Songs of LBDB (Part 4: The Last Rose of Summer)

I’m reminding you, I try to give a charitable interpretation to people’s written Chinuk Wawa…

So what I really ought to do is unleash one of these Laura Belle Downey-Bartlett translations on a group of actual learner-speakers, and see if they feel like they understand it.

Today’s delicate flower is “The Last Rose of Summer“, an 1805 poem by Irish poet Thomas Moore, set to a traditional Irish tune.

It was very popular; I got nearly 6000 hits when I searched the title in American newspapers up to the 1914 publication date of the book we find this in.

kopet ict tupso


kʰəpít íxt tə́psu* kʰupa wám. [1]
only one plant in summer.

DDR: ‘First [verse].’
LBDB: — 

Kopet ict tupso kopa wam,
kʰəpít íxt tə́psu kʰupa wám,
only one plant in summer,
DDR: ‘It’s just one plant in the summer,’
LBDB: ‘ ‘Tis the last rose of summer,’
Mitlite kopet ict;
míłayt kʰəpít íxt;
exist only one;
DDR: ‘There’s just one;’
LBDB: ‘Left blooming alone,’
Konaway yah-ka klosh tellicum;
kʰánawi yaka (t)łúsh tílikam
all her/his good friend

DDR: ‘All of her/his good friends’
LBDB: ‘All her lovely companions’
Chaco spooh pee klatawa;
chaku-spúʔuq pi (t)łátwa; 

become-faded and go;
DDR: ‘Have faded and gone;’
LBDB: ‘Are faded and gone;’
Halo tupso tellicum mitlite,
hílu tə́psu-tílikam míłayt,
none plant-friend exist, 

DDR: ‘No plant-friends are there,’
LBDB: ‘No flower of her kindred,’
Tenas tupso, wake si-yah,
tənəs-tə́psu weyk sayá, [2]
little-plant not far, 

DDR: ‘A baby plant nearby,’
LBDB: ‘No rosebud is nigh,’
Kee-lipi pill-pill kopa see-owist,
k’ílapay pílpil kʰupa siyáxust, [3]

return blood to face,
DDR: ‘Red returns to the face,’
LBDB: ‘To reflect back her blushes.’
Pee tum-tum hooe-hooe.
pi tə́mtəm(-)húyhuy. [4]
or/and heart trade.
DDR: ‘And heart-trades*.’
LBDB: ‘Or give sigh for sigh.’

DDR; ‘Second [verse].’

Nika wake klatawa, kopet ict,
nayka wéyk (t)łátwa, kʰəpít-íxt, [5]
I not go, only-one,
DDR: ‘I won’t go alone,’
LBDB: ‘I’ll not leave thee thou lone one,’
Mika sick tum-tum kopa stick,
mayka sík-tə́mtəm kʰupa stík, [6]
you hurting-heart about forest,
DDR: ‘You’re sad in the forest,’
LBDB: ‘To pine on the stem,’ 

Mika tellicum konaway moosum,
mayka tílikam kʰánawi músum, 
your friend all sleep,
DDR: ‘Your friends are all asleep,’
LBDB: ‘Since the lovely are sleeping.’
Klatawa moosum mika klaska;
(t)łátwa músum mayka Ø* łáska; [7]
go sleep you with* them;
DDR: ‘Go to sleep(,) you (with*) them;’
LBDB: ‘Go sleep thou with them;’ 

Klosh spose nika marsh konaway kah,
(t)łúsh spus nayka másh kʰánawi-qʰá(x̣)
good if I throw all-where
DDR: ‘I should throw around’
LBDB: ‘Thus kindly I scatter’
Mika tpuso [sic] kopa bed,
mayka tə́psu kʰupa béd, 
your plant on bed,
DDR: ‘Your plant(s) on the bed,’
LBDB: ‘Thy leaves o’er the bed,’ 

Kah mika tellicum kopa klosh illihee
qʰá(x̣) mayka tílikam kʰupa [8] (t)łúsh-ílihi 
where your friend in good-place
DDR: ‘Where your friends in the garden’
LBDB: ‘Where thy mates of the garden’
Kee-kwilla pee mamoloos.
kíkwile pi méməlus.
down and dead.
DDR: ‘Are down below and dead.’
LBDB: ‘Lie scentless and dead.’

