Return to Speak White (idea)

[October 16, 2012|16/10/2012]: I originally had a go at translating this in response to someone's posting of the original and a predictably disastrous [babelfish]ed Englishing of it, many years ago. I've tweaked it a few times since. There was a note on the background to the poem which I shall replicate [when I get a round tuit|in the fullness of time]; in the interim you might want to take a look at the short film featuring a reading of the poem which can be found on [|YouTube] and the original text which can be found [|here].

Speak White

Speak white
It sounds so good when you
Speak of Paradise Lost
And of the gracious and anonymous profile that trembles
In Shakespeare's sonnets

We're an uncultured stammering race
But we are not deaf to the genius of a language
Speak with the accent of Milton and Byron and Shelley and Keats
Speak white
And forgive us our only answer
Being the raucous songs of our ancestors
And the sorrows of [Émile Nelligan|Nelligan]

Speak white

Talk about this and that
Tell us about [Magna Carta]
Or the [Lincoln Memorial]
The grey charm of the [Thames]
The pink waters of the [Potomac]
Tell us about your traditions
As a people we don't really shine
But we're quite capable of appreciating
All the significance of [crumpet]s
Or the [Boston Tea Party]

But when you really speak white
When you get down to brass tacks

To talk about gracious living
And speak of standing in life
And the [Great Society]
A bit stronger then, speak white
Raise your foremen's voices
We're a bit hard of hearing
We live too close to the machines
And we only hear the sound of our breathing over the tools.

Speak white and loud
So that we can hear you
From St-Henri to St-Domingue
What an admirable tongue
For hiring
Giving orders
Setting the time for working yourself to death
And for [the pause that refreshes]
And invigorates the dollar

Speak white
Tell us that God is a great big shot
And that we're paid to trust him
Speak white

Talk to us about production profits and percentages
Speak white
It's a rich langauge
For buying
But for selling
But for selling your soul
But for selling out

Speak white
Big deal

But to tell you about
The eternity of a day on strike
To tell the story of
How a race of servants live
But for us to come home at night
At the time that the sun snuffs itself out over the backstreets
But to tell you yes that the sun is setting yes
Every day of our lives to the east of your empires
There's nothing to match a language of swearwords
Our none-too-clean [parlure]
Greasy and oil-stained.

Speak white
Be easy in your words
We're a race that holds grudges
But let's not criticize anyone
For having a monopoly
On correcting language

In Shakespeare's soft tongue
With the accent of Longfellow
Speak a pure and atrociously white French
Like in [Dien Bien Phu|Vietnam], like in the [Patrice Lumumba|Congo]
Speak impeccable [German]
A yellow star between your teeth
Speak [Russian] speak call to order speak repression
Speak white
It is a universal language
We were born to understand it
With its teargas words
With its nightstick words

Speak white
Tell us again about [Freedom] and [Democracy]

We know that [liberty] is a black word
Just as poverty is [negro|black]
And just as blood mixes with dust in the steets of [The Battle of Algiers|Algiers]
And [Little Rock]

Speak white
From Westminster to Washington take it in turn
Speak white like they do on [Wall Street]
White like they do in [Watts riots|Watts]
Be civilized
And understand us when we speak of circumstances
When you ask us politely
How do you do
And we hear you say
We're doing all right
We're doing fine
Are not alone

We know
That [we are not alone]

[Michèle Lalonde], 1970, translated [Albert Herring], 2001–2012

Caveats: (a) I translate for a living, but more user manuals, position papers and contracts than poetry, and more often out of European French than québecois, and (b) it's a first draft, which I am putting up for feedback, particularly in case I have misrepresented any spécificités québecoises. The bilingualism of the poem is a translation issue in itsself, particularly when working into the [English|oppressor language]. I have chosen to mark the English in the original in whatever form your browser displays the [|<EM>] tag. "Se vendre" can be to sell (well) of an object, to sell out (like a bad punk band), or to sell oneself, which is why I took the possibly dubious liberty of using two different versions when the French just repeats itself. Thanks to [Eco] for the heads up about the [Coke] ad; /msg me with any nagging doubts or suggestions.

Translation copyright Roger Hughes, 2003-1012 - I would appreciate a credit if you use it.

For a not dissimilar complaint from within the English-speaking world, I recommend [Tony Harrison]'s [|Them & [uz]].