© doublespeak magazine 2020

  • Black Facebook Icon

2018

our staff

Editor-in-Chief

Shailly Pandey

Senior Editor

Yehudith Dashevsky

Content Manager

Nadia Park

Communications Director

Hannah Lieberman

Staff Editors

Jasmine Phun

Mandy Wang

Heta Patel

Yuxin Vivian Wen

Luisa Healey

Copy Editors

Thomas Myers

Rhosean Asmah

Meerie Jesuthasan

Podcast Coordinator/Junior Graphic Designer

Ella Konefal

Graphic Designer

Margaret Zhang

Faculty Advisor

Taije Silverman

A special thanks to Kelly Writers House for all their support.

 

table of contents

Black Woman

Léopold Sédar Senghor | Donnisa Edmonds

Here I Love You

Pablo Neruda | Samantha Friskey

 

Where Does Such Tenderness Come From?

Marina Tsvetaeva | Jianing Zhao

Repose

Antonia Pozzi | Stephanie Diaz

Three Sonnets Extracted from Les Amours

Pierre de Ronsard | Saagar Asnani

Meadow in the Forest

Paul Celan | Michaela Kotziers

As Much As You Can

C.P. Cavafy | Josh Bryer

Riddle 47

Exeter Book | Samantha Pious 

If You Don't Come Home, I'm Too Afraid to Age

Li Jizong | Kejia Wang

Wait

Nelly Sachs | Alex Stern

Poesia

Giovanni Pascoli | Stefano Pietrosanti

Musings: The Keepers of Metaphor 

An Excerpt from an Interview with

Editor, Poet and Translator Ellen Doré Watson | Michaela Kotziers

Where a Bird is Always Nesting

Ellen Doré Watson

The Birth of the Poem

Adélia Prado | Ellen Doré Watson

Musings: Starting From the Title:

Translating a Captured Ruler and His Captivating Ci

an essay by Yuchao Wang

 

Life Song

Paul Celan | Michaela Kotziers

Moon

Nathan Alterman | Josh Glahn

A Snowy Night

Moon Taejoon | Chenel Morrison

Memories Watch Me

Tomas Tranströmer | Rhosean Asmah

You Are Not Poetry

Rosario Castellanos | Stephanie Diaz

O Motherland, My Dear Motherland

Shu Ting | Vivian Yuxin Wen

Requiem

Anna Akhmatova | Yehudith Dashevsky

The Meditated Death

Giuseppe Ungaretti | Carla Rossi

The Verb

Mario Benedetti | Ella Konefal

In the Pyre of War

Hannah Szenes | Jacob Hershman

 

Femme Noire

Léopold Sédar Senghor

 

Femme nue, femme noire
Vêtue de ta couleur qui est vie, de ta forme qui est beauté!
J’ai grandi à ton ombre; la douceur de tes mains bandait
      mes yeux.
Et voilà qu’au coeur de l’Eté et de Midi, je te découvre,
      Terre promise, du haut d’un haut col calciné
Et ta beauté me foudroie en plein coeur, comme l’éclair
      d’un aigle.

Femme nue, femme obscure
Fruit mûr à la chair ferme, sombres extases du vin noir,
      bouche qui fais lyrique ma bouche
Savane aux horizons purs, savane qui frémis aux caresses
      ferventes du Vent d’Est
Tamtam sculpté, tamtam tendu qui grondes sous les doigts
du vainqueur
Ta voix grave de contralto est le chant spirituel de l’Aimée.

Femme nue, femme obscure
Huile que ne ride nul souffle, huile calme aux flancs de
      l’athlète, aux flancs des princes du Mali
Gazelle aux attaches célestes, les perles sont étoiles sur
      la nuit de ta peau
Délices des jeux de l’esprit, les reflets de l’or rouge sur ta
      peau qui se moire
A l’ombre de ta chevelure, s’éclaire mon angoisse aux
      soleils prochains de tes yeux.

Femme nue, femme noire
Je chante ta beauté qui passe, forme que je fixe dans l’Eternel
Avant que le Destin jaloux ne te réduise en cendres pour
      nourrir les racines de la vie.

Black Woman

translated by Donnisa Edmonds

Bare Woman, Black Woman

Wrapped in your color which is life, in your shape which is beauty

I grew up in your shadow; your hands covered my eyes gently

           And now, at the height of summer and at midday, 

I find you, the Promised Land, at the summit of a high,                                           scorched mountain pass

And as lightning strikes an eagle,

           your beauty strikes my heart. 

Bare Woman, Black Woman 

Ripe fruit with firm flesh, the dark rapture of black wine, lips                                  that my mouth makes songs about

To the pure horizons of the Savannah, the Savannah that trembles                        with the reverent caresses of the East Wind

Sculpted rhythm, tense rhythm that rumbles under the fingers                of the victorious

Your deep, contralto voice is the spiritual chant of the Loved. 

 

Bare Woman, Black Woman

Oil that no breeze can ripple, oil that soothes the sides of an athlete                  and the sides of Mali’s princes. 

A gazelle with celestial ties, pearls are stars

          on the night of your skin       

The sparkle of gold that consumes your iridescent skin,                                        is a delight to the Soul

In the shadow of your hair, my anxieties are lightened by the sunlight                   coming from your eyes. 

 

Bare Woman, Black Woman

I sing of your passing beauty, a form that I fix among the Eternal

Before jealous fate reduces you to ashes that will nourish                                        the roots of life. 

translator's note​

This poem is deeply rooted in the principles of Négritude that Senghor helped establish in France in the 1930s. The idea of celebrating and finding pride in blackness is evident in the way this poem conceptualizes a “Black Woman” as an almost otherworldly being, one who demands respect simply for her way of existing. American society is currently at a crossroads with representations of black women in literature and media. I decided to translate this poem to bring attention to how it depicts black women and to the fact that they are often absent in mainstream poetry. I made the choice to maintain "bare woman, black woman" throughout the piece because I felt that coming back to that phrase was a good way to unify the translation.

about the poet

LÉOPOLD SÉDAR SENGHOR was born in Joal, Senegal in 1906 and died in 2001 in Verson, France. At the age of 8, Senghor began his studies at a Christian boarding school. He later joined a seminary but decided to leave the religious life to attend a secular university. After completing his baccalaureate, he continued his studies in France where he formed a group with other intellectuals from the African diaspora. This group would eventually begin the Négritude movement in response to the racism present in France. This movement became a strong foundation for the rest of his literary work. The majority of his poetry addresses his opinions on blackness and the complex relationship between France and its colonies. The idea of Négritude also served as the basis for his political thought as he later advocated for Senegal’s independence from France. After the separation, he became the first president of Senegal. When he took his leave from politics, he retired to France to publish more poetry and was inducted into the French Academy as their first African member. He remains well known as one of the most important African intellectuals in the 20th century.  

