The Cat and the Songster

The Happy Cat (wiki)

Jacques Prévert was a poet, humorist, and wrote films. Among others he wrote the screenplay of Les Enfants du Paradis, with its robust dialogue. He specialised in surrealist little verses, and Le Chat et l’Oiseau is an excellent example.

This is a (near) translation I undertook with the aim of preserving the spirit of the poem rather than a word for word version. I include the original.

Grief-stricken the villagers listen

to the swan-song of a bruised bird

who nevermore shall be heard.

It’s the only bird in the village

it’s the only cat in the village

who has devoured half is plumage.

The bird stops chirping

the cat stops purring

and its chops it stops licking.

The village renders its homage

to the now dead warbler

in the village funeral parlour.

Behind a small straw coffin

carried by a girl in tears

walks the guilty feline

blushing with shame to the ears.

Had I but known what pain I’d sown

says the cat, I’d have left him well alone

or opened wide my buccal hole

and swallowed him whole.

Afterwards I’d have sworn

that the poor bird had gone

that I saw him fly towards the sun.

You’d have felt some pain, a little sorrow

but would recover the day after tomorrow.

You must never leave things half done

Little Warbler by Matthew Schwartz (Unsplash)

Un village écoute désolé

Le chant d’un oiseau blessé

C’est le seul oiseau du village

Et c’est le seul chat du village

Qui l’a à moitié dévoré

Et l’oiseau cesse de chanter

Le chat cesse de ronronner

Et de se lécher le museau

Et le village fait à l’oiseau

De merveilleuses funérailles

Et le chat qui est invité

Marche derrière le petit cercueil de paille

Où l’oiseau mort est allongé

Porté par une petite fille

Qui n’arrête pas de pleurer

«Si j’avais su que cela te fasse tant de peine,

Lui dit le chat,

Je l’aurais mangé tout entier

Et puis j’aurais raconté

Que je l’avais vu s’envoler

S’envoler jusqu’au bout du monde

Là-bas où c’est tellement loin

Que jamais on n’en revient

Tu aurais eu moins de chagrin

Simplement de la tristesse et des regrets.»

Il ne faut jamais faire les choses à moitié.

Prizewinning playwright. Mathematician. Teacher. Professional Siesta addict.