Histoire du Boa et du Tapir

Léopold Chauveau

-Dis, papa ! Est-ce que tu as écrit l’histoire que tu m’as racontée hier ?
-Laquelle ?
-Le boa et le tapir.
-Oui.
-S’il te plaît me la lire.
-Lisons-la.

Story of the Boa and the Tapir

Léopold Chauveau

“Hey, Dad! Did you write down the story you told me about yesterday?”
“Which one?”
“The boa and the tapir.”
“Yes.”
“Please read it to me.”
“Let’s read.”

IMG_20191020_193123The boa and the tapir meet.

Quand un boa mange un tapir, il est perdu, le pauvre boa ; sa dernière heure, moins quelques minutes, est arrivée. Il peut prendre ses dernières dispositions, il peut faire son testament, c’est le moment, car il ne va pas tarder à trépasser, le pauvre boa !
Mais il ne s’en doute pas et il ne pense pas à faire son testament, ni à prendre aucune disposition.
Il remarque bien, quand il avale le tapir, que celui-ci lui addresse un singulier sourire, et il n’est pas habitué à voir sourire, ni rire, ceux qui vont lui dégringoler au fond du gosier. Il se dit tout simplement :
« Il est idiot, ce tapir, il ne comprend pas ce qui va lui arriver. Il s’imagine peut-être que c’est pour lui faire subir gratuitement un hygiénique massage que j’ai dépensé, sans compter, ma salive en lui crachant dessus et que je me suis fatigué à le mettre en boule, une bonne boule bien ensalivée que je vais avaler. Il est idiot, il n’a pas l’air de se douter de ce qui va lui arriver. C’est clair, cependant, je vais l’avaler. » Mais, en vérité, c’est le boa qui ne sait pas ce qui va lui arriver. Il n’est pas plus bête que d’habitude, en cette circonstance-là, on ne peut pas lui en vouloir pour cela, mais il ne sait pas ce qui va lui arriver.
When a boa finds a tapir to devour, the poor boa’s arrived at his last earthly hour. He can put his affairs in order. He can make his will. There is just time still. There’s no time for delay, for he’ll soon pass away.
But he suspects nothing and does not think of writing his will in pen and ink.
As the boa prepares to eat the tapir, he sees his dinner staring at him with a singular grin, and animals don’t tend to grin, or to shout ‘I win’. They tend rather to frown, before being gulped down. He tells himself very simply:
“That tapir’s a fool: he doesn’t know what will befall him at all. Perhaps he imagines it’s to give him a massage at no cost that I wore myself out and I lose count how much saliva I lost, spitting and making him into a ball, a ball of spit-covered meat, delicious to eat. He’s a fool; he just doesn’t know what will befall him at all. It’s clear, though: I’ll eat all my meatball.”
In truth, it’s the boa who doesn’t know what will befall him at all. The boa isn’t being any stupider than usual today, we can’t blame him for thinking this way, but he doesn’t know what will befall him at all.

img_20191020_193052-e1571596550579.pngThe boa eats the tapir.

