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Groups of adjectives in Poe’s “Ligeia” and Baudelaire’s translation of them: a source-oriented approach

Joan Bertrand
p. 87-98


Dans “Ligeia”, où Edgar Poe oppose les descriptions d’une femme adorée et d’une femme détestée, les adjectifs jouent un rôle central pour étayer les contrastes établis entre le bonheur et le profond désespoir. Selon le contexte, Poe privilégie soit le rythme et la sonorité, soit la syntaxe afin d’intensifier l’effet produit. Cet article analyse les groupements d’adjectifs dans “Ligeia”, en parallèle avec un commentaire sur les stratégies de la traduction de Baudelaire. On tente ainsi de cerner les défis lexicaux, syntaxiques et stylistiques qu’elle relève.

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1In “Ligeia”,1 Poe relates the narrator’s fond memories of his beautiful and learned wife, the Lady Ligeia, after whose death he married the unlovable Lady Rowena. On her death, he sees her metamorphosed into the Lady Ligeia. The tale abounds in contrasts of all sorts: to compare the two ladies —the raven-haired Ligeia, the fair-haired Rowena; the Rhine initially, followed by a dreary English abbey; his delight with Ligeia, his desolation at losing her, his moment of folly when he marries Rowena; Ligeia’s open-mindedness to learning, and the stifling huis clos in the abbey’s depressingly dark, Gothic-decorated bed chamber. Descriptions —and hence adjectives— are vital to Poe’s contrastive intention, and their variety, and combinations, of alliteration, melody and rhythm are a factor of unity in the text, as well as a device used to enhance the intensity of the now joyful now desperate passion felt by the narrator. In an analysis of each of these two different stylistic aims in Poe’s use of the adjectival group, we will firstly bring out his emphasis on rhythm and sonority, then his use of adjectives to produce a startling effect. At each stage, a comparison with Baudelaire’s translation will show the lexical, syntactical and stylistic barriers between the languages when a desire to transpose the original intention is at stake.

2A key intention of Poe’s throughout is to highlight the extremes of beauty and joy, and of despair. Running through the gamut of possibilities in English for placing adjectives before the noun, he constantly doubles —or sometimes trebles— the adjectives. The groups he forms are:


Adjective + and + adjective + noun (A and AN)


Adjective + adjective + noun (AAN)



Adjective, + adjective + noun (A,AN)



Adjective, + adjective, + adjective + noun (A,A,AN)


Adjective, + adjective, + and + adjective + noun (A,A, and AN)


The/those + adjective, the/those + adjective + noun (the A, the A, the AN)

3Poe gives each form a precise role to play, where both the comma and “and” are invested with a deep significance. In each case, it is the context —smooth and harmonious, or hesitant and grating— that dictates the form chosen.

4We notice firstly that forms a) and b) are used by Poe to give priority to rhythm, sound melody, speed and crescendo possibilities. With forms c) and d), Poe leans more heavily on the meaning of the adjective, and stresses it with a mixture of punctuation and repetition, as we shall see in a second part.

Poe’s way of emphasising sound

Adjective + and + adjective + noun (A and AN)

5The use of this structure appears in the following sentences -the location in “Ligeia” of the examples given is indicated in parentheses: (page/line)

thrilling and enthralling

[...] the thrilling and enthralling eloquence of her low musical language[...] (122/7)

large and luminous

[...] a sentiment [...] aroused within me by her large and luminous orbs (128/26)

dim and decaying

[...] the lonely desolation of my dwelling in the dim and decaying city by the Rhine (138/1)

i) gloomy and dreary

ii) remote and unsocial

The gloomy and dreary grandeur of the building [...] had much in unison with the feelings of utter abandonment which had driven me into that remote and unsocial region. (138/8)

pallid and rigid

[...] I turned my glances to the pallid and rigid figure upon the bed (148/4)

6This is the structure Poe uses to convey not so much semantic meaning (since the two adjectives are not very dissimilar in meaning) as melody and rhythm through repeated syllables, alliteration and a built-in crescendo effect:

  • in “thrilling and enthralling”, thr is repeated, as is lling;

  • in “dim and decaying”, the initial d is repeated;

  • in “gloomy and dreary”, the second syllable, in y, rhymes;

  • in “remote and unsocial”, the diphthong o is repeated;

  • in “pallid and rigid”, the second syllable id is repeated;

  • in four examples, the number of syllables increases in the second adjective.

