Le Vol arrêté (English translation)

English translationEnglish

Struck Down Mid-Flight

Versions: #1#2
Like a fruit fallen before it could ripen,
blame it on men or on the wind,
like a man knowing as he dies
he'll never again have the time
One more day and he could have sung,
blame it on fate or on bad luck,
blame it on these long broken strings,
silence will be his only tune.
No matter if he starts singing,
no one will ever come to dance
No one will ever sing along.
He will have finished nothing
except for this wound in his heart
and this life.
Why oh why, somebody tell me why
the ball should be over so soon.
It's always birds, never bullets
that get struck down mid-flight
Like these long drawn evening quarrels,
blame it on the night or the booze
that will vanish without a trace
except some dog-ends on the floor.
And yet he was eager to strike,
blame it on the knife or on fear,
He'll end up having drawn no blood,
only some sweat, and not for long.1
He who yearned to know all,
will fail even to see it.
And yet he overflowed with love
for the one he would not have left.
He returned his boat to the port2
without kissing nor touching her,
still he thought of her till he died.
Why oh why, somebody tell me why
the ball should be over so soon.
It's always birds, never bullets
that get struck down mid-flight
He wrote like one escapes a trap,
blame it on the sun or the woes,
but as he used snow for paper,
all his thoughts melted in the spring.
And when snow covered his page,
blame it on the fog or winter,
he stopped writing and boldly tried
to catch the snowflakes in the air.
But now it is too late to start.
He will never enter the race
His only memory will be
the tune he sang before the fight,
an escapee who would never
reach his goal.
Why oh why, somebody tell me why
the ball should be over so soon.
It's always birds, never bullets
that get struck down mid-flight
It's always birds, never bullets
that get struck down mid-flight
  • 1. this stanza is passably obscure. I tried to produce consistent English, but the original sounds odd. I had to guess what the author meant
  • 2. The wording is strange. The Russian equivalent of "barque" (лодка) is used in the expression equivalent to "be in the same boat", but that does not translate well into French (the expression uses "bateau" instead of "barque"). A "barque" can be a small rowing boat typically used for a romantic trip on a lake, or a somewhat bigger variant for fishing. "port" hints at fishing, "rendu" sounds like the boat was rented or borrowed, a strange thing to say here. I think the idea would be to row back to shore, cutting short a romantic boating trip, and "step off the boat", leaving the girl out to dry, for no apparent reason :)
thanked 10 times

Do whatever you want with my translations.
They no more belong to me than the air I breathe.

Submitted by silencedsilenced on Sun, 22/11/2020 - 03:08
Added in reply to request by JadisJadis
Last edited by silencedsilenced on Tue, 24/11/2020 - 14:18
Author's comments:



Le Vol arrêté

Translations of "Le Vol arrêté"
English silenced
Please help to translate "Le Vol arrêté"
silencedsilenced    Sun, 22/11/2020 - 03:16

[@jadis] Désolé, je ne pense pas être capable de faire rimer ça. Si j'essaye, ça va probablement tout bousiller.
Mais je prends toutes les suggestions, bien sûr.
Et je serais ravi que quelqu'un fasse mieux, c'est une si belle chanson.

silencedsilenced    Sun, 22/11/2020 - 03:47

I purposely refrained from looking at it, I'd rather try to fix my attempt without unwittingly plagiarizing others.
But Batay is a top notch translator, I have no doubt he did a great job.

JadisJadis    Sun, 22/11/2020 - 07:26

Ça me semble très bien, merci.

silencedsilenced    Sun, 22/11/2020 - 07:56

Chouette ! Je vais pouvoir aller lire la version de Batay alors ?
Pas de regrets, hein ! Après l'avoir lue je n'oserai plus toucher à la mienne.

silencedsilenced    Sun, 22/11/2020 - 17:47

[@Gavin] care for more on demand proofreading? I love this song and would like to do it justice. Rhymes are well out of reach, but I'd like to streamline it a bit, especially these complicated French tenses. I didn't dare tinker with them too much but I suspect they could be simplified.

BratBrat    Sun, 22/11/2020 - 18:15

Looking forward to receiving a NO (native's opinion) from Gavin? OK, I see a couple of spots where he could apply his nitpicking skills. Regular smile

silencedsilenced    Sun, 22/11/2020 - 18:17

You're obviously welcome to join, bro. That goes without saying.

