Lying flat out without stirring himself,
Frollo got the French to equip him,
For that is the way of the French:
Getting their shoes on while lying down.
That’s according to Andrew de Coutances, anyway. The awkwardness of a literal translation is one of life’s little joys. I’m always pleased by an oddity on a Chinese menu, for instance. Asian cultures obviously have a concept which almost but doesn’t quite translate into either “Lucky” or “Happy”. I’ll have The Seven Lucky Golden Wish Vegetables, please. My favourite business name - and it still makes me chuckle to think of it - belonged to a Chinese café down on good old Southsea Parade in Portsmouth. It was called The Intrepid Bun.
Languages are limited; concepts can slip between the words. I suppose that poetry attempts to exploit this: to use words to convey something more than the total sum of those words. But if, for example, you were to imagine that Wallace Stevens’s Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock was a literal translation from something in Mandarin Chinese, it might take on a whole new dimension.
Only, here and there, an old sailor,
Drunk and asleep in his boots,
In red weather.
Oh lucky wish dance!