 

about the translator

DONNISA EDMONDS is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Biological Basis of Behavior with a minor in French and Francophone studies. She was born in the Bronx but grew up in a small college town in Ohio. She was inspired to try translation for the first time by her roommates.

Senegal. Photo by Chiara Bonafede.

 

Aquí te amo

Pablo Neruda

 

Aquí te amo. 
En los oscuros pinos se desenreda el viento. 
Fosforece la luna sobre las aguas errantes. 
Andan días iguales persiguiéndose. 

Se desciñe la niebla en danzantes figuras. 
Una gaviota de plata se descuelga del ocaso. 
A veces una vela. Altas, altas estrellas. 

O la cruz negra de un barco. 
Solo. 
A veces amanezco, y hasta mi alma está húmeda. 
Suena, resuena el mar lejano. 
Este es un puerto. 
Aquí te amo. 

Aquí te amo y en vano te oculta el horizonte. 
Te estoy amando aún entre estas frías cosas. 
A veces van mis besos en esos barcos graves, 
que corren por el mar hacia donde no llegan. 

Ya me veo olvidado como estas viejas anclas. 
Son más tristes los muelles cuando atraca la tarde. 
Se fatiga mi vida inútilmente hambrienta. 
Amo lo que no tengo. Estás tú tan distante. 

Mi hastío forcejea con los lentos crepúsculos. 
Pero la noche llega y comienza a cantarme. 
La luna hace girar su rodaje de sueño. 

Me miran con tus ojos las estrellas más grandes. 
Y como yo te amo, los pinos en el viento,

quieren cantar tu nombre con sus hojas de alambre.

Here I Love You

translated by Samantha Friskey

Here I love you.

In the dark pines, the wind untangles its being.

The phosphorescent moon glows on the wandering waters.

Identical days go chasing one another.

 

The fog unravels itself into the figure of a dancer.

A silver gull descends into sundown.

Sometimes, a sail. Those far, far stars.

 

Oh, the black cross of a ship.
Alone.

Sometimes when I wake, even my soul is wet.
Sound, resound, the distant sea.

This is a port.

Here I love you.


Here I love you, here the horizon hides you in vain.

Even among such coldness, I am loving you.

Sometimes my kisses board those solemn boats

that cross the sea, running toward someplace they’ll never arrive.

 

Already, I see myself forgotten like those old anchors.

Sadder still are the piers when the afternoon docks there.

My hungry existence grows weary.

I love what I do not have. You are so distant.

 

My weariness wrestles with the slow twilights.

But night comes and begins to sing to me.

The moon spins its circular dream.

 

The grandest stars look at me with your eyes.

And as I love you, the pines in the wind want to sing

your name with their leaves of wire.

translator's note​

When I was translating “Aquí te amo,” I was struck by the beautiful simplicity of reflexive verbs in Spanish. The second line, for example, features the verb “se desenreda,” which directly translates to “unravels itself.” As I translated, I wanted to subtly explore the idea of self within the context of a relationship. As the opening stanzas feature a handful of reflexive verbs, I began to ask myself—in a relationship, what do we do to ourselves, and what do we do to others?

 

The primary challenge of translating this poem was preserving the romantic nature of the work, as the poem is, of course, a love poem. I tried to preserve alliteration wherever I could and added alliterations in other parts of the poem to make up for those that did not translate well in order to enhance the romanticism of the translation.

about the poet

PABLO NERUDA, a Chilean poet and diplomat, is known for his command of romance and sensuality in his writing. Neruda wrote in a variety of styles, including surrealist poems, historical epics, overtly political manifestos, a prose autobiography, and passionate love poems such as the ones in his collection Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1924), eventually leading him to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. As said by Robert Clemens in the Saturday Review, Veinte Poemas de Amor y Una Canción Desesperada "established [Neruda] at the outset as a frank, sensuous spokesman for love." At the time of the coup d’état led by Augusto Pinochet in 1973, Neruda had been diagnosed with cancer and hospitalized. He died later that year. It is believed that he was poisoned at the behest of the Pinochet regime.

 

about the translator

SAMANTHA FRISKEY is an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania who is majoring in English and earning a certificate in Hispanic studies. After being raised in a household where only English was spoken, she has made it a life goal to become bilingual.

Pablo Neruda

"Poema 18", Viente poemas de amor y una canción desesperada

@ Fundación Pablo Neruda, 1924

 

Откуда такая нежность?

Marina Tsvetaeva

О. Э. Мандельштаму

Откуда такая нежность?
Не первые — эти кудри
Разглаживаю, и губы
Знавала темней твоих.

Всходили и гасли звезды,
Откуда такая нежность?—
Всходили и гасли очи
У самых моих очей.

Еще не такие гимны
Я слушала ночью темной,
Венчаемая — о нежность!—
На самой груди певца.

Откуда такая нежность,
И что с нею делать, отрок
Лукавый, певец захожий,
С ресницами — нет длинней?

Where Does Such Tenderness Come From?

translated by Jianing Zhao

to O. E. Mandelstam

 

Where does such tenderness come from?

Not the first ones—these curls

that I’m untwirling, and I have known

lips darker than yours.

 

Stars rose and dimmed,

Where does such tenderness come from?

Eyes rose and dimmed—your eyes,

Gazing into my own.

 

Not yet have I heard hymns like this,

through the darkness—oh tenderness!

charmed, crowned on the chest

of the singer, and rest.

 

Where does such tenderness come from?

