Texts & Translation

װינטער פֿאַרנאַכט

Soir d’hiver

Émile Nelligan

Translation by Sebastian Schulman

INTRODUCTION

There is an old trope that Cana­di­an and Québé­cois soci­ety is divid­ed between two soli­tudes,” that life here is defined by an unbridge­able cul­tur­al divide between the country’s Eng­lish and French-speak­ing pop­u­la­tions. While pun­dits and politi­cians may debate the extent to which this char­ac­ter­i­za­tion still holds true in gen­er­al, in a recent essay fran­coph­o­ne his­to­ri­an Pierre Anc­til makes a con­vinc­ing argu­ment that this lin­guis­tic divide is still a defin­ing fea­ture of the field of Cana­di­an Jew­ish Studies. 1 1 Pierre Anc­til, Which Cana­da Are We Talk­ing About? An Eng­lish-Lan­guage Polemic about French in Cana­di­an Jew­ish His­to­ry” in No Bet­ter Home?: Jews, Cana­da, and the Sense of Belong­ing, ed. David Koff­man (Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Press, 2021), 284 – 296. In his point­ed but good-natured cri­tique, Anc­til details how anglo­phone schol­ars in the field have over­looked French lan­guage schol­ar­ship and pri­ma­ry sources, built a his­to­ri­og­ra­phy over­ly reliant on cer­tain out-of-date mono­graphs, and con­struct­ed analy­ses that are often based on ahis­tor­i­cal notions about French-Cana­di­an his­to­ry and its pur­port­ed­ly inher­ent anti-Semi­tism. In part as a cre­ative response to Anctil’s lat­est cri de coeur, I offer here a trans­la­tion of an icon­ic Québé­cois text into Yid­dish for the first time, name­ly Émile Nelligan’s Soir d’hiver” (Win­ter Evening).

This present trans­la­tion project can be fur­ther sit­u­at­ed with­in a his­to­ry of cul­tur­al and polit­i­cal ini­tia­tives cre­at­ed over the last sev­er­al decades that have sought to facil­i­tate exchange, con­nec­tion, and rap­proche­ment between the his­tor­i­cal­ly Catholic fran­coph­o­ne pop­u­la­tion of Québec and the province’s Jews. This includes orga­ni­za­tions dat­ing back to the late 1940s, such as Le Cer­cle juif de la langue française, a project of the now defunct Cana­di­an Jew­ish Con­gress; the Insti­tut québé­cois sur la cul­ture juive and Dia­logue St-Urbain, two orga­ni­za­tions Anc­til him­self was involved with in the late 1980s and ear­ly 1990s; and the more recent Friends of Hutchi­son Street/​Les Amis de la rue Hutchi­son, a project that began in 2011 to pro­mote under­stand­ing between fran­coph­o­nes and Hasidim in their shared Mon­tréal neigh­bour­hood of Out­remont. My trans­la­tion also harkens back to Goldie Morgentaler’s 1992 trans­la­tion of Michel Tremblay’s Les Belles-soeurs, a clas­sic play depict­ing Québé­cois work­ing class life and lan­guage that was staged as Di shvigerins by Montréal’s Dora Wasser­man Yid­dish The­atre in that same year.

Émile Nel­li­gan (18791941) has achieved the sta­tus of a nation­al poet in Québec, his name grac­ing the sides of school build­ings, gov­ern­ment insti­tu­tions, and a major lit­er­ary prize. His work, com­posed entire­ly dur­ing a short three-year peri­od in his late teens, has drawn com­par­isons to Arthur Rim­baud for its youth­ful urgency, inten­si­ty, and lyri­cism. Nelligan’s career was cut short by a diag­no­sis of schiz­o­phre­nia at the age of 20 and decades of sub­se­quent insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion, a fact that has spurred crit­ics and schol­ars to read nation­al and soci­etal trau­mas into his biog­ra­phy and body of work. The twin afflic­tions of mad­ness and genius, these read­ings seem to sug­gest, could have been caused by the pre­sumed incom­pat­i­bil­i­ty of Nelligan’s lin­guis­tic parent­age (an abu­sive anglo­phone father and a dot­ing fran­coph­o­ne moth­er); the poet’s inabil­i­ty to rec­on­cile Catholic Québec’s sup­pos­ed­ly uni­ver­sal misog­y­ny and anti-Semi­tism — some of which appears in his work itself — with his wider human­i­tar­i­an val­ues; and, in more recent inter­pre­ta­tions, by his sta­tus as an alleged­ly queer writer, liv­ing clos­et­ed in a deeply con­ser­v­a­tive soci­ety. Despite, or per­haps because of these many pos­si­ble con­tra­dic­tions and imag­i­na­tive read­ings as well as the lush­ness of his verse, Nelligan’s work remains wide­ly read, stud­ied, trans­lat­ed, sung, staged, and debat­ed in Québec today.