S’il le savait, il serait tout de même assez intelligent pour laisser là le tapir bien mis en boule, bien imbibé de sauce salive, pour le laisser là et aller chercher un autre dîner.
Mais il ne sait pas, le boa, et voici ce qui lui arrive, à lui et au tapir.
Le tapir se fait tout petit, retient sa respiration, il s’appuie sur le ventre avec ses pattes, il rentre son nez dans sa bouche – il a un gros nez, et cela fait une bonne différence – il rentre ses oreilles dans les trous de ses oreilles – il n’a pas de grandes oreilles, mais cela fait cependant une petite différence -, et le boa, qui ne sait pas, l’aide beaucoup en lui crachant dessus tant qu’il peut, en s’enroulant autour de lui pour le mettre en boule, et en serrant à tout casser. Quand le tapir est mis en boule, le boa voit peut-être que la boule n’est pas aussi grosse qu’il aurait cru. Mais comme c’est la première fois qu’il mange un tapir – quand un boa mange un tapir c’est toujours la première fois qu’il en mange un, jamais un boa n’a mangé deux tapirs parce qu’il est toujours mort quelques minutes après avoir mangé le premier – comme c’est donc la première fois qu’il mange un tapir, il se dit :
« Ma boule est prête, grosse ou petite, tant pis si elle n’est pas aussi grosse que je l’espérais. »
Oh ! oui ! tant pis pour toi, boa ! car si elle était plus grosse, trop grosse pour que tu puisses l’avaler, ta dernière heure ne serait pas aussi rapprochée. Petite comme elle est, elle est encore trop grosse pour toi, boa !
Il avale le tapir, le tapir lui descend tout le long du gosier, jusque dans l’estomac. Et alors, oh ! là ! là ! qu’est-ce qu’il sent dans son estomac, le boa ? Voilà que le tapir retire son nez de sa bouche, ses oreilles des trous de ses oreilles, voilà que le tapir n’appuie plus son ventre avec ses pattes, voilà que le tapir ne retient plus sa respiration, voilà qu’il respire de toutes ses forces et se gonfle, et se fait aussi gros qu’ il peut.
If he knew the truth of it all, he’d be clever enough to leave his ball, to leave his tapir soaked in saliva there, and go off to find another dinner elsewhere.
The boa knows nothing of what will befall, but I know and I’ll tell you it all.
The tapir makes himself very small; he holds his breath; he folds his legs under his tummy; he draws his nose into his mouth (he has a big nose, and that makes quite a lot of difference); he draws his ears into his ear holes (he doesn’t have big ears, but that still makes a little difference); and the boa who doesn’t know helps him a lot by spitting out all the saliva he’s got, by rolling the tapir into a ball, and pressing to break him once and for all.
When he’s made the tapir into a ball, the boa might see that his ball seems too small. But, as it’s the first time he’s eaten a tapir – when a boa eats a tapir, it’s always a first; no boa has ever eaten two tapirs because he’s always dead a few minutes after eating the first one – so, as it’s the first time he’s ever eaten a tapir, he says to himself:
“Big or small, it’s ready, my ball. Too bad if it’s not as big as I thought.”
Oh yes! Too bad for you, because if your ball had been too big, too big for you to devour, you’d not have arrived at your last earthly hour! Your ball may be small, but it’s still too big for you, boa!
The boa swallows the tapir. The tapir goes right down the boa’s throat to his belly. And then, oh boy! How does the boa’s belly feel?
Now the tapir pulls his nose out of his mouth, pulls his ears out of his ear holes, pulls his legs out from under his tummy. Now the tapir stops holding his breath. Now the tapir breathes with all his might. Now the tapir swells, and smirks with delight.

IMG_20191020_192836The tapir swells in the boa’s belly. The boa is very worried.

Alors le pauvre boa, qui avait eu déjà du mal à l’introduire dans son estomac, sent tout à coup que le tapir devient plus gros que son estomac.
Le tapir se gonfle, en écartant ses pattes, en écartant les doigts de ses pattes, en faisant le gros dos, en faisant le gros ventre, en se gonflant, gonflant ; et brusquement l’estomac du boa éclate, et le pauvre boa trépasse tandis que le tapir lui sort de l’intérieur, souffle un bon coup, se réduit à ses dimensions ordinaires et part au petit trot pour aller prendre un bain dans la rivière.
Et cela fait un boa de moins : un boa de moins, comme cela, chaque fois qu’un boa essaye de manger un tapir.
Si le boa savait, il n’essaierait jamais. Mais voilà ! il ne sait pas.
The poor boa struggled to get his lunch in his belly. Now he feels his lunch stretching, his insides turn to jelly.
The tapir swells, spreading his legs, spreading his toes, stretching his back, stretching his tummy, swelling up and swelling. Until: the boa’s belly bursts, his skin splinters, and the poor boa dies. The tapir, back to his usual size, steps out of the boa’s insides. He’s escaped death. He takes a deep breath. Then he strolls to the stream, where he’ll wash himself clean.
And that makes one boa fewer. In this way, every day a boa tries to eat a tapir, there’s one boa fewer.
The boa would never try, if he knew that he’d die. But there you go! He doesn’t know.

img_20191020_192925-1-e1572718740787.pngThe boa bursts. The tapir trots off to wash in the river.

