy, Lily,
who would gladly have married her, Lily,
but the stepfamily said "we are
anything but racist, still
that kind does not belong here".
She had a go at America, Lily,
this great democratic country, Lily,
she had to see with her own eyes
that the color of despair
was black even there.
Now in a meeting in Memphis, Lily,
she met Angela Davis, Lily,
who said "come, little sister
together we are less frightened.
of the wolves circling the trapper2".
So it is to soothe her fear, Lily,
that she too raises an angry fist, Lily,
among all these crackpots
who burn to the ground
these white-only busses.
Still, amidst your daily strife, Lily,
you will meet a good man, Lily,
and the child who will be born someday
will be the color of love
that nothing can reach.
She looked rather cute, Lily
She came from Somalia, Lily
in a ship full of immigrants
who all came willingly
to sweep the streets of Paris.
  • 1. lit. "you need two quarter notes to make a half note". Quarter notes are called "black" and half notes "white" in French
  • 2. I find the metaphor rather strange, picturing the victims as hunters and the oppressors as wolves
Do whatever you want with my translations. I'm not rich enough to sue you anyway.
Submitted by petit élève on Sat, 14/09/2013 - 17:30
Added in reply to request by idemi
Last edited by petit élève on Thu, 20/08/2015 - 13:51


More translations of "Lily"
French → English - petit élève
Please help to translate "Lily"
michealt    August 19th, 2015

Line 5: "cleanup" is a noun; the verb is "clean up" - a phrasal verb, so you can put the direct object after the preposition (high register) or between simple verb and the preposition (low register).
With "trash" as direct object this would mean "make the worthless things clean" (includes editing any low quality literature as well as washing dirty cars and bowdlerising bad pornography) or "forcibly wash the worthless or disreputable people" or even "clean the domestic refuse" but none of these meanings implies permanently removing the trash - they just leave the city with polished trash instead of dirty trash. So "clean up" is the wrong verb, you probably mean "clear up": one of the meanings of "clear the trash up" is "tidy the trash away" and that could mean that the trash was taken away to be disposed of.
The French words are explicit: the emigrants are willing to empty bins; this doesn't include moving any trash which isn't in bins, so "clear the trash up" implies doing more than the French suggests; but maybe that's taking the French too literally.
Lines 14 & 15. Isn't "en arrivant" sufficiently significant to be worth translating? It seems relevant that the prejudice is made clear from the very start (that's what I take "en arrivant" to mean). Also, most people from Somalia are "coloured" rather than "black" (less than 15% are "black") so switching from "whites only" to "no blacks" is inaccurate (in British English people with the same skin colour as negroes who are not actually negroes - many Indians, Sri-Lankans, and Africans - are not called "blacks" but "coloureds").
line 20: "play along" is the wrong verb here. They are not agreeing (or pretending to agree) with their jackhammers, or complying with their jackhammers, or co-operating (or pretending to co-operate) wih their jackhammers - after "play along with" you need a person or collection of people, or a plan or intention, or a regulation or law. You could say "played along with her while operating their jack hammers" but that's pretty clumsy. "Accompanied her on their jack hammers" is a literal translation of the French and probably the best way to say it in English.
lines 28 and 30: you've translated treating "lui dit" as meaning "lui dit à elle"; when I read it I thought it meant "lui dit au beau blond frisé". "ça" in line 30 fits with either interpretation, could be translated as "your kind" or "her kind" or "miscengeny" or even literally ("that") . Which do you think is more likely? Or should you retain the ambiguity by using "that" instead of "your kind" and treating "on ne veut pas de" as "we don't want any of" instead of "does not belong"? I think that your version, in losing the ambiguity, is suffering from the famous "foreign language syndrome" - avoiding a literal translation even when it's the best option because "it must be incorrect because it's a foreign language" (maybe some of that in line 5 too). (I suffer badly from that syndrome myself, especially in translating in either direction between Gaelic and English and to a lesser extent with other languages; I'm told it's pretty universal and is the biggest problem that simultaneous interpreters have to overcome to become competent.)
Line 40: I don't like "lurk around" here, but I'don't know why - it certainly isn't actually incorrect; "lie in wait for" might be better, or even "threaten".
Line 46: "among" followed by a singular noun (as opposed to a collective or a plural) is extremely rare and most native speakers of English will never have heard or seen it and will believe it is incorrect is they do see it; and although it can be used with a singular noun representing a composite it's probably stretching things too far to suggest that "strife" is a composite of many strivings (most people, even those who know that "among" can be used with a singular composite, won't accept that this is correct usage). If you want to avoid using "in", the alternative is "amidst" (the "a" of "amidst" can be replaced by "'", or in contexts where it's obvious that the word is a preposition rather than a noun the "a" can be left off without any "'" to mark the omission).