7In the others, the morphology of the words is very similar (“gloomy”/“dreary”; “pallid”/“rigid”), and the number of syllables the same.

8Also, the very structure “adjective + and + adjective” (with “and” and no comma in between) emphasises the rhythmic aspect with the strong/weak combination. It is thus the poetic effect attached to the pair of words that takes precedence over the literal meaning. In the third sentence of the first paragraph, there is a telling example of Poe’s desire from the start to impress on the reader a feeling of mounting tension and mystery through a musical and chanting play on words, sounds and repetitions:

[...] the character of my beloved, her rare learning, her singular yet placid cast of beauty, and the thrilling and enthralling eloquence of her low musical language, made their way into my heart by paces so steadily and stealthily progressive that they have been unnoticed and unknown.

  • 1 Edgar Allan Poe, “Lowell’s’A Fable for Critics’” (1849). Quoted in Kay S. House, Reality and Myth i (...)
  • 2 Ibid., p. 149.

9Here is an accumulation of Poe’s doubling of words that are almost identical in sound: “thrilling and enthralling”/“steadily and stealthily”/“unnoticed and unknown”. From the start, therefore, Poe opts for a more concrete description where each adjective nourishes the tale with the richness of its meaning, as we will see he does later in the story. His aim initially is to mesmerise the reader into a throbbing universe of mystery where one adjective is immediately confirmed and reinforced by the next, and all at a brisk pace thanks to the fluidity of repeated sounds and syllables, untrammelled by intrusive punctuation. Indeed we can’t help being reminded of the criticism levelled at Poe by Lowell and mentioned by Poe himself in an appraisal of Lowell: “[Poe] talks like a book of iambs and pentameters”1. There is undoubtedly in Poe’s writing a dominant poetic drive that could be seen to detract from a more profound sincerity: “the heart seems all squeezed out by the mind” (Lowell again)2. Here, our point is simply to retain Poe’s seemingly insuperable attraction to rhyme and melody, whether it reduces his literary seriousness in the eyes of some, or aims to alleviate, by dilution, the depths of despair felt by Poe/the narrator.

10The other examples of this structure in the text may lack the element of alliteration:

  • [her face was] an airy and spirit-lifting vision more wildly divine than [...] (124/22)

  • [...] after a few months of weary and aimless wandering [...] (138/5)

  • I feel how much even of incipient madness might have been discovered in the gorgeous and fantastic draperies [...] (138/21)

  • the fair-haired and blue-eyed Lady Rowena Trevanion, of Tremaine. (138/30)

11But they nevertheless retain the crescendo effect, and the relative proximity in meaning. Even “fair-haired and blue-eyed” is a rather expected pairing which is almost one entity and is close to the cliché description, all the more since this is the only adjectival description we have of Lady Rowena: she is always described by Poe in verbal terms, doing this and feeling that, but the only physical detail given of her is “fair-haired and blue-eyed”, which of course in itself is the only one we need to have since it aptly underlines her as being the antithesis of Lady Ligeia, who sports “raven-black tresses”.

12The A and AN structure, in all the cases above, contains two adjectives that again are not very far apart in meaning. Poe, however, is concentrating on producing an effect —of airiness, tedium, gorgeousness or fairness— where the context calls for an accumulated building up of similar notions rather than succinctness of expression. With the joining and, Poe thus uses a lilting rhythm that is geared to lulling us into a more privileged connivance with the narrator. An interesting illustration of the use of both structures a) and b) comes at the start of “The Fall of the House of Usher” with Poe’s description of his arrival in a house with “the vacant eye-like Windows” —a haunting reminder of the first reference, but also a repetition that has gone mysteriously out of kilter on the second mentioning. The aim is not so much to impart information as to create a hypnotic, rhythmical atmosphere of apprehension, mystery, and creeping bizarreness. One cannot therefore underestimate the value that Poe the poet and craftsman attaches to such adjectival groupings.