And what to do with it—you youthful,

sauntering, sly singer; have I known

eyelashes longer than yours?  

translator's note​

I used to believe that poetry is what’s lost during translation. So, when translating a poem myself, I think about how to minimize that loss, what to lose, and in turn, what to gain. I tried to stick to Tsvetaeva’s original syntax as much as possible, though it’s often ambiguous, a result of both the flexibility of Russian sentence structure and Tsvetaeva’s personal style. I supplied my own interpretation of the poem at places of ambiguity. While both stars and eyes “[rise] and [dim],” I suggest that there is a difference between the vast vagueness of the stars and the specificity of the eyes that concern the narrator. For example, in the second stanza, Tsvetaeva doesn’t specify whose eyes are“gazing into my own,” so I added “—your eyes," differentiating it from the first line of the same stanza while maintaining a parallel structure. Another example is in the last two lines of the third stanza, which literally mean “had a wedding in church—oh tenderness! / on the singer’s own chest.” I searched for words that capture the essence of the scene depicted and evoke the idea of a church wedding. Eventually, I settled on the words “charm,” “crown,” and “rest,” keeping in mind the flow and rhythm of the stanza. Although Tsvetaeva doesn’t employ a rhyme scheme, as this stanza is a hymn, I decided to use end rhymes and alliteration to create a sense of melody. The melody is a bit arbitrary and non-systematic (especially with the abruptness of the intrusion “oh tenderness!”), but nevertheless corresponds to the tonality of the hymn drifting through the dark night. I also shaped the ending of the poem to resemble the ending of the first stanza. The last stanza turns from a declarative sentence to a question, corresponding to the development of the narrator’s emotions throughout the poem. She first tries to find a rational explanation for the unusual tenderness she feels, then realizes her complete infatuation despite all doubts and criticisms. The ending, therefore, is an exclamation masked in a question.

about the poet

MARINA IVANOVNA TSVETAEVA (Марина Ивановна Цветаева) was a Russian poet born in Moscow, whose work is considered among the greatest in 20th century literature. She lived through and wrote of the Russian Revolution of 1917; her daughter died of the famine that followed the revolution, her husband was executed on espionage charges, and she committed suicide in 1941. Many of her poems (such as the famous one starting with “I’ve cut open my veins…”) deal with rather heavy topics and exhibit daring linguistic experimentation, establishing her as a striking chronicler of her time and the human condition in tragic circumstances. In this poem, however, we see another side of Tsvetaeva: her brief love affair with Osip Mandelstam, another famous poet, while her husband was in the White Army. This poem was written in 1916 and dedicated to Mandelstam. In it, we see Tsvetaeva’s passion, her interest in temporality, and her emerging style of circular structure and unusual syntax.

about the translator

JIANING ZHAO is a sophomore at Princeton University majoring in comparative literature and minoring in archaeology, theater, and gender and sexuality studies. Based on her unrequited love for Soviet rock music, poetry (especially by Mayakovski), and plays (especially those by Evgeny Schwartz), she believes she was born in the wrong time and place. One of her favorite places in the world is a Soviet nonconformist art gallery hidden in the depths of a

St. Petersburg alley.

 

Giacere

Antonia Pozzi

 

Ora l'annientamento blando
di nuotare riversa,
col sole in viso
– il cervello penetrato di rosso
traverso le palpebre chiuse –.
Stasera, sopra il letto, nella stessa postura,
il candore trasognato
di bere,
con le pupille larghe,
l'anima bianca della notte.

Repose

translated by Stephanie Diaz

Now the languid annihilation

of swimming backstroke,

the sun in your face

            brain interrupted by red

            across eyes shut tight.

Tonight, on the sheets, in the same shape,

the moony candor

of drinking,

with wide eyes,

night’s white life.

translator's note​

I do not speak Italian so creating this translation was challenging! With the assistance of native speakers as well as guidance from the professor of my translation course, I was able to better understand the poem. In “Repose,” I focused on highlighting the intense physical sensations that Pozzi invokes in her original. In the line “—il cervello penetrato di rosso / traverso le palpebre chiuse—,"she uses dashes to separate the sensation she describes from the rest of the piece. I felt that it would be interesting to manifest the distinction in a more physical form in my translation. For this reason, I chose to indent the lines “brain interrupted by red / across eyes shut tight,” offsetting them from the other lines.

 

“Tonight, on the sheets, in the same shape,” was perhaps the hardest part of the poem to translate, as I really loved the repetition of “s” sounds in Pozzi’s version. While I couldn’t find an equivalent for “tonight” that had a similar sound, I worked to maintain the alliterative “s” sounds in the rest of the sentence.

about the poet

ANTONIA POZZI was an Italian poet, born in 1912. She died at the age of 26 in 1938. After her death, her father collected her poems and letters and assembled them in a book entitled Parole, which he heavily censored. Most notably, Pozzi’s father made efforts to exclude mentions of Pozzi’s longtime lover and former teacher who was sixteen years her senior. Newer publications and translations of her work have made efforts to present Pozzi’s original poems.

 

about the translator

STEPHANIE DIAZ is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying whatever she happens to find interesting (at the moment,  French and Francophone studies with minors in art history and sociology). She has recently discovered that defining "home" is a bit difficult for her. However, she can tell you that she grew up in a small town in Georgia and that her family comes from a Mexican town called Rio Verde. Stephanie grew up speaking Spanish, despite initial difficulties rolling her Rs, and started learning French in high school. Her hobbies include being overly-critical of both pop culture and high art, and dreaming of living in a cottage by a lake with two loving dogs.

Lake Orta, Italy. Photo by Sara Casella.

 

Trois Sonnets extraits de Les Amours

Pierre de Ronsard

VI 

Ces liens d’or, ceste bouche vermeille,

     Pleine de lis, de roses, et d’œuilletz,

     Et ces couraulx chastement vermeilletz,

     Et ceste joue à l’Aurore pareille :

Ces mains, ce col, ce front, et ceste oreille,

     Et de ce sein les boutons verdeletz,

     Et de ces yeulx les astres jumeletz,

     Qui font trembler les ames de merveille :

Feirent nicher Amour dedans mon sein,

     Qui gros de germe avoit le ventre plein,

     D’œufz non formez et de glaires nouvelles.

Et luy couvant (qui de mon cuœur jouit

     Neuf mois entiers) en un jour m’eclouit

     Mille amoureaux chargez de traits et d’aisles.
 

VII

Bien qu’à grand tort il te plaist d’allumer

     Dedans mon cuœur, siege à ta seigneurie,

     Non d’une amour, ainçois d’une furie

     Le feu cruel pour mes os consumer,

L’aspre torment ne m’est point si amer,

     Qu’il ne me plaise, et si n’ay pas envie

     De me douloir : car je n’ayme ma vie

     Si non d’autant qu’il te plaist de l’aimer.

Mais si les cieulx m’ont fait naistre, Ma dame,

     Pour estre tien, ne genne plus mon ame,

     Mais pren en gré ma ferme loyaulté.

