Interestingly, Keri spends a bit of time discussing the translation into French of "The Love Song of J. Alfrd Prufrock" that Adrienne Monnier and her life partner, Sylvia Beach undertook.
It was at the crossroads of their two poetic traditions, French and English, that Beach and Monnier undertook one of their most influential joint works, the first French translation of T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” which appeared in Monnier’s Le Navire d’Argent in 1925. For its first French appearance, Beach and Monnier deleted the epigraph from Dante, and in keeping with Prufrock’s stilted temperament, they wisely chose the formal “vous” for the famous first lines of the poem: “Allons alors, vous et moi” (“Let us go then, you and I”). Their translation reminds us that “Prufrock” is a poem that is deeply at home in French, inspired by the decaying urban scenes of Baudelaire and the Symbolist verse of Jules Laforgue. This provenance is especially apparent in the poem’s more hypnotic, undulating passages. The lines that follow Prufrock’s “hundred indecisions” lose very little in their French adaptation and scarcely seem to require translating at all: “Temps pour vous et temps pour moi, / Et temps encore pour cent indecisions, / Et pour cent visions et revisions, / Avant de prendre un toast et un thé.” Monnier remarked on the ease of rendering the poem, even though she lamented the necessary loss inherent in the process. For Eliot and others, she named the status of “poor translated poet” as a kind of exile. And indeed, there are passages that utterly resist the move into French: the alliterative noise of Prufrock’s “Do I dare?” hardly comes through in the French “Oserai-je?,” nor is the translation “Est-ce le parfum d’une robe / Qui me fait ainsi divaguer?” a satisfying substitute for the jangling rhythm of “Is it perfume from a dress / That makes me so digress?” Both in what the poem captures (that entrancing, prolonged French sound of the narrow streets that seem returned to their native habitat when they become “des rues étroites”) and for what it loses (those plosive sounds, that distinctly English self-deprecation, the deflationary effect of Eliot’s light rhymes), their translation reveals the poem’s origins and allegiances in a new, Parisian light.
Keri pretty much nails the deficiencies of French for an Anglophone writer, and the subtle attractions of it as well. I'm writing the same project in both English and French at the moment, and while I love the feel of French, I much prefer the sound of English.
Which doesn't bode well for the French half of my project, but oh well. It's a worthwhile exercise, no doubt.