13Baudelaire’s translations for this adjectival grouping involve presenting the adjectives together in front of the noun, together after the noun, and one before, one after:

14i) The two adjectives before the noun in both languages

E. A. Poe


the thrilling and enthralling eloquence of her low musical language

her large and luminous orbs

The gloomy and dreary grandeur of the building

into that remote and unsocial region

the pallid and rigid figure upon the bed in the gorgeous and fantastic draperies

la pénétrante et subjugante éloquence de sa profonde parole musicale (122/7)

ses larges et lumineuses prunelles (128/26)

la sombre et triste grandeur du bâtiment (138/8)

dans cette lointaine et solitaire région (138/8)

la pâle et rigide figure allongée (148/4)

ces splendides et fantastiques draperies (138/21)

15ii) The two adjectives after the noun in French

E. A. Poe


an airy and spirit-lifting vision after a few months of weary and aimless wandering the fair-haired and blue-eyed Lady Rowena Trevanion, of Tremaine

une vision aérienne et ravissante(124/22) après quelques mois perdus dans un vagabondage fastidieux et sans but (138/5) Lady Rowena de Tremaine, à la blonde chevelure et aux yeux bleus (138/30)

16iii) One before, one after in French

E. A. Poe


the dim and decaying city by the Rhine

cette sombre cité délabrée au bord du Rhin (138/1)

  • 3 Maurice Grevisse, Le Bon usage, Gembloux (Belgique), Duculot, 1980, p. 433.

17In i), the translation of the two adjectives in front of the French noun may surprise some. Since such a structure exists in French, it can be used by Baudelaire to underline a certain strangeness that undoubtedly exists in the story. Grévisse writes that the epithet in French is normally placed after the noun, but that “il peut le précéder s’il a beaucoup de force affective”. He adds that “la prose littéraire et la langue poétique changent souvent la place ordinaire de l’épithète pour produire des effets de style fort variés”3. There is therefore in Baudelaire’s placing of two adjectives before the noun a reminder of the subjectivity of the narrative, of a haunting presence hovering over the story.

18As far as losses and gains are concerned, here Baudelaire imparts to this structure in French an added force compared with English, since in English the position of adjectives before the noun is the norm. As far as Poe’s plays on words are concerned, Baudelaire finds some équivalents: the rhyme of “subjugante et pénétrante”; the alliteration in “larges et lumineuses”; the same last syllable in “lointaine et solitaire”; the mounting number of syllables between the first and second adjective: “larges et lumineuses”, “pâle et rigide”, “lointaine et solitaire”, “splendides et fantastiques”. On the other hand, some might find a build-up of excitement in “thrilling and enthralling” that becomes pedantic and awkward in “pénétrante et subjugante”. However, if we consider that Poe’s intention is to impress us with the sound and rhythm of words, then Baudelaire can be said to have respected this on the whole as far as possible by staying close to the original without stretching the credibility of French.

19In ii) and iii) Baudelaire has been more intent on translating meaning than sonority, placing the epithets after the noun as is more common in French, but at the same time missing the more colourful emotional input and the unex-pectedness of the French epithet-plus-noun form. Why he makes this choice involves, perhaps, points like lightness of touch and lexical niceties, which both may preclude following the English form, but in some cases, there is no choice in French —two structures in the examples above would sound very unusual before the noun, namely the past participle “délabré” and the past participle “blue-eyed” made from the noun “eye”. French has to put these forms after the noun, especially since “blue-eyed” has to become the prepositional phrase “aux yeux bleus”, losing its strictly adjectival aspect.