Vault il pas mieulx en tirer du service,

     Que par l’horreur d’un cruel sacrifice,

     L’occire aux piedz de ta fiere beauté ?

VIII

Lors que mon œil pour t’œillader s’amuse,

     Le tien habile à ses traits decocher,

     Estrangement m’empierre en un rocher,

     Comme au regard d’une horrible Meduse.

Moy donc rocher, si dextrement je n’use

     L’outil des Seurs pour ta gloire esbaucher,

     Qu’un seul Tuscan est digne de toucher.

     Non le changé, mais le changeur accuse

Las qu’ay je dit ? Dans un roc emmuré,

     En te blamant je ne suis asseuré,

     Tant j’ay grand peur des flammes de ton ire,

Et que mon chef par le feu de tes yeux

     Soit diffamé, comme les monts d’Epire

     Sont diffamez par les flammes des cieulx.

Three Sonnets extracted from Les Amours

translated by Saagar Asnani

VI

These vermillion lips, these golden rings,

     Full of lilies, roses, and carnations,

     And corals of scarlet colorations,

     And this cheek, Aurore’s own, to my mind brings:

These hands, this neck, this chest, this ear, these things,

     From this bosom, a green button blazons,

     And from these eyes, the heavens’ conjunctions,

     That make tremble even the souls of kings:

Ensconced is the Love within my bosom,

     Thou filled with seed, has a stomach buxom,

     With eggs yet unformed and glairs newly made.

As it develops (my heart rejoices

     Nine whole months) and in one day produces

     A thousand lovers with wings and bolts staid.

 

VII

Although with great pain thou wish to ignite

     Within my heart, the seat of thy power,

     Not of love, more so that of a furor

     The cruel fire, to my bones consume, so bright,

Sheer torment is not so bitter to bite,

     That it displeases me and if it were

     To sadden me: I love life, my flower,

     Only as much as it serves thy delight.

But if the skies birthed me, I cajole,

     To be yours, do not bother my poor soul,

     Take confidence in my firm loyalty.

Is it not better to find in service,

     Than by the horror of cruel sacrifice,

     Sweet death at the feet of thy proud beauty?

 

VIII

My eye wanders and alights upon thee,

     Given to such sudden movements, thine own,

     Strangely imprisons me, as if in stone,

     As Medusa’s horrid gaze upon me.

Thus become rock, I cannot play nimbly

     The Muses’ lyre, to thy glory intone,

     Played by Tuscans, worthy was he alone.

     Not the changèd, the changer, proclaims she,

Alas, what have I said? Walled within rock,

     I blame thee, but am not assured by talk,

     Such is my great fear of flames of thine ire,

And that my name, by the fire in thine eyes

     Be defamed. Epirus’s peaks, ever higher

     Were defamèd by the flames in the skies.

translator's note​

In French, there are two separate words for describing the rewriting of literature from one language to another. There is traduction, which is simply translating the meaning of a string of words from one language to another. One has the freedom to change the syntax, grammar, word choice, and even rhyme scheme in a traduction. The other word to describe such a process is translation. Though it may not be found in a dictionary, the word translation is colloquially used to describe the rewriting of work in another language while maintaining original artistry, such as rhyme scheme, word choice, rhythm, and flow. In essence, in a translation, one is writing poetry of one’s own, using the original as a baseline. In this case, I have chosen to do a translation of three sonnets from Pierre de Ronsard’s collection Les Amours. Written in Moyen Français, or Middle French, in the mid-sixteenth century, Les Amours is a collection of sonnets describing Ronsard’s love for a young woman named Cassandre. What Beatrice is to Dante, what Laura is to Petrarch, Cassandre is to Ronsard. He pours all his creative gifts into describing her virtues and beauty in these sonnets, a style of poem heavily influenced by Petrarch and Shakespeare before him. I chose these three sonnets to give a glimpse into Ronsard’s mastery of the genre. His succinct yet vague declarations of love tug at the heartstrings and depict love through a variety of lenses: physical, spiritual, and philosophical.

 

I attempted to keep the decasyllabic form throughout the three sonnets. Every line is ten syllables long and follows the same rhyme scheme as the original. The first two quatrains are ABBAABBA, while the next couplet is always CC, and the final quatrain alternates between DEED and DEDE. Finally, I attempted to keep with the time period and used the informal, ancient form “thou” for any parallel usage in the original French. What strikes me most about Ronsard’s creativity is that it holds true for tales and clichés of amour even today, nearly 500 years later.

about the poet

PIERRE DE RONSARD was born in 1524 in a small village known as Couture-Sur-Loir, on the banks of the Loir River. Ronsard finished his education in Paris and quickly made a name for himself as a great poet. Growing up in Renaissance France, he started his career under Madeleine de France, the Queen of Scots, as a translator of classical works into vernacular languages. After her death, he found himself in Paris and slowly made acquaintances with several other up-and-coming poets and authors of the time, including Antoine de Baïf, Pontus de Tyard, Joachim du Bellay, and Étienne Jodelle, among others. This group came to be called La Pléiade, modeled after the Alexandrian Pleiad, a group of seven Alexandrian poets and tragedians in the 3rd century BC. Ronsard was the founding member of the group, and has since been known as one of the greatest lyricists of French history. Today, La Pléiade forms an essential part of the French literary canon and is studied by French literature students of all levels.

 

about the translator

SAAGAR ASNANI is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences at Penn studying biology, French, and music. He has always considered himself an avid Francophile at heart, and more recently a medievalist, concentrating much of his French studies on the Middle Ages and Renaissance, mostly in the realm of literature. Having spent a semester in Lyon studying the works of poets like Ronsard and Chrétien de Troyes, he wishes to make these masterpieces accessible to a wider audience and to translate more works from Middle and Old French into English. He plays viola in various groups across campus, including the Penn Symphony, and intends to go to medical school after finishing his undergraduate education. 

 

Die Wiese im Wald

Paul Celan

Die grüne Fahne gehißt hat der Abend: mein Herz hat

        geträumt…

 

Im Schatten der riesigen Pilze grast wieder das goldene Reh:

Hier wand ich den Toten die Kränze des Sommers.

Ich sprach auch: verbrannt ist das Laub vom Holunder.

So schläfst du nun tiefer: du weißt, daß ich weinte.

 

Den Stern vergrub ich sehr tief, einen Speerwurf von hier:

Das Mal deiner Wange, mein Abschied vom Himmel.

