This post is actually an experiment. In my work as a translator there is something done sometimes called “back-translation”, which means that you translate a text from a language into another, and then the text is translated back into the original language, in order to see the degree of change suffered by the message due to the process of translating it.

In the following lines, what I did was to take the “translation” done by Ravel of Louis Bertrand’s “Scarbo” from his amazing “Gaspard de la nuit”, and I translated it back from the language of music into that of words, using for that my own perception of Ravel’s splendid fantasy. The original text is this:


Il regarda sous le lit, dans la
cheminée, dans le bahut;–personne.
Il ne put comprendre par où il s’était
introduit, par où il s’était évadé.

HOFFMANN.–_Contes nocturnes_.

Oh! que de fois je l’ai entendu et vu, Scarbo, lorsqu’à minuit la lune
brille dans le ciel comme un écu d’argent sur une bannière d’azur semée
d’abeilles d’or!

Que de fois j’ai entendu bourdonner son rire dans l’ombre de mon alcôve,
et grincer son ongle sur la soie des courtines de mon lit!

Que de fois je l’ai vu descendre du plancher, pirouetter sur un pied et
rouler par la chambre comme le fuseau tombé de la quenouille d’une

Le croyais-je alors évanoui? le nain grandissait entre la lune et moi,
comme le clocher d’une cathédrale gothique, un grelot d’or en branle à
son bonnet pointu!

Mais bientôt son corps bleuissait, diaphane comme la cire d’une bougie,
son visage blémissait comme la cire d’un lumignon,–et soudain il

The piece of music into which it was “translated” and from which I translated it back is the following, in the exquisite interpretation of Valentina Lisitsa:

And the outcome of this little “experiment” of mine is this:


wake up
moving like
zombie puppets –
don’t you see? –
they tremble, shiver,
your prancing hurts
their silence,
your laughter bursts much
too heavy for them –
they crash,
commanded to insanity by your frenzy,
fiend jumping – cavorting –
pinching night’s folds and knitting braids from breaths of wind
only to snap with them against sweating walls –
it’s black where you come from –
twisted, mind grabs bits of reality and
shoves them all together
in a bucket of tenebrae –
grim is your touch, swirling within night’s guts,
caustic – your whisper chars the shadows –
it’s dark and slimy where you come from –
your name cloaks inside it
the same slur and vertigo as that
from inside the heart of fear –
strings vomit sounds contorted just like your limbs,
you toss and turn the coins of fate
and upside down the room spins,
keys scream, sounds twitch
and uncontrollable bursts of hysteria erase
the purity of darkness –
sounds freezing their way up to the ears
lash the very shell
meant to shelter their terror,
shades of your grin bend,
like darkling tentacles,
all over the mesh of phantasms
and flesh shudders under the whip of your wicked games –
it’s gloomy and frightful where you come from,
black gnome,
Scarbo, you, who hold on the ring of your name
the keys of fears…


© Liliana Negoi

Now, as for how well I managed to sway between the two languages, that of music and that of words, it is up to each reader’s taste and power of understanding :).

2 Responses to “Scarbo”
  1. granbee says:

    “Sounds freezing their way up to the ears”–this is what happened when I tried to once again play the piano after some severe injuries to ALL my connective tissues in the left side of my body, almost from head to toe. This was years ago. I had almost forgotten, until I read your post. I really believe this will be very beneficial to my continue healing processes, especially the mental and spiritual aspects thereof.

  2. I love how adventurous you are and experimental with your works! to translate back from music – how clever and synaesthetic – I think you did very well with this and the resulting poem was brilliant, love the opening lines “keys
    wake up
    moving like
    zombie puppets –
    don’t you see? –
    they tremble, shiver,
    your prancing hurts
    their silence,” and “sounds freezing their way up to the ears
    lash the very shell
    meant to shelter their terror,” – nice work!

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