Adjective + adjective + noun (AAN)

20The same fluidity, minus the phonetic and melodic aspect, exists in the tale with the AAN grouping, as in:

  • the [eloquence] of her low musical language made [its] way into my heart (122/8)

  • the dear music of her low sweet voice (124/19)

  • the pale fingers became of the transparent waxen hue of the grave (132/23)

  • the phantasmagoric effect was heightened [...] by a strong continual current of wind behind the draperies (142/11)

  • and spoke, in an earnest low whisper, of the sounds which she then heard (144/27)

21The lack of a comma or “and” between the adjectives encourages a run-on effect, and thus a speed which has the meaning of the first adjective running into that of the second, resulting in the second adjective being practically “qualified” by the first. There is no barrier between the different notions expressed in the adjectives, which indeed are in no way so close in meaning as were those in the first group we looked at: each adjective has a full meaning in its own right, distinct from the other in the pair. However, the structure used coaxes us into blurring the distinction and merging the two into a uniform shroud that envelops the noun.

  • 4 Le Bon usage, op. cit., p. 435.

22When Baudelaire translates the AAN structure, he comes up against the impossibility of following the English into French. As Grevisse remarks: “Quand le nom et l’adjectif ne forment pas une sorte de groupe, il est assez rare qu’on accole au nom deux ou plusieurs épithètes successives sans particule coordonnante ni virgule”4. The problem therefore is one of French expression. Rendering the smooth succinctness and run-on effect of the English has to be tackled in a more roundabout way, to avoid a collision of the two adjectives:

E. A. Poe


the thrilling and enthralling eloquence of her low musical language

her low sweet voice

the pale fingers became of the transparent waxen hue of the grave

a strong continualcurrent of wind

and spoke, in an earnest low whisper

la pénétrante et subjugante éloquence de la profonde parole musicale (122/8)

sa voix douce et profonde (124/19)

les pâles doigts prirent la couleur de la mort, la couleur de la cire transparente (132/23)

un fort courant d'air continu (142/11)

me parla à voix basse, dans un chuchotement anxieux (144/27)

23This is without doubt the English structure that poses the greatest problems if one wants to maintain the totality of semantic and stylistic effect between one language and the other, since staying close to the English is unthinkable. English offers here a construction where the usual hierarchy of adjectives by meaning and length is tampered with in order to insidiously take the reader by surprise. The closest one can get to a blending in French is to house one adjective before, and one after, the noun, as Baudelaire does with “sa profonde parole musicale”, and “un fort courant d’air continu”. Despite the blending, there is nevertheless, unlike in English, a separation and a semantic regrouping of adjectives which obviously shifts the emphasis and cancels the “unifying” effect of this succinct formation in English. Baudelaire has made quite a mouthful out of “an earnest low whisper”, but again, the smooth brevity in English here presents an almost insurmountable challenge for a translator wishing to maintain the same effect.

Poe’s way of giving priority to meaning and effect

Punctuating the terms

  1. Adjective, + adjective + noun (A,AN)

  2. Adjective, + adjective, + adjective + noun (A,A,AN)

  3. Adjective, + adjective, + and + adjective + noun (AA, and AN)

24Whereas the first two structures we looked at provide the reader with speed, melody, rhythm and a certain reassurance in a strange environment, the opposite effect is produced when Poe inserts a comma between the adjectives, in:

  • I believe that I met Ligeia [first] in some large, old, decaying city (122/22)

  • the mouth [...] the triumph of ail things heavenly [...] the soft, voluptuous slumber of the under [lip] (126/10)

  • did I feel [...] that delicious vista, [...] down whose long, gorgeous, and ail untrodden path I might [...] pass (139/9)

  • I saw [....] upon the golden carpet [...] a faint, indefinite shadow of angelic aspect (146/7)

  • It became evident that a slight, a very feeble, and barely noticeable tinge of colour had flushed up within the cheeks (148/25)

25Each adjective stands out in its own right, is given room in which to display the whole weight of its meaning. The result is a slowing down of the rhythm at crucial moments of the story, in order to heighten suspense, to linger over a delicious moment and encapsulate it for as long as possible, or to prompt us to ponder over the starkness of each word picked out individually.