Meadow in the Forest

translated by Michaela Kotziers

The green colors were lifted by the night. So my heart had                                                                                                                         dreamt…

 

In the shadow of elephant mushrooms the copper doe is grazing again.

Here my hands loop a crown of summer for the dead.

I speak too: crackling brown is the sprig of elderflower.

So you sleep more deeply now. You know that I cried.

 

For the star I dug a grave deep down, a spear throw from here—

the mark of your cheek, my parting from heaven.

translator's note​

Moving to Germany this past year has brought on a number of changes in my life, from the way that I drink my coffee, to keeping a travel bag packed for a new city every other weekend. These changes, of course, don’t begin to touch what it’s like to live in a new language, to feel at times that you’ve once again become a child lost for words. I spend many of my afternoons in Nuremberg walking through the city’s parks. Trees have always helped me to feel at home, no matter where I’ve moved. There’s something reassuring about seeing tree branches in a new place and thinking, Yes, they’re peaceful here, too. I was disappointed to realize, though, that when I tried to describe the quiet of these parks in German, the language in which they’d grown, I fell short. So when I came across a collection of Paul Celan’s early works in the city library and saw how many poems he’d written about parks and meadows, I felt a rush of gratitude for his words. I find translation to be an act of coming closer to a poem. You engage with every word before carrying the whole into a new language. Translating Celan has brought me closer to his individual poems and the German language, but even more importantly, it’s reminded me that our thoughts and emotional relationships to this world are shared. The impressions that I had in English existed in German as well, already years before. And this is why I love translation. It challenges us to look beyond something artificial, such as language, and find kinship with other humans.

 

Translating from German to English always brings trouble when it comes to German definite articles and their cases, which simply don’t exist in English. Without definite articles to indicate accusative and nominative case, there’s less freedom to change the order of subject and object in an English sentence. For this reason, I’ve reordered words in certain lines but otherwise stayed quite close to the original.

about the poet

PAUL CELAN was born in 1920 in Chernivsti, the capital of Bukovina, which was formerly northern Romania and is currently Ukraine. Because all of Romania’s medical schools were closed to him as a Jewish man, Celan began his first years of university study in France in1938-1939. The Soviet Union occupied Bukovina in 1940, with Chernivtsi later coming under German occupation in 1941. Celan’s parents were sent to forced labor camps in June 1942; his father died some months later from typhus, and his mother was killed by an SS guard. Celan was sent to a forced labor battalion in northeast Romania from the summer of 1942 until early 1944.  In 1945, Celan relocated to Bucharest where he translated Russian into Romanian and published his first poems. Before moving to Paris in 1948, Celan lived in Vienna, his only residence with German as its exclusive vernacular language. His departure from Vienna was an attempt to leave behind his youth and its unbearable memories of war and his parents’ deaths. This geographic and emotional move is also manifested as a break between Celan’s early and later poetic works. Paul Celan died in Paris in April, 1970.

 

about the translator

MICHAELA KOTZIERS received her BA in English literature with concentrations in creative writing and medieval studies from the University of Pennsylvania in 2017. She is currently teaching English in Nuremberg, Germany.

 

Όσο Mπορείς Αναγνωρισμένα

C. P. Cavafy

Κι αν δεν μπορείς να κάμεις την ζωή σου όπως την θέλεις,

τούτο προσπάθησε τουλάχιστον

όσο μπορείς: μην την εξευτελίζεις

μες στην πολλή συνάφεια του κόσμου,

μες στες πολλές κινήσεις κι ομιλίες.

Μην την εξευτελίζεις πηαίνοντάς την,

γυρίζοντας συχνά κ’ εκθέτοντάς την

στων σχέσεων και των συναναστροφών

την καθημερινήν ανοησία,

ώς που να γίνει σα μια ξένη φορτική.

As Much As You Can

translated by Josh Bryer

 

And if you cannot shape life to be what you want,

at least try as much as you can

not to corrupt it

by too much contact with the world,

by too much activity and gossip.

 

Do not corrupt it by hurrying it along,

taking it around and overexposing it

to the daily idleness

of social events and parties,

until it becomes some strange duty.

translator's note​

The last line in the original poem reads “ώς που να γίνει σα μια ξένη φορτική.” A literal word-for-word translation renders “until it becomes like a strange burden/load/cargo.” This last noun, φορτική, evokes a material object, creating a poetic relationship between “it” (life) and physical weight. However, Cavafy is describing how best to shape a life that just does not seem to work out as planned: “try as much as you can / not to corrupt it… until it becomes like "μια ξένη φορτική.” Though “a strange burden” also makes sense in English, the emphatic μια (one, a) and the intangibility of life suggest that φορτική carries the metaphorical weight of “duty” or “obligation.” A life that is not shaped as you would like becomes something unfamiliar—a burden, an obligation, and a duty. 

about the poet

Famed for poems such as "Ithaka," "Waiting for the Barbarians," and "The City," CONSTANTINE PETROU CAVAFY was a Greek poet who lived from April 29, 1863 to April 29, 1933. Cavafy lived most of his life in Alexandria, where he was born and where he died, though he spent several years abroad in Britain and Constantinople. While alive, Cavafy published his poems in newspapers, periodicals, and annuals, only generating collections of his work upon request. Representative of the cosmopolitan Greek diaspora, Cavafy’s works appeal to international audiences. Cavafy’s works were first introduced to an English-speaking audience in 1919. However, the first full volume of his works was only published posthumously in Alexandria in 1935. His poems broadly fit in three categories that, unsurprisingly, often overlap: historical, philosophical, and sensual.​

about the translator

At Penn, JOSH BRYER studied classical languages and literature, learned modern Greek, and took classes in Hindi-Urdu. In the study of classical Greek and Latin, precision of translation is essential. However, such precision is often equated to substituting Greek or Latin words with their English equivalents as much as a dictionary entry will allow. Professor Taije Silverman’s translation of poetry course challenged his perception of the process of translation and, in turn, his understanding of how to accurately translate meaning; he learned that meaning is too often lost in word-for-word translation.

Courtesy of Cavafy Archive/Onassis Foundation, Licensed Under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). 

Greece. Photo by Leila Pearlman.

 

Old English: Riddle 47

Unknown

Moððe word fræt     me þæt þuhte
wrætlicu wyrd     þa ic þæt wundor gefrægn
þæt se wyrm forswealg     wera gied sumes
þeof In þystro     þrymfæstne cwide
⁊ þæs strangan staþol     stælgiest ne wæs
wihte þy gleawra     þe he þam wordū swealg ·

Middle French: Riddle 47

translated by Samantha Pious

Grande merveille me sembloit

que ceste mite qui embloit

—ainsi com larron dans la nuit—

les mots qu’un clerc ot escrit.

