Jill Jones gets lost in translation - the poems will end up here
August 12, 2006
George Szirtes - a note on translation
A Note for the Poetry Book Society
"Poetry, as Robert Frost notoriously said, is what gets lost in the translation. To transfer the words, just as they are, directly across from language to language, is indeed to lose the point. Try directly translating a joke and you will appreciate the difficulties involved. “It’s the way I tell them,” as one old comedian said. All the more so with poetry. Of all the sorts of literature it is the one most deeply involved with form and the sheer power of language. In poetry we are not encouraged to rush ahead in order to find out what happens next. We hear the song of it and are aware of the dimensions of each line, each beat, each word.
"But the extraordinary is possible. Think of the parts of the King James Bible, of Golding’s or Ted Hughes’s Ovid (so different, both so convincing), of Pound’s Li Po, of translations from Rilke, Apollinaire, Popa or Holub. We know we are reading poetry when we read these. How do they relate to the original works?
"Zsuzsa (say Zhoozha) Rakovszky is one of the best living Hungarian poets. When translating her I wanted to make her sound in English as she sounds to me in Hungarian. In order to do so I had to invent something - a voice, not my voice, yet not wholly different either - while listening intently to her. It was her voice that I kept coming back to: without it there would have been no poem. That voice comprised all the things her poems did cumulatively, through pace, imagery, tone and form.
"Maybe poetry is what lies beneath this or that specific language. The buzzing in the tree that articulates itself in clear, specific leaves. The joke, the same strange joke, sounding fresh as it speaks to you in its new language."
August 06, 2006
A prospect of spring - Du Fu
The country’s been broken, see, only hills and rivers.
In the city here’s the lush growth of spring.
These times are splashed with tears before flowers.
Grieved at parting, birds startle the heart.
Beacons have been burning for three whole months.
Any letter from home is worth ten thousand gold.
I’ve scratched my white hair so thin
It can’t hold even a hairpin in place.
- Du Fu (translated by Jill Jones)
I've been doing some reading and research on Mandelstam, who I've come to rather late, and I came across this useful Indian blog with Mandelstam references. Looks like it may have other useful stuff.
The biggest problem for non-Russian speakers is to find a good translation of Mandelstam's poems. My main source at the moment is a borrowed copy (thanks Brian) of the Clarence Brown/W.S. Merwin Penguin translation from 30 years back. I'm aware of Brodsky's and Nabokov's criticisms of that version. I'm on the lookout for others.
[Meriggiare pallido e assorto] - Montale
To rest at noon, pale and absorbed
near a sun-blazed garden wall
to listen amongst the thorns and brakes
to the clatter of blackbirds, rustle of snakes.
In cracks of ground or on the vetch
to spy upon files of red ants
now breaking loose, now interweaving
on the summits of their tiny stacks.
To watch between green leaves the beating
of far away, scales of sea
while the quavering creak arises,
the cicada songs from bald peaks.
And going on into the dazzling sun
to feel with melancholy wonder
how all life and its travail is in
this tracking of a wall
with jagged glass set along its rim.
- Eugenio Montale (translated by Jill Jones)
This version of Montale's famous poem was published in the translation issue of Meanjin, Vol. 64, No. 4, in late 2005.
I should note my thanks to Anny Ballardini for her comments on an earlier version I did of this a couple of years ago which led me to make an important adjustment.
"Tartars, Uzbecks ..." - Mandelstam
Tartars, Uzbecks and the Nenetz people
And the entire Ukrainian nation,
Even the tribes of the Volga Germans
Await the coming of the translators.
And as I write, some Japanese
Is translating me perhaps
Into Turkish, baring all
The inner mysteries of my soul
- An 'imitation' of Osip Mandelstam by Rosemary Dobson and David Campbell
I was moved and amused by this, in the context of this site. It's from a long out-of-print work by Australian poets Rosemary Dobson (still going strong) and David Campbell (who died in 1979), called Seven Russian Poets, UQP, 1979.
The two poets worked with translators Olga Hassanoff and later with well-known Australian author, Robert Dessaix, on developing their versions of poems by Mandelstan, Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetaeva, Olga Berggolts, Bella Akhmadulina, Natalia Gorbanevskaia and Yunna Morits. Dobson and Campbell explicitly state: "We do not present these poems as translations but rather as imitations of the originals, re-created in English". Some of the translations of each poem are joint translations and some are what they considered to be the 'best' from either version completed.
translating classical chinese poetry
There is a good site, simply called Chinese poems, which presents Chinese, pinyin and English texts of classical Chinese poems mainly from the Tang and Song dynasties, including the obvious Li Po (Li Bai) and Tu Fu (Du Fu).
Attached to the transliteration and translation of Du Fu's famous 'Spring View' is a worthwhile discussion on the issues involved in translating 'Spring View', and a pointer to an analysis of the poem by Paul Rouzer of Columbia University at Asian Topics, another worthwhile site for those interested in Tang Dynasty poetry.