DDR: ‘Third [verse].’

Tinas alki nika klatawa,
tənəs(-)áłqi [9] nayka (t)łátwa
little-eventually I go 

DDR: ‘In a little bye-and-bye I’ll go’
LBDB: ‘So soon may I follow,’
Konsi tellicum chaco halo,

qʰántsi tílikam chaku(-)hílu, 
when friend become-none,
DDR: ‘When friends expire,’
LBDB: ‘When friendships decay.’
Tik-egh t’wagh kweu-kweu,
tíki(x̣) t’wáx̣ k’wúy-k’wuy, 

want bright ring,
DDR: ‘Wanting a shiny ring,’
LBDB: ‘And from love’s shining circle’
Klatawa kee-kwilla kah,
(t)łátwa kíkwile qʰá(x̣), 

go below somewhere,
DDR: ‘Going down somewhere,’
LBDB: ‘The gems drop away;’
Konsi klosh tum-tum mamoloos.

qʰántsi (t)łúsh-tə́mtəm méməlus.
when good-heart die.
DDR: ‘When happy (ones)* die.’
LBDB: ‘When true hearts lie withered.’
Pee klosh tellicum chaco halo;
pi (t)łúsh tílikam chaku-héylu; 

and good friend become-none;
DDR: ‘And good friends expire;’
LBDB: ‘And fond ones are flown.’
Nah: konsi tik-egh mitlite,
ná: qʰántsi tíki(x̣) míłayt,  

hey: how.many want be.located,
DDR: ‘Hey: How many want to be there,’
LBDB: ‘Oh, who would inhabit’
Klale illihee, kopet ict?
Ø* (t)łíʔil ílihi, kʰəpít-íxt?
in* black place, only-one?
DDR: ‘(In) a black place, alone?’
LBDB: ‘This bleak world alone?’


kʰəpít íxt tə́psu* kʰupa wám [1] wouldn’t be understood by any Chinuk Wawa speaker as ‘the last rose of summer’. Here are some reasons.

  • kʰəpít íxt means ‘just one’; maybe LBDB had in mind the idiom kʰəpít-íxt ‘alone’, but neither connotes ‘the last one’, which is a hard concept to express in the language. That’s why I give the translator credit for trying. 
  • tə́psu* (a variant of típsu) is generically understood as ‘plant’ and, in the right contexts, as ‘grass; leaf’ or even ‘hair; feathers’ — not as ‘flower’, let alone ‘rose’. My readers may recall we’ve encountered a Jargon word for ‘rosebush’, tsíxtsix (see “Roses are…Poo?!“), and there’s a Grand Ronde word for ‘flower’ tatís.
  • kʰupa wám is ‘in summer’, and to be less ambiguous you could put ‘summer’ as wám-ílihi. To express the possessive ‘rose of summer’, you can say wám-ílihi (yaka) tsíxtsix-tatís, literally ‘summer (its) rosebush-flower’. 
  • To say ‘the last’ one of these, you’d supply contextual clues in further clauses and sentences, which the rest of the poem actually does quite well by saying that all of her friends are gone, and so on.

tənəs-tə́psu weyk sayá [2] means the opposite of what’s intended! I suspect LBDB, as English-speaking humans are known to do, “misnegated“. That is, she may have semi-consciously assumed that the weyk, which is her usual negative element, made the whole line of poetry (a clause) negative, but it only negates saya. The simple fix would be to add hílu at the start, thus expressing ‘no bud nearby’.