Le dis mange il non seulement

mais le lieu prent il ensement.

Eimy! eimy! par son chemin

cil gobe reliure et parchemin!

Cil engloutit, sans plus ne mains,

tout le labeur de l’escrivain

qui si durement traveilloit

les vers, et les rimes tailloit,

ad fin que soyez plus encline

a escouter la bonne doctrine.

Si de bons livres voulez lire,

ceste beste devrez maudire—

ce truant, ce voleur qui ose

devorer texte, rubriche et glose!

Qu’il avalasse chaque page,

il ne se fera mie plus sage!

Riddle 47

translated by Samantha Pious

To me it seemed a wondrous thing

a little moth went plundering

—as though a burglar in the night—

the words a lettered man did write.

Not only does it eat his speech

it even takes the place in which

the speech was given, going through

the parchment and the binding too,

devouring all the craft and art

of the scribe, who worked so hard

to scan the verse, to find the rhymes,

that you might be inclined to mind

the teachings crammed in every line.

If you want to read good books,

you ought to curse that beast, that crook,

that greedy moth who dares to scoff

the text, the heading, and the gloss!

Still, swallow though he may, he’s dumb

and won’t grow wiser by a crumb!

translator's note​

The Old English poem presented here is one of almost a hundred verse riddles preserved in a tenth-century manuscript known as the Exeter Book. Its modern-day editors, George Philip Krapp and Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie, titled it “Riddle 47” in the third volume of the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records (1936). In Sources and Analogues of Old English Poetry (1976), Michael Allen and Daniel Calder trace its origins to a late-Classical Latin riddle by Symphosius (late fourth or early fifth century).

The riddle’s answer (Latin "tinea," Old English "moððe," modern English "book moth") is obvious, but, as Patrick Murphy points out in Unriddling the Exeter Riddles (2005), it seems less important to get the solution right than to contemplate the paradox of an animal “devouring” words but not “ruminating” on them. Indeed, consuming without contemplating is more or less what the book moth does.

 

This translation began as a thought experiment for Old English Live, an annual celebration organized by Emily Steiner at the University of Pennsylvania where participants share creative re-imaginings of Old English poetry. At Professor Steiner’s suggestion, I decided to translate an Old English riddle into Middle French, as though I were a fourteenth-century poet. I imagined myself stumbling on an undiscovered copy of the Exeter Book riddles in the royal library of King Charles V and wondering what language, let alone what form or genre, I was looking at. 

 

Of course, translation practices in the fourteenth century were very different from what they are today. Middle French narrative couplets tend to lend themselves to far more prolixity than Old English alliterative verse. The French riddle is twenty lines—more than twice the length of its Old English source, to say nothing of the Latin original!

 

Finally, I’ve added a relatively faithful modern English translation of the “Middle French” version—except that, for better or worse, I embellished the English verse with far more internal rhymes than there are in the source text. Am I as flighty as the book moth? Or did I contemplate too much?

 

about the translator

SAMANTHA PIOUS is a doctoral student in Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Her first book, A Crown of Violets (Headmistress Press, 2017) offers a selection of verse translations from the French poetry of Renée Vivien. Some of her translations and poems have appeared in Berkeley Poetry Review, Lavender Review, Lunch Ticket, Mezzo Cammin, and others.

你不来,我不敢老去

李继宗

其实我已经老了
我老得让门前的那棵小树替我掉叶子
我老得掉了一层土
又掉了一层土

看到这些土
我就知道,过去胸膛上给你预留的篝火快要熄灭了
手臂上给你预留的力量快要离开了
及至双眼,开始看什么都是缓慢的
飘忽不定的

其实我已经很老了
及至这后来的一小段时光
我只是继续让门前的那棵小树替我掉下最后一片叶子
世易时移处

我之所以说你不来,我不敢老去
是没人的时候
我非常渺茫地希望,你也在这么想

If You Don't Come Home, I'm Too Afraid to Age

translated by Kejia Wang

Truly, I have become old

So old that the small tree by the door is shedding for me

So old that I have shed a layer of dust

and another layer of dust

 

Gazing at all the dust lets me grieve,

the bonfire I kept for you on my breast is dying

the strength I kept for you in my arms is departing

—my eyes are starting to see the earth in slow motion

drifting in and out

 

Truly, I have become very old

—even in this following small stretch

I only continue to let that small tree by the door

shed its final leaf for me

the world turns and time goes on flying

 

I say "if you don't come home, I'm too afraid to age"

because when the world is alone

I still dimly wish that you are praying along

translator's note​

I came across this poem of Li Jizong’s while browsing a blog by an amateur Chinese translator named Lily (黎历). I was immediately struck by the poem's lyricism and theme. As an international student, I was touched by the melancholy of the (implied) parental speaker of the poem, especially since it was composed in my mother tongue. I wanted to translate this poem to remind everyone in our community of their aging parents and how they may miss us, though some of us may have fraught parent-child relationships. 

To begin the translating process, I first produced a rough draft on my own and then compared it to Lily’s work. I anguished over “truly” vs. “really” and “actually,” over the parallel structures in the original poem, over the long lines and over the use of words describing time. The Chinese language’s employment of past and future tenses is quite ambiguous and I chose to value clarity over retaining the multitude of potential meanings. I owe my translation of line 14 (“the world turns and time goes on flying”) to Lily. The original Chinese has five characters (“world / change / time / move / location”) but Lily’s interpretation (“while the world is changing and time is flying”) reminded me of W. S. Merwin’s "Unknown Age" (“the bird lies still while the light goes on flying”), one of my favorite English poems. It gave me the inspiration to come up with my own translation of the line.

about the poet

 

LI JIZONG (李继宗) is a contemporary Hui Chinese poet. Born and raised in Gansu, Northwestern China, he has been published in prestigious Chinese poetry journals such as Shikan, Shanhua, People’s Literature and Fangcao. He is referred to as one of “Gansu Poetry’s Eight Riders.” Li’s poems are loved for their conciseness, lyricism, subtlety, and examination of the human condition. He is often compared to Li Bai, an acclaimed Chinese poet of the eighth century.

about the translator

KEJIA WANG spent half of her life speaking Chinese and half of her life speaking English. She graduated from Penn in 2016 with a BSE in bioengineering and a minor in English. She is now studying English and science and technology studies at the University of British Columbia.