GavinGavin    Mon, 23/11/2020 - 14:54

Sure I'll see what I can suggest. As usual you've already done a fine job!

he ran forever out of time - He'll never again have the time / His time has run out

Only the birds, not the bullets - It's always the birds, never the bullets (...that get shot down mid-flight)

He'd have wanted to know it all, he didn't even see it all. - He who wanted to know everything, won't even be able to see it all.
that sounds a bit awkward might be better a bit more loosely translated:

-He who yearned to know all, will fail even to see it

But it's too late now for a start - just 'to start' - 'a start' means a shock Regular smile

(Sounds like he missed the starting gun)

For only memory he'll leave - His only memory will be

Other than that it's all good - I would be tempted to maybe strip some of the compound tenses back a bit - English is a lot less fussy about this that French (and maybe Russian)

Regular smile

silencedsilenced    Tue, 24/11/2020 - 11:22

Fancy that! The thought never crossed my mind, but indeed the Pink Floyd tackled the same theme in the same era.
One of their very best, and incredibly there is no French translation around yet. I haven't been as fortunate since Anarchy in the UK and Enola Gay. I can't believe my luck. What a glorious day Teeth smile

Russian has simple tenses, closer to English than French. It's just Le Forestier choosing to speak after the guy kicked the bucket. It's "past / future in the past" from end to end. Naively translated that should be crawling with "would do"s and "will not have done"s Regular smile

I tried to stick to 8 syllables per line, but poetry is definitely not my thing.
"He who yearned to know all, will fail even to see it" is 7/7 (if I'm not mistaken!) but that's OK I guess

I'd like to fit this weird image of birds and bullets into the pattern, but I can't see a replacement for "struck down in mid-flight". That leaves only one syllable for "get". What would you suggest?

"il n'aura jamais rien fini" applies to his song and his life, and also this wound in his heart, but that one sounds a bit odd in French.
I'm not sure what verb would best cover the three. "achieve" might not work terribly well with the "and his life" that is supposed to be the dramatic end of the 1st part. What do you think?

I've cleaned up a couple of convoluted tenses, do you see more lines that could be simplified?

GavinGavin    Mon, 23/11/2020 - 19:28

I'm surprised too that nobody has picked that one up yet, it's certainly one of their best. Glad it's gone to a worthy scholar Regular smile

I don't quite understand the syllable count - "Struck down in mid-flight" is five syllables right? Do you need more or less here?
Excuse me - I'm not much copy at poetry either Regular smile

For ""il n'aura jamais rien fini" I see the problem....maybe it's best to use the direct translation here "He will have finished nothing..."
That works just as well in English as French
Regular smile

silencedsilenced    Mon, 23/11/2020 - 19:34

No no, my explanations were very confusing. If you listen to the song you'll see this line has 6 syllables. It's not a 8 syllables pattern all the way.
c'est les oiseaux (4) / jamais les balles (4) // qu'on arrête en plein vol (6)

Right, "finish" it is then. "achieve" is one of my pet words, you know, like "soar" instead of "fly" and "shall/should" instead of "if" Teeth smile

GavinGavin    Mon, 23/11/2020 - 19:52

Ah I see! Just lose the "in" then, it's not necessary - "That get shot down mid-flight" - 6 right? Regular smile

achieve is usually a good choice - just not for this dual meaning you need here Teeth smile

silencedsilenced    Mon, 23/11/2020 - 20:07

Just the kind of thing I wouldn't dare try without a native to catch me when I fall...
We still have a problem upstairs: "It's always the birds(5), never the bullets(5)"
Would "It's always birds, never bullets" work?

silencedsilenced    Mon, 23/11/2020 - 20:16

ping! (see my edit above)

GavinGavin    Mon, 23/11/2020 - 20:18

yep - all good! Teeth smile

silencedsilenced    Mon, 23/11/2020 - 20:21

Alright, that should be it, or did I miss something?

GavinGavin    Mon, 23/11/2020 - 20:36

Looks dandy! Regular smile

BratBrat    Tue, 24/11/2020 - 03:59
silenced έγραψε:

Right, "finish" it is then. "achieve" is one of my pet words, you know, like "soar" instead of "fly" and "shall/should" instead of "if" Teeth smile

I myself thought about
''completed''. Teeth smile

silencedsilenced    Tue, 24/11/2020 - 04:04

"complete one's life"? Sounds like a lot of hard work Regular smile

BratBrat    Tue, 24/11/2020 - 06:42
silenced έγραψε:

"complete one's life"? Sounds like a lot of hard work Regular smile

Ha-ha-ha, that might be your gamer soul serving you well. Teeth smile All in all, leaving aside these complicated tenses, the song itself does resemble a gameplay, presenting a set of scenes and levels.

silencedsilenced    Tue, 24/11/2020 - 11:37

The tenses are alien to English, but they sound very natural in French. The mix of well-written French (Le Forestier is not just any pen pusher) and raw Russian thrown in by Vysotsky gives it a unique flavour. All in all, quite appropriate to this kind of bizarre eulogy. Scenes from the life of a doomed poet. The boat rowing back to port and the knife fight are a bit messy and passably cryptic, but the rest is perfectly ok to my French ears.
Not to mention Vysotsky's performance.

