Plaything of the Poor – Notes on the Text

The following are notes on my translation of “Le Joujou du Pauvre”, a piece written by Charles Baudelaire. The translated poem can be found as “Plaything of the Poor – Le Joujou du Pauvre translation“, and the original French text can be found here.

Notes on the text:

The title, “Joujou du pauvre” is translated here as “Plaything of the Poor”. Joujou is a familiar term used for the word ‘toy’, and is a diminutive of the word jouet. The conscious choice on Baudelaire’s part to use infantilized language cannot easily be replicated in English, and much of the nuance of this choice is lost in translation.

“le polichinelle plat” is translated to “paper puppets”. The original use of polichinelle carries with it connotations of Pulcinella, a character trope in Italian puppetry . This puppet is typically garbed in white with a black mask, representing  life and death. The allusions to mortality presented by this puppet makes it an interesting choice to give to give in “homage” (translated literally) to the poor children. I do not know how recognizable this allusion would be to Baudelaire’s original audience, but felt that it detracted from the substance of the poem when interpreted by a modern audience.

“d’une autre pâte” is translated here as “crafted from something different”. To the best of my understanding, pâte is a word refers to dough one would use for baking. A literal translation of this line would then make the child “made of another kind of dough” than the other. I did not find the literal translation to possess the same facility with language as it did in the original French, and changed it accordingly. Still, I find it interesting that Baudelaire’s word choice played on this idea of children as confections, or something to be cooked.

“With teeth of an equal whiteness” is a line that has fascinated me for a while. Though I have never before attempted to translate this piece, I first encountered it several years ago as part of my high school French curriculum. I read this piece at the same time as we covered Hamlet, and this line struck me as something that spoke to pieces of the play. To me, the equal whiteness of teeth felt that it could be both commentary on the equalizing nature of death (in that these two boys were ultimately alike in basic human form, and that their differences in experiences would eventually be meaningless) and critique on the social inequalities present in Baudelaire’s own time period (a critique that can still easily extend to a modern era).


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