Only those 6 points of concern - your English is clearly a good deal better than my French!

petit élève    August 19th, 2015

Many thanks for this thorough and enlightening proofreading.
This song uses a relatively neutral register, so it did not stretch my English too much. I'm sure you can find plenty of other translations where I was not so lucky.

clear up trash in Paris -> that's a mistake I won't make again, hopefully

en arrivant -> this does not add much to the meaning IMO. At most it could mean "right from the start", but the context makes it already pretty clear she did not stay for long! I suppose it is there more for form than sense.

play along -> I probably got confused with "sing along", but for "play" the meaning is indeed quite different.

la belle-famille lui dit "nous ne sommes pas racistes..." ->
What made you think they could be talking to the guy?
As I see it, "stepfamiliy" makes it clear the handsome guy's parents are talking to her

on ne veut pas de ça chez nous -> that's a typical racist saying. Using the neutral pronoun to designate persons is very contemptuous. Here "ça" clearly is an euphemism for "wogs". That's why I tried to rephrase it.
Still I agree rephrasing should be used with caution, however tempting might the prettification be :).

"les loups qui gettent le trappeur" -> Your remark led me to read the French more carefully.
The metaphor is rather weak with white men as the wolves, since it puts the victims in the role of the hunter, which rather symbolizes agression.
Still "on a peur des loups" makes it pretty obvious the frightening wolves must be white men.
What might be happening here is that the two lines are different sentences.
1) together we're less afraid
2) (we will be like) wolves waiting to jump on the hunter
but that would be a rather convoluted way of saying things.
So I decided to stick with the obvious interpretation, though I feel a bit disappointed with Perret on this one Wink smile
All this being said, I racked my brains to find a noncommital equivalent indicating a menacing attitude. I came up with "circling". What do you think?

among / amidst -> these plural forms are one of these English subtelties I find difficult to tame. I'll try to remember that one.
Considering the register somewhere between neutral and literary, I would pick the unshortened "amidst". Does that seem OK to you?

michealt    August 19th, 2015

You still have "cleanup" in the last line - perhaps I should have pointed out that the verse was repeated.

And I genuinely think that this line (in both positions) would be better with the literal translation "to empty the dustbins in Paris"; in the UK the people who do this are not called "refuse operators" (that's what some American bureaucrats call them), they are called "binmen" or "dustbin men" (no-one but a local government bureaucrat ever calls them anything else, and even they use "binmen" as often as they use "refuse collectors") so you can see that bin (pourbelle) is a key word in the usual description of this activity. Street sweeper is a different job and "clear up trash" really describes that job, while the French clearly refers not to that but to emptying bins. But literal accuracy is not essential here, even something totally unconeected like "wash dishes" would make the point that they were willing to accept a low caste job, so if you prefer "clear up trash" it's fine.

Amidst is pretty neutral, it's used both in everyday speech and in literary stuff, and is the original form of teh preposition; midst arose as a contraction of it about contraction of it that has been current for the last 400 years or maybe a bit longer - it's used much less than amidst; 'midst is a form created by 18th or 19th century pendants who thought that a well established several hundred year old contraction was unacceptable because it didn't indicate the contraction with ', and is still used by some people (pedants - we'll never be rid of them). All three forms are pretty neutral as to register. Midst is also a noun: amidst originally came from something like "on middese" in early Old English and as well as collapsing into a single word and acquiring the final t at some point in the Middle English or early Modern english period that phrase has survived and it's now "in the midst of" which can be used instead of "amidst" when extra syllables are required for metre.

stepfamily - I don't agree, I recall this sort of thing happening in the 60s and usually the racist parents would try to persuade their son (or daughter) to call it off rather than approach the person they didn't want in the family (of course I heard stories of rich families buying the unwanted partner off with lots of cash, but most families can't afford that). Maybe it's different now (half a century makes a difference) or maybe these things are done differently in France - I don't know.

"I'm sure you can find plenty of other translations where I was not so lucky."
I've looked at a couple of other translations, and for one English to French translation (White People for Peace) I found myself happy with your French but wanting to correct the abysmally clumsy English in the original song. And the other English to French one I looked at had only one thing I commented on.

petit élève    August 20th, 2015

"vider les poubelles" is indeed what assumed racists would call "un travail d'Arabe". The archetype of the dirty, low paid job. If there is a similar expression in English, I think that would be the best choice here.

Racism has been openly debated for the last 30 years or so, so this conflict between parents and son did not seem likely to me in the present context. Now this song was written in 1977, so your point is more than valid. I'll change for a more neutral formulation.

I translate mostly requests and weird things, with the idea that an imposed subject or an unusual text will do more good to my English (or my Russian for that matter, at a much lower level). I especially like English written by non-natives. You can sometimes trace idioms from other languages. That's kind of fun, but I suppose proofreading all this might be a bit tedious.
Hidden among all these industrial lyrics (or amidst this industrial production ;)), I have a few songs or singers I quite liked that proved rather difficult: Piaf, more Piaf (she got a lot of requests lately), Brel, Brassens, Cabrel, Fauve ≠ (warning: explicit language!) or this UFO I translated on demand. Very depressing, but I found the French quite elegant.
If you care to have a look at any of these I'll be grateful for your insights.

michealt    August 20th, 2015

The expression that is closest in connotation (dirty, low paid, appropriate for wogs) would be "to sweep the streets of Paris".