26On looking closer at meaning, interestingly enough we find in fact not always that much difference in the paired adjectives, despite Poe’s highlighting effect via punctuation: “a faint, indefinite shadow” and “a slight, a very feeble, and barely noticeable tinge” again underline Poe’s priority given to rhythm — or in this case, breaking the rhythm— where the structure in question would normally leave ail this room for imposing, contrasting, meaningful descriptions rather than almost redundant, repetitive adjectives. Poe’s needs of the moment, however, cry out for interruption in the train of thought, and a fragmentation of descriptive words into semi-tones of nuance, even when the underlying blandness of “large”, “long”, “old” or “soft” would normally have them blend more discreetly into an unpunctuated pairing with another adjective. Again “The Fall of the House of Usher” comes to mind, where in the first halting line we read, “During the whole of the dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, [....] I had been passing alone [...]”. Here, as in “Ligeia”, the punctuation slows down the tempo and shores up the attempt to detach each element of meaning for greater effect.

27Given the possibilities of groupings of adjectives in French, Poe’s separating off of adjectives is less problematical for Baudelaire:

E. A. Poe


in some large, old, decaying city

the soft, voluptuous slumber of the under [lip]

that delicious vista, [...] down whose long, gorgeous, and all untrodden path a faint, indefinite shadow of angelic aspect

a slight, a very feeble, and barely noticeable tinge of colour had flushed up with-in the cheeks

dans une vaste et antique ville délabrée (122/22)

l'air doucement, voluptueusement reposé de la lèvre inférieure (126/10)

cette longue avenue, splendide et vierge (139/9)

une ombre faible, indéfinie, d'un aspect angélique (146/7) une coloration légère, très faible, à peine sensible, était montée aux joues (148/25)

28Where in English the separation is made before the noun with commas, Baudelaire translates either by separating the adjectives, placing one before, one after, or both, or even all three, after. The punctuation in French serves a similar purpose to Poe’s producing, overall, a comparable effect.

Punctuating and repetition of the article

29The/those + adjective, the/those + adjective + noun (the A, the A, the AN)

30Poe takes this emphatic use of punctuation even further in sentences such as:

  • and then the raven-black, the glossy, the luxuriant and naturally-curling

  • tresses (124/40)

  • Those eyes! Those large, those shining, those divine orbs! (128/7)

  • She, the outwardly calm, the ever-placid Ligeia (130/16)

  • to Ligeia, the beloved, the august, the beautiful, the entombed (142/23)

  • the wan and the misty-winged Ashtophet of idolatrous Egypt (124/8)

  • I revelled in recollections of [...] her lofty, her ethereal nature, of her passionate, her idolatrous love (154/15)

  • the fair-haired, the blue-eyed Lady Rowena (152/37)

  • These are the full, and the black, and the wild eyes —of my lost one (154/15)

31Here the intensity inherent in the repetition of the article, demonstrative, and possessive, the interruption of the comma, and the accumulation of descriptive words, push the effect to a climax approaching the limits of expressive capacities. The narrator seems at a loss to portray the ineffable and has recourse to the repetition of the demonstrative in an attempt to define the divine Lady Ligeia with the banal words of the layman laced with a structure that guarantees impact and emphasis. Again, the plainer the words, the greater the effect, as in the last example above, the last sentence in the story, where the eyes of the dying Lady Rowena become those of the Lady Ligeia and are described by the simplest of monosyllables, given the shock Poe wishes to convey at that instant.

32In other examples (124/40,128/7,142/25), the narrator, with the same structure, seeks to show how in awe he is of Ligeia’s beauty and nature, employing a verbal crescendo that sifts out each adjective, giving them a glory of their own. The example (152/37) illustrates the point from a different angle. When we were first introduced to the shunned Lady Rowena, she was described as “the fair-haired and blue-eyed Lady Rowena” in a jaunty, brisk manner, with one adjective running into the other. In the last paragraph, when the horror of Lady Rowena’s apparition as the Lady Ligeia sends the narrator into “a tumult unappeasable”, he picks out “the fair-haired” and “‘the blue-eyed” as separate, haunting entities tinged with dread for the narrator —especially since the eyes are about to turn into “the full, and the black, and the wild eyes” of Lady Ligeia. So, what initially was only —and indeed scant— physical description of Lady Rowena is structurally modified by Poe at the end to emphasise the ponderous, ominous implications of “the fair-eyed, the blue-eyed Lady Rowena”. In this most intense of moments, the structure of the adjectival phrase supports, and engenders, the desired effect of sheer petrification in front of the inexplicable and the supernatural. The overall effect of this adjectival structure is to slow down the reader, to stop him in his tracks, in order to convey the awe, or fear, or admiration felt by the narrator, depending on the episode.

