Monday, August 26, 2019

So disappearing is the destiny of destinies.

Bring me the sunflower, let me plant it
in my field parched by the salt sea wind,
and let it show the blue reflecting sky
the yearning of its yellow face all day.

Dark things tend to brightness,
bodies fade out in a flood of colors,
colors in music. So disappearing is
the destiny of destinies.

Bring me the plant that leads the way
to where blond transparencies
rise, and life as essence turns to haze;
bring me the sunflower crazed with light.

Eugenio Montale
(translated by Jonathan Galassi)
(Erin's sunflower, Massey, Ont., Aug. 2019)

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Paul Valéry: The Lost Wine

drawing by Jacques Emile Blanche, 1923

It is the eternal question that keeps all the cool kids up at night: should a translator of poetry be more interested in reproducing form or content? (Yes, even to ask the question, we have to pretend that we can separate the two, and that we know which aspects of a poem are "form" and which are "content.")

I think the useful answers are completely ad hoc; that is, we can only consider how a particular translator might best arrive at a version of a particular poem. A bit more abstractly, I figure it pays to think about how well known the source poem already is in the target language. If it isn't already well known --- the early versions of Duino Elegies, for example, or Middle Kazakh epics (if there are any) -- then it might be a good idea to give priority to the prose sense. On the other hand, if there already exist many versions of the source poem, then focus perhaps shifts to the translator's production of a crafted object, and aspects like rhyme and meter, those qualities we call "musical," gain in importance. It is, sure, all very subjective (I'm glad to say).

Paul Valéry's short lyric poems are very well known in English translation (and I think you should always read as many versions of any translated poem as you can find). To my thinking, this opens space for hewing more tightly to the shape of the poem -- though without straying too far from the sense, one hopes.

All of which goes to say that this morning spent trying to translate "Le Vin Perdu" has reminded me that all versions are only versions, provisional and compromised and cobbled together out of scraps. I've managed to approximate the rather difficult rhyme scheme and a lot of Valéry's syntactical oddity, but at the cost of metrical regularity and of the original's rich music (e.g., the leaden clunk of my closing rhyme!). But, after all, there is no final word, but only this attempt and then the next attempt ....

The Lost Wine

I, one certain day, on the Ocean,
(I forget under what starry sign)
Threw in, as if the void's oblation,
A dram of vintage, rich and fine.

Who ordained your loss, my potion?
Perhaps I obeyed someone divine?
Or was it my own heart's devotion,
Thinking of blood and pouring wine?

The purifying sea
Regained its usual clarity
After the briefest misting of rose ...

Lost that wine, the waves drunken! …
I saw – into the bitter air arose
Ciphers, from where they lay sunken …

Le Vin Perdu

J’ai, quelque jour, dans l’Océan,
(mais je ne sais plus sous quels cieux),
Jeté, comme offrande au néant,
Tout un peu de vin précieux…

Qui voulut ta perte, ô liqueur?
J’obéis peut-être au devin?
Peut-être au souci de mon coeur,
Songeant au sang, versant le vin?

Sa transparence accoutumée
Après une rose fumée
Reprit aussi pure la mer…

Perdu ce vin, ivres les ondes!…
J’ai vu bondir dans l’air amer
Les figures les plus profondes…

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Rilke, two poems from French

Rilke, about 1880

Two poems translated at Belle Ombre

Monday, June 3, 2019

What Are Poets For?

wozu Dichter in dürftiger Zeit?

                               But meanwhile too often I think it's
    Better to sleep than to be friendless as we are, alone,
Always waiting, and what to do or say in the meantime
    I don't know, and who wants poets at all in lean years?

-- “Bread and Wine,” Friedrich Hölderlin (trans. Michael Hamburger)

 Albert Hofstadter, in his marvelous translation of Martin Heidegger's 1946 essay “What Are Poets For?” renders Hölderlin's phrase “wozu Dichter in dürftiger Zeit?” as “what are poets for in a destitute time?” and I think that is better than Hamburger's “lean years." For sure, it is closer to Heidegger's reading of the poem, which is what Hofstadter is after.

Halfway through the essay, Heidegger veers close to an answer. Anyone might have written what he writes here, but he has just spent twenty-five pages in meticulous argumentation to build the terms of what he will say (and this is followed by twenty-five more pages of equally careful work in explanation). That is, Heidegger earns it. 

From Hofstadter's translation in Poetry Language Thought: 

This day is the world's night, rearranged into merely technological day. This day is the shortest day. It threatens a single endless winter. Not only does protection now withhold itself from man, but the integralness of of the whole of what is remains now in darkness. The wholesome and sound withdraws. The world becomes without healing, unholy. Not only does the holy, as the track to the godhead, thereby remain concealed; even the track to the holy, the hale and whole, seems to be effaced. That is, unless there are still some mortals capable of seeing the threat of the unhealable, the unholy, as such. They would have to discern the danger that is assailing man. The danger consists in the threat that assaults man's nature in his relation to Being itself, and not in accidental perils. This danger is the danger. It conceals itself in the abyss that underlies all things. To see this danger and point it out, there must be mortals who reach sooner into the abyss. 

 But where there is danger, there grows also what saves.
 – Friedrich Hölderlin

Friday, May 24, 2019

Monday, January 7, 2019

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Hofmannsthal, Ballad of the Outer Life

Petroleum, Indiana, March, 2016

Ballad of the Outer Life

And children grow older deep in their eyes,
Who know nothing of the world, but age and die,
And the living proceed on their ways.

And green fruits sweeten on a strip of sky
And fall like birds that perish in the nights,
And, a few days on, they rot where they lie.

And ever the wind turns, and we follow its whims
And repeat the words we've heard or mis-heard.
We feel pleasure, then weariness weighs down our limbs.

And paths go through the grass and lead toward
Noble places with arbors and ponds and torches,
While others are menacing and deathly withered.

Why were they built? Why is it one never matches
Another? And so many that our counting fails?
Why is it a man laughs, then weeps, then blanches?

Why are we in this game where nothing avails,
Where, great as we are but forever alone, we go
Wandering and wandering, seeking without goals?

Why have we seen so much, and no good comes?
And yet he speaks a truth who says “Evening,”
A word from which wisdom and mournng flow
Like heavy honey from the hollow combs.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal
(my translation)

Ballade des äußeren Lebens

Und Kinder wachsen auf mit tiefen Augen,
Die von nichts wissen, wachsen auf und sterben,
Und alle Menschen gehen ihre Wege.

Und süße Früchte werden aus den herben
Und fallen nachts wie tote Vögel nieder
Und liegen wenig Tage und verderben.

Und immer weht der Wind, und immer wieder
Vernehmen wir und reden viele Worte
Und spüren Lust und Müdigkeit der Glieder.

Und Straßen laufen durch das Gras, und Orte
Sind da und dort, voll Fackeln, Bäumen, Teichen,
Und drohende, und totenhaft verdorrte ...

Wozu sind diese aufgebaut? und gleichen
Einander nie? und sind unzählig viele?
Was wechselt Lachen, Weinen und Erbleichen?

Was frommt das alles uns und diese Spiele,
Die wir doch groß und ewig einsam sind
Und wandernd nimmer suchen irgend Ziele?

Was frommt's, dergleichen viel gesehen haben?
Und dennoch sagt der viel, der "Abend" sagt,
Ein Wort, daraus Tiefsinn und Trauer rinnt
Wie schwerer Honig aus den hohlen Waben.