k’ílapay pílpil kʰupa siyáxust [3] is difficult to make sense of. LBDB’s punctuation and the English original words suggest k’ílapay ‘return’ is a transitive verb expressing action by a subject affecting an object, but this word is hardly ever transitive. And when you instead take it as an intransitive, it is possible to parse this expression as a perfect (and excellent) Chinuk Wawa clause, ‘blood returns to the face’. The issue there, though, is that having uncoupled this phrase from the preceding line, you de-contextualize it, making it hard to establish just what it’s talking about. Without reference cues, siyáxust means either ‘eye(s)’ or ‘face’ — it’s alarming to talk about bloody eyes, and not normal in Jargon to speak of blood returning to the face (the blush of health) as we do in English!

pi tə́mtəm(-)húyhuy [4] And this expression is a super tough nut. The original English has ‘Or give sigh for sigh’, that is, exchanging heartfelt exclamations back & forth. On first glance I took LBDB’s Chinuk Wawa expression as tə́mtəm húyhuy ‘minds change; people come to feel differently’, because I’ve seen some English- and French-influenced speakers use the verb for ‘trade’ that way. But such a reading falls far short of what the original song is saying, and LBDB was too good a speaker to settle for that. So, second try: I read these two words as an inventive compound, tə́mtəm-húyhuy ‘heart-exchange’. In summary, the last 3 lines of this verse are an unfortunate failure due to the translator’s trying to stick too literally to the English text. Sometimes you absolutely have to paraphrase, people!

nayka wéyk (t)łátwa, kʰəpít-íxt [5] — In a way, this expression accidentally says just what’s intended! The English lyrics are speaking to a ‘lone one’, and that is certainly what LBDB intended (with her comma signaling the “vocative” address form), but to my knowledge it’s impossible in Chinuk Wawa to call someone kʰəpít-íxt. Again we’re forced into a different but flawless Jargon reading, ‘I won’t go alone’. And that winds up describing the same situation, the idea of one person leaving the other.

mayka sík-tə́mtəm kʰupa stík [6] is a mighty poetic metaphor in the English lyric ‘to pine on the stem’. So by this point it’s predictable that LBDB would’ve stayed too close to its literal words, resulting in a Jargon line that says ‘you’re upset in the forest’! 

(t)łátwa músum mayka Ø* łáska [7] — Here we have a doozy. The English implores the rose to ‘go to sleep, you with them’. LBDB’s Chinuk Wawa just barely can be given that reading, if you’re aware of the “silent preposition” Ø that fluent speakers are documented as using. But with or without that Ø, the Jargon line still has a sexual overtone (!), because when you speak of more than one person músum-ing, the connotation is of having sex, not sleeping. So Bartlett’s translation here sounds to me like ‘go have sex with them, you!’ Oops. 

tílikam kʰupa [8] (t)łúsh-ílihi — Again, kʰupa is not a reliable way to say ‘of’ in Chinuk Wawa. Don’t use it for that purpose, if you have any self-control. But, this expression still approximates the intended sense, as we’ve seen happen in a previous footnote. 

tənəs*(-)áłqi [9] — If a Diminutive of the adverb áłqi is intended here (which is what the dash signals), well, that’s a novel and weird usage that I think fluent Jargon speakers would find as hard to understand as I do. Unlike some other adverbs, the ones referring to time relative to the present moment don’t seem to be inflectable. (I’ll write a separate article on this grammar point.) On the other hand, LBDB may very well have intended 2 separate adverbs in a row, ténəs* áłqi ‘a little bit in the future’. And that’s totally solid Chinuk Wawa. 

Summary of the above:

As always, Mrs. Bartlett’s Jargon is highly fluent, the kind you only develop from years of experience. And as always, her praiseworthy efforts to supply us with Chinuk Wawa reading and singing material tend to come up short when she stays too dependent on the English-language phrasings that form her source material.

What do you think?