Pope Joan

The extensive coverage of Pope John Paul II’s death reminded me of a poem by Carol Ann Duffy (from The World’s Wife), which, to me, is a perfect example of how language can be used to challenge established ways of thinking and open new paths of reflection to explore. I think that poems are experienced in a very personal manner, so I won’t analyze it further and will just let you read it. Don’t click on French version to see how I translated it; I didn’t. I believe you have to be a poet, which unfortunately I’m not, to be able to translate poetry (however, if a French poet reader feels up to the challenge, I’d love to read his or her version).
Pope Joan
After I learned to transubstantiate
unleavened bread
into the sacred host
and swung the burning frankincense
till blue-green snakes of smoke
coiled round the hem of my robe
and swayed through those fervent crowds,
high up in a papal chair,
blessing and blessing the air,
nearer to heaven
than cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests,
being Vicar of Rome,
having made the Vatican my home,
like the best of men,
in nominee patris et filii et spiritus sancti amen,
but twice as virtuous as them,
I came to believe
that I did not believe a word,
so I tell you now,
daughters or brides of the Lord,
that the closest I felt
to the power of God
was the sense of a hand
lifting me, flinging me down,
lifting me, flinging me down,
as my baby pushed out
from between my legs
where I lay in the road
in my miracle,
not a man or a pope at all.

By | 2016-10-18T15:51:17+00:00 April 4th, 2005|Culture|3 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. scoubedo April 4, 2005 at 3:39 pm

    very beautiful poem, and the question is, is it really possible to translate poems ???

  2. céline April 4, 2005 at 3:58 pm

    Good question! I think so: I think you’d have to get a real feel for a poem, stay true to its “spirit”, detach yourself completely from the original words and let your own emotions/inspiration carry you. A bit like a “regular” translation, I suppose!

  3. scoubedo April 5, 2005 at 11:56 am

    very good answer ! That is the difficulty of translation, detach yourself from the original, but that is the way of very good translations. Baudelaire translating Edgar Allan Poe has completely detached himself from the world, and the result is so poetic…but I ask myself, is it similar or so different ? Finally, I think that he creates another book. I have to read Poe in English.

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