33Where each adjective is given an individual role to play, Baudelaire’s translation is:

E. A. Poe


and then the raven-black, the glossy, the luxuriant and naturally-curling tresses

Those eyes! Those large, those shining, those divine orbs!

She, the outwardly calm, the ever-placid Ligeia

to Ligeia, the beloved, the august, the beautiful, the entombed

the wan and the misty-winged Ashtophet of idolatrous Egypt

I revelled in recollections of [...] her lofty, her ethereal nature, of her passionate, her idolatrous love

the fair-haired, the blue-eyed Lady Rowena

These are the full, and the black, and the wild eyes —of my lost one

et puis cette chevelure d'un noir de corbeau, lustrée, luxuriante, naturellement bouclée (124/40)

ces larges, ces brillantes, ces divines prunelles (128/7)

elle, la toujours placide Ligeia, à l'extérieur si calme (130/16)

vers Ligeia, l'aimée, l'auguste, la belle, la morte (142/23)

la pâle Ashtophet de l'idolâtre Egypte, aux ailes ténébreuses (124/8)

[...] dans sa haute nature éthéréenne, dans son amour passionné, idolâtre (142/25)

Lady Rowena [...] à la chevelure blonde, aux yeux bleus (152/37)

voilà bien les yeux adorablement fendus (sic), les yeux noirs, les yeux étranges de mon amour perdu (154/15)

34Only in two of these examples does Baudelaire maintain the English order and formulation with the demonstrative and the definite article: in (128/7), Baudelaire follows closely Poe’s semantic and syntactic crescendo, with the demonstrative adjective repeated and the same halting punctuation. Perhaps the relatively light and uncomplicated nature of “larges”, “brillantes” and “divines” permits this construction in French; and in (142/23) we have: “N, the A, the A, the A, the A” which Baudelaire reproduces as such, admittedly with less difficulty than in (128/7), since the “article plus adjective” groups placed by Poe after the subject “Ligeia” turn “the A” into an adjectival noun in English, where “one” is understood, as is often the case in French. In both cases, then, Baudelaire can provide a translation that carries equal clout.

35In three examples above, Baudelaire compensates in different ways for the rising intensity inherent in Poe’s use of this structure. In (154/15), “the A, and the A, and the AN”, the noun appears first in French, though Baudelaire maintains the definite article, and repeats, unlike in English, the noun: “les NA, les NA, les NA”. Rhythmically the translation provides an equivalent to the English despite having to undergo a necessary syntactical inversion. In examples (124/8) and (152/37), where we find the order “the A, the AN”, the difficulty of maintaining such a structure is complicated by an AN grouping where A is double-barrelled on the “adjective plus noun-ED” model: “misty-winged”, “fair-haired”, and “blue-eyed”. Translating into French here involves placing the adjectival description after the noun, thus losing the impact of the repeated definite article in English. In the translation of (152/37) above, “the fair-haired, the blue-eyed Lady Rowena” —where the difference in presentation of Lady Rowena is so important—, the double appearance of “the” is lost in French, and the repetition “adjective plus noun-ED” with the light monosyllables also. Baudelaire does however clearly mark the different presentation of Lady Rowena: the first time she is “Lady Rowena..., à la blonde chevelure et aux yeux bleus” (138/30), whereas, in (152/37), he follows Poe’s altered second description with: “Lady Rowena..., à la chevelure blonde, aux yeux bleus”. Where Poe differentiates with the repetition of “the”, Baudelaire compensates via punctuation and the changed position of the adjective “blonde”. The evolution in the reference to Lady Rowena is therefore clear in English and in French, though the tactics employed differ.

