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In Castle on a Cloud from Les Miserables,

There is a room that's full of toys,

There are a hundred boys and girls

I know it's translated from French, but why isn't it girls and boys? There are rhymes throughout the rest of the song. Was this intentional (and if so, why?) or are the translators just stupid?

  • Could you add a bit more of the song for context? It could be that this is setting up a poetic pattern for later. – Chenmunka Jan 20 '17 at 12:45
  • @Chenmunka - In Les Mis? Most likely not :o) – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Jan 20 '17 at 12:49
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    why all the DVs? – Lauren Ipsum Jan 20 '17 at 13:22
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    @muru meh, I'd assume 1) that "song lyrics in a book" are going to be interpreted and discussed very differently than "song lyrics sung aloud," and 2) that most people are familiar with the musical of Les Miz. I have already clearly been proven wrong re 2, however. :) – Lauren Ipsum Jan 20 '17 at 17:28
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    @LaurenIpsum sorry, I don't watch musicals if I can help it :D – muru Jan 20 '17 at 17:49
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That wouldn't follow the rhyme scheme of the other verses, which follow the scheme ABCC. The next verse is:

There is a lady all in white,
Holds me and sings a lullaby,
She's nice to see and she's soft to touch,
She says "Cosette, I love you very much."

The extra rhyme is unnecessary. Further, "toys" and "boys" are a very simple, sing-songy rhyme, out of keeping with the overall tone of the musical. That could be justified for this particular song (a little girl's fantasy of joyful childhood), but there's an undercurrent of despair as well that could be undercut by that kind of rhyme.

It's already a very free translation from the French:

Dans une maison pleine de jouets,
Où les petites filles de mon âge
Cousent les toilettes de leurs poupées
Et ne font jamais le ménage.

My gloss:

In a house full of toys
Where little girls my age
Sew the dresses for their dolls
And never clean the house

"Boys" isn't present there at all; "filles" is definitely just "girls". But they've introduced a slant internal rhyme into the line, and that is in keeping with the rest of the play. The key motif of the whole show is:

Do you hear the people sing
Singing the songs of angry men

The "ng" slant is in there several times, but I want to call attention in particular to the rhyme between "sing" and "angry men", with the stress on ANG followed by two syllables of lower stress. It falls in nearly the exact same place in the line as "toys" and "boys and girls". That's a much more sophisticated rhyme structure, complicated enough to make up for the trite rhyme between "toys" and "boys".

That structure isn't present in the original French, but it's in keeping with the rest of the tone of the play. Instead of Hallmark card rhyme, they've created a more intricate structure worthy of the (depressing) material of the play.

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    The original French Concept Album of Les Mis had totally different lyrics for that song: Translated very literally, keeping word order: "My prince is on the way already. I do not know like what he'll be. But I know that he will come tomorrow. My prince is already on the way." I'm not familiar with the current French version of the show, but the French lyrics quoted above are derived from the English and not from the original French. – supercat Sep 4 '17 at 22:15
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    Incidentally, in the Original French Concept Album lyrics the first verse has a AABB rhyme scheme, but the first rhyme is rather weak (last two syllables of each line are "deja", "sera", "demain", "chemin"), but the second verse is ABAB ("magique", "le veut", "musique", "les yeux"). – supercat Sep 4 '17 at 22:19
4

I'm sure it's nothing to do with the translation. Flipping the order of words isn't even worth an eyeblink when you're translating prose. It would have been just as easy for the creators to work from an English translation of the novel if they weren't porting the French musical lyrics, and in any case, considering every other rhyme in the musical works that I recall, this might be just a choice to be a little off. I agree that the line should end "girls and boys," but "boys" is still there, so the rhyme is preserved, even if it scans oddly.

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The phrase "girls and boys" would seem more natural than "boys and girls", and using that phrase would have naturally set up a rhyme with "toys". I suspect, however, that the rhyme was probably seen as detracting from the song rather than enhancing it, and the words "boys" and "girls" were swapped for the purpose of avoiding the rhyme.

In the Original French Concept Album, with lyrics by Alain Boubil, the song is completely different. Translated very rigidly, the first verse is:

My prince is on his way already. (déja)
I do not know like what he will be. (sera)
But I know that he will come tomorrow. (demain)
My prince is already on his way. (chemin)

The second verse continues singing about the prince; the bridge says "all children" have a childhood, but does not mention "boys and girls" nor "girls and boys". The notion of "boys and girls", along with most of the content of the song, was completely new in the English version of the show.

Herbert Kretzmer and others who worked on the lyrics often followed the rhyme schemes from the original songs when those songs were consistent themselves, but in many of the original songs the rhyme schemes varied between verses, and Kretzmer's lyrics do likewise, though not necessarily matching the rhymes exactly. The first verse of the original has an AABB rhyme scheme and the word ordering was clearly tweaked to create that (compare lines 1 and 4). The second verse has an ABAB rhyme scheme ("magique", "le veut"; "musique", "les yeux"). Even though the original had an ABAB rhyme in the opening verse, the rhyme in the first couplet (déja and sera) is pretty weak and not overly distracting since there's only one sound in common (the final "ah"). A rhyme with a dypthong ("oy") and consonant ("z"), by contrast, would call undue attention to itself.

  • Nice answer! Welcome to the site. I hope you stick around. – user111 Sep 4 '17 at 23:53
  • Why do you say that The phrase "girls and boys" would seem more natural than "boys and girls"? To me, saying boys and girls sounds more natural. – user58 Sep 5 '17 at 3:03
  • @Mithrandir: I guess it depends upon context, and I may have been predisposed toward "girls and boys" by the original question. In any case, I think the "boys/toys" rhyme would call undue attention to itself even if the phrase ending with "boys" would otherwise have been entirely natural. – supercat Sep 5 '17 at 19:37

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