Le petit père Renaud dit :
-Alors il est mort, le boa ?
-Oui.
-Qu’est-ce qui arrive ensuite au tapir ?
-Je ne sais pas.
-Tu saurais très bien si tu voulais.
-J’aime mieux ne pas savoir. Il a peut-être été tué par un chasseur ou mangé tout de bon par un crocodile.
-Oh ! non ! il est trop gentil !
Wise little Renaud says, “Is the boa dead?”
“Yes.”
“What happens next to the tapir?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’d know very well if you wanted to.”

“I prefer not to know. Perhaps he’s been killed by a hunter, or eaten outright by a crocodile.”
“Oh! No! He’s too kind!”

.

Translation©Nat Paterson 2019

NAT

Léopold Chauveau (1870-1940) was a distinguished visual artist, illustrator, and author of a total of twenty books, including work for both children and adults. He collaborated and enjoyed friendships with such important figures as André Gide and Pierre Bonnard. He is currently gaining critical recognition: with new editions of his books; the publication of a biography (by Professor Jacques Poirier) and of scholarly articles; and exhibitions of his artwork, including a retrospective of his sculpture and illustrations due to be held in Spring 2020 at the Musée d’Orsay. In addition to this interest in France, Chauveau’s work has been published in Czech and Japanese translation; and in 2005, Japanese film-maker Koji Yamamura adapted Chauveau’s story ‘Le Vieux Crocodile’ to make an animated film, ‘The Old Crocodile’ (available here with an English soundtrack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HKYR8cI4cw&t=146s).
Chauveau became a professional author after his traumatic experiences of the First World War. As a doctor, he had worked in hospitals for wounded soldiers, and he also treated his own son Renaud, who died of illness in 1918 at the age of 12. Chauveau incorporates conversations with Renaud into his children’s books, including them at the start and end of every story. The anti-authoritarian relationship between father and son is one of many political elements in his work, which was neglected largely because of its radical anti-militarist, anti-colonialist and environmentalist ethos.
With his skilful use of rhyming prose, Chauveau shows his love of wordplay, comedy and satire in this selfcontained short story. The tale was included in the collection Les Cures Merveilleuses du Docteur Popotame (The Marvelous Remedies of Doctor Popotamus, Paris: Les Arts et les Livres, 1927; Nantes: éditions MeMo, 2016), in which Chauveau creates an alter ego, Docteur Popotame, a wild hippo and a doctor who, unlike his creator, has the power to cure death! Popotame lives harmoniously with local black humans, and defends his area from invasion by white big game hunters. When Les Cures Merveilleuses was republished in 2016, it was described as ‘a masterpiece’ (‘un chef d’oeuvre’) by Philippe-Jean Catinchi in this review for Le Monde (https://www.lemonde.fr/blog/albumsjeunesse/2016/12/16/noel-en-vue-faites-le-pleindalbums-jeunesse/#more-72).

IMG_20191020_204916Nat Paterson is a literary and academic translator from French and Italian. He gained an MA in Literary Translation in 2016, and his first book translation was published the next year: Poli, G., and G. Calcagno, Echoes of a Lost Voice: Encounters with Primo Levi, Elstree: Vallentine Mitchell, 2017. He is currently translating and pitching a number of works by Chauveau, with the support of the author’s grandson, Marc, who has given him access to the family archive. He has won a scholarship to do an MPhil at the University of Glasgow about Chauveau’s children’s books and their relevance to present-day environmental issues; and is credited in this recent article about Chauveau by Emeritus Professor Roger Little (http://sielec.net/pages_site/comptes-rendus_lecture/Chauveau_antiraciste.pdf).  He can be contacted via his website, http://academictranslation.co.uk, or by email at 2505036p@student.gla.ac.uk.

Nat Paterson and I would like to thank Marc Chauveau, grandson of Léopold Chauveau, for copies of these wonderful illustrations, and his kind permission to publish them here. All rights reserved.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

2 thoughts on “Léopold Chauveau & Nat Paterson: Histoire du Boa et du Tapir/ Story of the Boa and the Tapir

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