 

Warte

Nelly Sachs

Warte

bis die Buchstaben heimgekehrt sind

aus der lodernden Wüste

und gegessen von heiligen Mündern

warte

bis du die Geistergeologie der Liebe

aufgerissen

und ihre Zeitalter durchglüht

und leuchtend von seligen Fingerziegen

wieder ihr Schöpfungswort fand:

da auf dem Papier

das sterbend singt:

 

Es war

am Anfang

Es war

Geliebter

Es war—   

Wait

translated by Alex Stern

Wait, dear

until the letters and words have come home

from the blazing desert

where they were swallowed by sacred mouths.

Wait, dear

until love’s ghost-geology

ripped itself open,

glowing through years of the universe

and gleaming from the tips of holy fingers,  

and found, again, “Let there be…”

 

There, on the page,

dying as it sings,

 

There was, in the Beginning,

my beloved.

There was—

translator's note​

This poem takes place in a wonderful knot; letters and words pulse and push through a world that is beginning and ending at the same time. It is appropriate for Nelly Sachs, who, like her friend, pen pal, and fellow Holocaust survivor Paul Celan, believed certain things to be inexpressible. “Warte” takes place in the future, the present, and the past, sometimes using conflicting or confusing tenses. It simultaneously speaks to the Bible and the Big Bang. I tried to remain true to these simultaneous experiences of my translation of this poem.

about the poet

NELLY SACHS (December 10, 1891–May 12, 1970) was a Jewish poet, playwright, and translator. She grew up in Germany but fled to Sweden in 1940 after she found out she was to be imprisoned in a labor camp. Though she escaped the Holocaust, she later had several nervous breakdowns driven by her fear of the Nazis. Many of her poems center on Jewish suffering: when she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966, she said, "I represent the tragedy of the Jewish people."

 

about the translator

ALEX STERN is a Penn alum and an audio producer. She lives in Philadelphia.

 

Poesia

Giovanni Pascoli

I

 

Io sono una lampada ch’arda

          soave!

la lampada, forse, che guarda

pendendo alla fumida trave,

la veglia che fila;

e ascolta novelle e ragioni

         da bocche

celate nell’ombra, ai cantoni,

là dietro le soffici rócche

che albeggiano in fila:

ragioni, novelle, e saluti

d’amore, all’orecchio, confusi:

gli assidui bisbigli perduti

nel sibilo assiduo dei fusi;

le vecchie parole sentite

da presso con palpiti nuovi,

tra il sordo rimastico mite

         dei bovi:

 

II

 

la lampada, forse, che a cena

       raduna;

che sboccia sul bianco, e serena

su l’ampia tovaglia sta, luna

su prato di neve;

e arride al giocondo convito;

        poi cenna,

d’un tratto, ad un piccolo dito,

là, nero tuttor della penna

che corre e che beve:

ma lascia nell’ombra, alla mensa,

la madre, nel tempo ch’esplora

la figlia più grande che pensa

guardando il mio raggio d’aurora:

rapita nell’aurea mia fiamma

non sente lo sguardo tuo vano;

già fugge, è già, povera mamma,

        lontano!

 

III

 

Se già non la lampada io sia,

        che oscilla

davanti una dolce Maria,

vivendo dell’umile stilla

di cento capanne:

raccolgo l’uguale tributo

        d’ulivo

da tutta la villa, e il saluto

del colle sassoso e del rivo

sonante di canne:

e incende, il mio raggío, di sera,

tra l’ombra di mesta viola,

nel ciglio che prega e dispera,

la povera lagrima sola;

e muore, nei lucidi albori,

tremando, il mio pallido raggio,

tra cori di vergini e fiori

       di maggio:

 

IV

 

o quella, velata, che al fianco

        t’addita

la donna più bianca del bianco

lenzuolo, che in grembo, assopita,

matura il tuo seme;

o quella che irraggia una cuna

        - la barca

che, alzando il fanal di fortuna,

nel mare dell’essere varca,

si dondola, e geme -;

o quella che illumina tacita

tombe profonde - con visi

scarniti di vecchi; tenaci

di vergini bionde sorrisi;

tua madre!... nell’ombra senz’ore,

per te, dal suo triste riposo,

congiunge le mani al suo cuore

        già ròso! -

 

V

 

Io sono la lampada ch’arde

        soave!

nell’ore più sole e più tarde,

nell’ombra più mesta, più grave,

più buona, o fratello!

Ch’io penda sul capo a fanciulla

        che pensa,

su madre che prega, su culla

che piange, su garrula mensa,

su tacito avello;

lontano risplende l’ardore

mio casto all’errante che trita

notturno, piangendo nel cuore,

la pallida via della vita:

s’arresta; ma vede il mio raggio,

che gli arde nell’anima blando:

riprende l’oscuro viaggio

         cantando.

Poesia

translated by Stefano Pietrosanti

I

 

May the lamp of me shine

         and soothe!

this lamp as it looks

from a smoke-wrapped beam,

perhaps, at the night, the weavers;

this lamp culling news, thoughts,

                                              from mouths

darkened by the darkness,

there, across the soft cliffs’

      long dawning line:

thoughts, news, and love wishes,

too soft to grasp:

the assiduous whispers lost

in the spindle’s assiduous hiss;

the words, worn out, felt

near, with such beat, new,

amid the oxen’s dull

     thudding chew:

 

II

 

the lamp that perhaps, gathers

to dinner;

and blooms on the white, spreading

calm on the wide cloth, moon

on a meadow of snow,

and smiles on the gathered smiles;

                      then suddenly gestures

to a finger so small

there, guiding the pen

that runs and drinks:

but leaves in the gloom, at the table,

the mother, who is still and stares

at her elder daughter, there, pensively

looking toward my sunrise,

rapt in my golden flame,

your stare is lost to her, far;

she is gone already, poor mother,

far!

