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How should we translate ‘A scrap of paper’?

For a Scrap of Paper

By PAUL HYACINTHE LOYSON.

Translated by J. G. Frazer.

WHY BURSTS THE CLOUD in thunder, and to devastate the world
The levin bolt of battle from heaven, or hell, is hurled?
Why march embattled millions, to death or victory sworn?
Why gape yon lanes of carnage by red artillery torn?
xxxFor a scrap of paper, for a scrap of paper, nothing more!

Why spurned the least of nations, by the bravest of the brave,
The wages of dishonour and a traitor’s peaceful grave?
Why drew she sword? and, flinging the scabbard far away,
Why rushed she into battle, the foremost in the fray?
xxxFor a scrap of paper, for a scrap of paper, nothing more!

When the Queen of Empires summoned her children to her shore,
And to set the ocean rolling she but spoke a word – no more –
“Oh, come to me, my children, to your mother, come to me!”
Why flocked the regiments trooping from the lands beyond the sea?
xxxFor a scrap of paper, for a scrap of paper, nothing more!

Why hasted all the peoples to confront the bandit crew,
When they heard the tocsin tolling and the blast that Justice blew?
Why thrilled they at the summons, and answered one and all,
By thousand thousands thronging, to the far-blown bugle-call?
xxxFor a scrap of paper, for a scrap of paper, nothing more!

When the guns have ceased to thunder and the battle-storm to rave,
When the stars above are calling the last muster of the brave,
As they lie there in their thousands, with their faces to the sky,
We can hear their voices answer, “We were glad and proud to die
xxxFor a scrap of paper, for a scrap of paper, nothing more!”

Translator’s note:  The author of these verses, Monsieur Paul Hyacinthe Loyson, is a son of the famous French orator, Père Hyacinthe Loyson, and inherits some of his father’s eloquence and genius. Before the war an ardent advocate of international peace and goodwill, M. Loyson edited on these lines the journal Les Droits de l’Homme, and exerted himself strenuously to promote a peaceful understanding with Germany. It was only the great crime of Germany that revolted him and turned him against her. A man of varied literary talent, he is the author of several plays, notably Les Ames Ennemies and L’Apôtre, turning on religious and moral themes, which have been successfully produced in France, and translated and acted in foreign countries. During the war he served as interpreting officer both with the French army in Alsace and with the British army. Being afterwards charged by his Government with the work of propaganda, he has lectured on topics concerned with the war in London, Oxford, and Cambridge; and acting in concert with the Fight for Right Movement, he helped to organise the meeting recently held at the Mansion House on the second anniversary of the declaration of war (August 4th). A book of his on the war, Etes-vous neutres devant le crime? written in answer to Romain Rolland, will shortly appear in an English translation. – J. G. FRAZER.

From: Notes & Queries

January 6, 1917:

IN THE NOTICE of The Fortnightly Review for September [1916], the Editor of ‘N. & Q.’ comments upon Sir James G. Frazer’s very free translation of M. Loyson’s “concentrated and fiery lines.” I have tried to make a more metrically and literally close version, which I venture to submit to the judgment of the Editor and readers of ‘N. & Q.’ :

POUR UN CHIFFON DE PAPIER.
Par Paul Hyacinthe Loyson.

Pourquoi cette trombe enflammee
Qui vient foudroyer l’univers ?
Get embrasement de l’enfer ?
Ce tourbillonnement d’armées, .
Par mille milliers de milliers?
—C’est pour un chiffon de papier.

Pourquoi ce petit peuple infime,
Plus grand que Rome par le coeur,
Au salaire du déshonneur
Préférant un risque sublime,
S’est-il élancé le premier ?
—C’est pour un chiffon de papier.

Pourquoi la Reine des Empires,
Dès que le crime fût béant,
Pour ameuter les oceans
N’eut-elle qu’un seul mot a dire :
“A moi, mes enfants, ralliez!”
—C’est pour un chiffon de papier.

Tous, tous tes peuples, ô Justice,
Dressés centre le Scélérat,
Pourquoi portent-ils au combat
L’avidité du sacrifice,
L’enthousiasme du charnier ?
—C’est pour un chiffon de papier.

Et quand la bataille est finie,
Quand les étoiles font l’appel
Des héros tombés face au ciel,
Pourquoi la sereine agonie
De ces regards extasiés?
—C’est pour un chiffon de papier.

For a scrap of paper.

Translated by EDWARD BRABROOK.

For what this whirlwind, all a-flame ?
This thunderstroke of hellish ire,
Setting the universe a-fire ?
While millions upon millions came
Into a very storm of war ?
——-—For a scrap of paper.

For what this people, small in space,
Greater in heart than erst was Rome,
Sublimely risked the wreck of home
And spurned the wages of disgrace ?
So rushed it foremost to the war ?
—–—For a scrap of paper.

For what the Empress of the Sea ?
Soon as the crime had come to light,
Called on her ocean-sons to fight,
And her one word: “Rally to me!”
Sufficed to bring them to the war ?
——-—For a scrap of paper.

For what do all just peoples show
Avidity to peril life,
Enthusiasm in the strife
Against the homicidal Foe
And his accursed deeds in war ?
——-—For a scrap of paper.

For what, when victory is won,
And fallen heroes face the sky,
Serene in all their agony,
Will stars, that call them up, look on
The ecstasy of finished war ?
——-—For a scrap of paper.


Sir Edward Brabrook, of Langham House, Wellington, Surrey, and Sir James George Frazer, celebrated author of The Golden Bough (12 vol.) and many other books, were anthropologists and colleagues, both sitting on the board of the Folk-Lore Society. P.H. Loyson was a poet and playwright with many English admirers, including not only Brabrook and Frazer but also H.G. Wells, who wrote the introduction to Loyson’s The gods in the battle (1917).

Frazer’s translation, as Brabrook notes, appeared in our September 1916 issue (vol. 100 N.S.).

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