36In the remaining 3 examples above, however, Poe’s use of “the”, and the possessive —in (124/40), (130/16) and (142/25) —, more strongly resists Baudelaire’s strategies. The impact of Baudelaire’s translation of (124/40) fails to pick out “lustrée, luxuriante...” as much as in “the glossy, the luxuriant...”. In (130/16), the translation of “the outwardly-calm, the ever-placid Ligeia” stays close in literal meaning, but this entails avoiding the repetition of “the” with “la toujours placide Ligeia, à l’extérieur si calme”. In (142/25), where Poe repeats the possessive “her” in “her A, her AN, of her A, her AN”, the repetition is also suppressed: Baudelaire’s translation of “her lofty, her ethereal nature...” as “sa haute nature éthéréenne” presents a concision and fluidity where Poe’s intention was to weightily draw out the adjectival grouping as part of his slow “recollections”.

37Clearly, then, Poe’s repetition of the/this or the possessive in front of the noun meets, in the passage into French, syntactical, and in some cases lexical, barriers which oblige Baudelaire to be resourceful in compensating in the ways we have seen. Where Poe invests in stylistic effects involving the article and punctuation, there is often no “direct parallel”, only compensatory strategies that on the whole maintain Poe’s intentions.

38In Poe’s meticulously crafted and structured short story, the effect produced by various groupings of adjectives is vital in conveying the suspense, the delight, the awe, or the dreariness felt at different moments. The musical quality and rhythm he imparts to his adjectives carries us along at a steady pace, or has us reading haltingly. Moments of throbbing dramatic intensity are interspersed with passages of skipping tempo, where several syntactical forms come into play, among which the adjectival groupings are essential. Translating Poe into another language has to take all these original stylistic intentions into account. In French finding the equivalent number of layers of meaning and sound in one English word or phrase may require dilution in order to avoid awkwardness, or expansion in order to express the same set of elements or sidestepping tactics to compensate for inexistent syntax and modes of expression. The study of Poe’s adjectives in “Ligeia” shows these strategies at work. Baudelaire will often try to compensate, for example by exploiting the relative strangeness attached to the double adjective before the noun in French, or some attempt at rhyme. Thanks to Baudelaire’s poetic fibre, there is minimal loss. What loss there is, is mainly on the level of fluidity and pronounceability (especially in part one in the present text), but can also be put down to his desire to transfer the totality of meaning when it is not always a priority for Poe. Making Poe’s priorities the same as Baudelaire’s pushes translation to its limits, but also throws up questions about rhythm and sonority from one language to another, and perhaps their relative untranslatableness. Given even the poet Baudelaire’s awkward grappling with certain adjectival forms in English, the common mortal might be justified in wondering how possible it is to translate such a structure as adjectival groupings, plus the multifarious ripples of meaning they share with native-speakers, in such poetically-driven prose as Poe’s.

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1 Edgar Allan Poe, “Lowell’s’A Fable for Critics’” (1849). Quoted in Kay S. House, Reality and Myth in American Literature, Greenwich (Conn.), Fawcett, 1966, p. 148.

2 Ibid., p. 149.

3 Maurice Grevisse, Le Bon usage, Gembloux (Belgique), Duculot, 1980, p. 433.

4 Le Bon usage, op. cit., p. 435.

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Joan Bertrand, « Groups of adjectives in Poe’s “Ligeia” and Baudelaire’s translation of them: a source-oriented approach », Palimpsestes, 14 | 2001, 87-98.

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Joan Bertrand, « Groups of adjectives in Poe’s “Ligeia” and Baudelaire’s translation of them: a source-oriented approach », Palimpsestes [En ligne], 14 | 2001, mis en ligne le 01 janvier 2002, consulté le 25 août 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/palimpsestes.1659

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Joan Bertrand

Joan Bertrand est enseignant-chercheur à l’université Paris III-Sorbonne Nouvelle, où elle prépare notamment les agrégatifs aux épreuves de thème écrit et oral. Elle s’est intéressée à l’étude de la langue anglaise, publiant “Adjectival nouns in English”, Publications de l’Université de Saint-Etienne, 1995, et “‘A’ plus non-count nouns in English” Publications de l'université de Saint-Etienne, 1995 (actes du colloque à Paris III, [janvier 2001,]). Elle étudie actuellement les contraintes syntaxiques et les options stylistiques liées à la traduction en anglais de “DE” dans le groupe nominal complexe du français.

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