BratBrat    Tue, 24/11/2020 - 16:13
silenced έγραψε:

Le Forestier is not just any pen pusher

He did his best to exploit the theme of those Russian ''не до'' constructions, because French makes it possible, as I can judge. However, in English the overall sense deviates from the original idea expressed in Russian much more than from what was written in French even if the most fitting tenses are used.

silencedsilenced    Tue, 24/11/2020 - 16:23

What would you suggest to get closer to the original meaning? At least to the French if not to the Russian

BratBrat    Tue, 24/11/2020 - 16:49

I've seen a good English translation of the Russian song, it is on a remote site
There the translator tries to render the author's intention in several different ways. We can look and choose, and appreciate...

I liked best the following line:
And yet he never quite arrived...

silencedsilenced    Tue, 24/11/2020 - 17:21

To be honest my Russian is too weak to get the original to the full, but this English stands on its own as a nice piece of poetry. Clearly the Russian song is completely different from this version. Maybe not like oranges and apples, rather oranges and lemons. You can't fault a lemon for being a strange hue of orange.

BratBrat    Tue, 24/11/2020 - 17:09

I'm afraid, this is the finest precision one can get translating such a song. Though you may browse through a dozen of other versions on the site and make your own conclusions.

silencedsilenced    Tue, 24/11/2020 - 17:14

You mean the Russian song? Of course. This is just a different song. Far better than anything that would have tried to stick to the original, in my opinion.

BratBrat    Tue, 24/11/2020 - 17:31
silenced έγραψε:

You mean the Russian song? Of course. This is just a different song. Far better than anything that would have tried to stick to the original, in my opinion.

You see, that Vysotsky's idea of ''not full, not quite, not yet, etc.'' being the core of the poetic fruit proved to hardly survive after FR-EN translation. Then it's a good idea to have a look on what other translators made out of the original song using English as a target language. Just for the sake of curiosity. Teeth smile

silencedsilenced    Tue, 24/11/2020 - 17:50

I like the way Le Forestier used the "blame it on this or that" pattern. It's nothing like the "do" pun (good luck to translate this one!) but it works very well. And the chorus is just great. It's unidiomatic French, the metaphor is weird and it has nothing to do with the original, but it works like a charm.

The weak part is the two stanzas in which I've put notes, in my opinion. They grab bits of the original story, but the girl is no longer a central element, just a guest star in one stanza, so there is no real reason for the fight. And this boat story is nigh incomprehensible.

BratBrat    Tue, 24/11/2020 - 18:20

BTW, have you noticed the text in grey following the main song text on The song has a longer variant involving an under-ice race. No boat is mentioned though. I think, it stands for the silver landau. A vessel is a bit more romantic than a vehicle, isn't it?

silencedsilenced    Tue, 24/11/2020 - 18:45

Well, the Russian has its share of surreal situations already. Writing on the snow, gobbling snowflakes, so why not a little race under a frozen lake... Regular smile
It's a tough nut to crack, from whichever side you look at it.

Pinchus ZelenogorskyPinchus Zelenogorsky    Mon, 23/11/2020 - 19:43

Похоже, французский текст довольно сильно отличается от русского, да?

silencedsilenced    Mon, 23/11/2020 - 19:58

Absolutely. The songs have some images in common but the story is completely rewritten.
Basically what you would call a "translation" while I call that a "poem inspired by a song".
Except for once it goes from Russian to French Regular smile

silencedsilenced    Tue, 24/11/2020 - 18:39

Vysotsky agreed to sing this version too, and he had a say in the lyrics for sure. It's a different song with the same music and a couple common images, that's all. Like Sinatra's "If you go away" vs Brel"s "Ne me quitte pas" (you'll have to take my word for it, Brel's lyrics are forbidden to the poor).

SchnurrbratSchnurrbrat    Tue, 24/11/2020 - 18:43

The original by VSV is one tough song to translate M,R. The are so many contracted sentences in the original, I want to translate it, but it scares me a lot. Such songs are better be translated by English natives who could get help from Russian natives.
Edit: @Brat "grey text" is almost everywhere on the abovementioned website, some stanzas were not recorded, but he also worked on the texts after songs were recorded too.

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