Writ­ten in 1889 and first pub­lished in 1902, Soir d’hiver” is one of Nelligan’s most beloved texts, not only because it so clear­ly evokes the icy fea­tures of Québec’s win­try cli­mate, but also the mixed feel­ings of both melan­choly and vigour that this weath­er can inspire. It was set to music by Claude Léveil­lée in 1965 and sung by the famed Québé­coise diva Monique Leyrac. The present trans­la­tion draws inspi­ra­tion from the work of Cana­di­an Yid­dishist activist H.M. Cais­er­man (18841950). As Anc­til and scholar/​writer/​translator Chan­tal Ringuet have uncov­ered, Cais­er­man saw the devel­op­ment of French-Cana­di­an lit­er­a­ture in the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, with its resis­tance to assim­i­la­tion into Eng­lish, as a mod­el for the sur­vival of Yid­dish cul­ture in Cana­da. Cais­er­man is known to have trans­lat­ed sev­er­al of Nelligan’s lit­er­ary con­tem­po­raries, but nev­er pub­lished this work. 2 2 Anc­til, Pierre, H.-M. Cais­er­man et l’École lit­téraire de Mon­tréal. Vers une explo­ration en yid­dish du Cana­da français. ” Revue d’histoire de l’Amérique française, 66(1), 65 – 83. https://​www​.eru​dit​.org/​e​n​/jour…; Chan­tal Ringuet, Translin­gual migra­tions : From mono­lin­gual­ism to con­tra­pun­tu­al trans­la­tion”: Two Yid­dish Case Stud­ies (paper pre­sent­ed at The Asso­ci­a­tion for Jew­ish Stud­ies Con­fer­ence, San Diego, Cal­i­for­nia, Decem­ber 18 – 20, 2016). In a small way, this trans­la­tion also com­ple­ments the grow­ing body of Yid­dish lit­er­a­ture now avail­able in Québé­cois French as trans­lat­ed by Anc­til, Ringuet, and others.

In my trans­la­tion, an attempt has been made to retain much of the rhyme and rhythm of the orig­i­nal and to choose, in a few small instances, Yid­dish dialec­tal forms that nod to Québé­cois French’s non-stan­dard sta­tus. The atten­tive read­er will notice that many of the images in the orig­i­nal French have been reshaped or ellid­ed as I attempt­ed to recre­ate Nelligan’s form and prosody. At the same time, read­ers of Yid­dish poet­ry may rec­og­nize an echo of the sym­bol­ist poets of Di yunge, such as Mani Leyb and Moyshe-Leyb Halpern, whose style also influ­enced my trans­la­tion choic­es. By bring­ing this text into Yid­dish, I hope to under­score the neces­si­ty for more com­par­a­tive, lin­guis­ti­cal­ly rich schol­ar­ship and to encour­age Yid­dish speak­ers and oth­ers invest­ed in Cana­di­an Jew­ish Stud­ies to con­nect more ful­ly with the work of fran­coph­o­ne Quebeckers.

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װינטער פֿאַרנאַכט

אױ װי ס'האָט געשנײעט דער שנײ!
מײַן פֿענצטער אַ גאָרטן פֿון פֿראָסט
אױ װי ס'האָט געשנײעט דער שנײ!
ס'פֿלאַקערט דאָס לעבן פּשוט און פּראָסט
אַזױ װי ס'פּײַניקט מיך דער װײ

אַלע אָזערעס— אײַז
מיר איז שװאַרץ, װוּ איך זאָל נישט גײן
און דאָס האָפֿן— אַ גרײַז
איך בין דער צפֿון אַלײן
װוּ ס'טריפֿט הימלגאָלד טראָפּנװײַז

װײנט זשע, איר פֿײגל פֿון פֿעװראַל
פֿון אונדזערע קאַלטע צײַטן
װײנט זשע, איר פֿײגל פֿון פֿעװראַל
באַװײנט די רױזן די װײַטע
װאָס הענגען אין שײַן פֿון אַ שטראַל

אױ װי ס'האָט געשנײעט דער שנײ!
מײַן פֿענצטער אַ גאָרטן פֿון פֿראָסט
אױ װי ס'האָט געשנײעט דער שנײ!
ס'פֿלאַקערט דאָס לעבן פּשוט און פּראָסט
אַזױ װי ס'נאָגט אין מיר דער װײ!


Soir d’hiver

Ah ! comme la neige a neigé !
Ma vitre est un jardin de givre.
Ah ! comme la neige a neigé !
Qu’est-ce que le spasme de vivre
À la douleur que j’ai, que j’ai.

Tous les étangs gisent gelés,
Mon âme est noire ! où-vis-je ? où vais-je ?
Tous ses espoirs gisent gelés :
Je suis la nouvelle Norvège
D’où les blonds ciels s’en sont allés.

Pleurez, oiseaux de février,
Au sinistre frisson des choses,
Pleurez, oiseaux de février,
Pleurez mes pleurs, pleurez mes roses,
Aux branches du genévrier.

Ah ! comme la neige a neigé !
Ma vitre est un jardin de givre.
Ah ! comme la neige a neigé !
Qu’est-ce que le spasme de vivre
À tout l’ennui que j’ai, que j’ai !…

MLA STYLE
Nelligan, Émile. “Soir d’hiver.” In geveb, July 2022: Trans. Sebastian Schulman. https://ingeveb.org/texts-and-translations/soir-dhiver.
CHICAGO STYLE
Nelligan, Émile. “Soir d’hiver.” Translated by Sebastian Schulman. In geveb (July 2022): Accessed Aug 17, 2022.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Émile Nelligan

ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR

Sebastian Schulman

Sebastian Schulman is the Executive Director of KlezKanada, a leading organization in Yiddish arts and culture, and a literary translator from Yiddish and other languages His original writing and translations have appeared in Two Lines, Words Without Borders, Electric Literature, ANMLY, Niv, Tupelo Quarterly, and elsewhere. His translation of Spomenka Stimec’s Esperanto-language novel Croatian War Nocturnal was published by Phoneme Media in 2017. He lives in Montréal, Québec.