 

III

 

Perhaps I am the lamp,

    flickering

by a statue of Mary,

I live on one hundred shacks

feeding me humble oil drips:

I harvest this tribute of olive, all equal,

from the village, the greeting

of the rocky hill, of the creek

resounding with reeds:

at dusk my ray sets fire,

in the violets’ shadows so bleak,

to that poor, single tear

on eyelashes praying and despairing;

and dies in the crystal of dawn

my pale, quivering ray,

among virgins’ choirs and flowers

of May:

 

IV

 

Or that, shaded,

   points

to the woman paler than the pale

sheet, dozing, whose womb

ripens your seed;

or illumines a bow

–the boat

which lifting the headlight of luck

crosses the wide stream of being,

and wobbles and groans–;

or silently glows

on deep tombs - on faces

older and gaunt; on firm

virgins’ smiles;

your mother! ...in that timeless shade,

from her gloomy rest,

she prays for you, heart gnawed, hands tight

   on her chest

 

V

 

It shines, my lamp,

     it soothes!

in the loneliest, latest of hours,

in the shade, the gloomiest, the heaviest,

     the kindest, oh brother!

I hang over the pensive

young woman,

and the devout mother, over the crying

cradle, over the table so merry,

over the gravestone so grave;

from distances shines my chaste

flame to the wanderer roaming

the dark, with his heart so heavy,

on life’s moonlit trail:

he stops; then he sees my ray

that quietly burns in his soul:

he steps back on the darkest of paths,

     he sings as he strolls.

translator's note​

“Pascoli counts on a reader that does not know all the words he uses. As… [Pascoli]… says… poetry, like religion, needs ‘words that veil and darken their meaning, words, I mean, foreign to present use.’ (and which are nevertheless used to ‘give greater life to thought’).” G. Agamben (1982)

“Life is cold and we need heat; life is dark and we need light: we shall not let fade what can give us light and heat: a single spark can awaken flames and joy. We shall not let death take whatever has been beautiful and gay.” G. Pascoli (1898)

 

This piece by Giovanni Pascoli is a statement of intent, a manifesto of the intimist universalism which is the hallmark of this poet from Romagna, Italy. The poem presents itself in the form of a lamp spreading a warm, soothing light. This light creates a series of seven canvases over the five stanzas: the first three in great detail, the second three with quicker brush-strokes, the last with a more abstract, rarefied touch.

 

The poem portrays a coming to life, an actualization of poetry. It does so through a succession of Van Gogh-like pictures, which I feel are more significant to the understanding of the poem than the actual structure of the stanzas. The narration evolves through changing tenses and adverbs which always coincide with changes in the landscape. The narrative voice introduces the smoky room with a wishful and timid tone—“May the lamp of me shine,” which is rendered in the Italian, “Io sono la lampada ch’arda.” Then, switching to the table scene, the voice switches to the present tense, with adverbials indicating probability—“perhaps… gathers.” These adverbials are dropped when the Marian shrine is populated by the villagers—“I harvest this tribute of olive… at dusk my ray sets fire.” The pure present tense is kept and stressed at the beginning of each of the three successive scenes—the woman, the boat, and the graveyard. Finally, the first stroke of the last canvas goes with exclamation—“It shines, my lamp / it soothes!’’ which in the Italian is “Io sono la lampada ch’arde / soave!”

 

The decision to focus on the flow of images informed my choices in translation. In order not to break this flow, I often either adopted non-literal solutions or chose a translation more prosaic than the original. For example, “la veglia che fila” in the fourth verse describes weavers who are awake at night (as if keeping vigil) and spinning. These are encompassed by the lamp’s light, and the lamp watches them. Simultaneously introducing night and weavers allowed me to synthetically fix the image of the half-shaded room. Or, at the beginning of the third section, I have been more explicit than the original in describing the “tribute of olive,” since the idea of an olive oil lamp is quite remote to our present experience. On the other hand, I tried to stay as close as possible to the original in matters of sound and structure, and I thus preserved the rhyme scheme at the end of each stanza.

I have always been driven to Pascoli’s work, to his struggle to remember what is gone, to strengthen what is close and frail. I am happy to present “Poesia” as a sample of how Pascoli framed this effort as a hopeful and humble task. Before doing so, I want to thank Professor Taije Silverman, who reviewed my early drafts and whose advice was incredibly insightful in the process of translation.

  “Pascoli and the Thought of the Voice.” Available in English in The End of the Poem: Studies in Poetics, by Giorgio Agamben, translated by Daniel Heller-Roazen, Stanford University Press, 1999.

  “The Poet of a Dead Language.”Pensieri e Discorsi by Giovanni Pascoli, Nicola Zanichelli editore, 1914. Quotation translated by the author.

  I would like to suggest a parallel between the “smoky” first canvas and Potato Eaters (1885), and between the last canvas and Starry Night (1889).

1

1

2

2

3

about the poet

GIOVANNI PASCOLI was born in 1855 in Romagna, northeastern Italy. He was exposed to life-changing trauma at age eleven, when his father was killed and the homicide stood unpunished. This experience fostered in Pascoli a dim outlook on life, but also empowered his feeling for the impermanent nature of things and for the value of nurturing the small and fragile details of reality. After Pascoli studied under Giosuè Carducci, Nobel Laureate poet and professor of literature at the University of Bologna, he undertook a teaching career while working on his poetic production. His first book, Myricae (1891), was well received, and his fame was definitively established by his third work, I Canti di Castelvecchio (1903), which opens with the poem translated here. This success eventually brought him to replace his then-retired teacher as Chair of Literature in Bologna. He kept working as a poet, translator and public intellectual until his death in 1912.

 

about the translator

STEFANO PIETROSANTI is a PhD student studying economics at the University of Pennsylvania. He is from Italy, previously having studied in Rome and Turin. His work focuses on how various banking and finance centers interact with the rest of society. Convinced that excessive specialization is tedious, he also tries to put some effort into literature and political thought. In these fields, he is a happy amateur and an avid reader.

Pascoli's ancestral home in Romagna, Italy. Photo by Taije Silverman.

 

musings

The Keepers of Metaphor: An Excerpt from an Interview with Editor, Poet and Translator Ellen Doré Watson

Interview conducted by Michaela Kotziers

Ellen Doré Watson is the author of four books of poems: Ladder Music, We Live in Bodies, This Sharpening, Dogged Hearts and most recently pray me stay eager, released in January 2018. Watson has also translated twelve books from the Brazilian Portuguese, including work by the acclaimed poet Adélia Prado. Since 1999, Watson has been the director of the poetry center at Smith College. She also serves as the poetry and translation editor of The Massachusetts Review.

 

Adélia Prado was born and has lived all her life in the provincial, industrial city of Divinópolis, Minas Gerais, Brazil. Prado earned degrees in philosophy and religious education, taught school until 1979, and served as cultural liaison for the city of Divinópolis. Since the release of her debut collection Baggage, Prado has published an additional seven volumes of poetry and seven of prose.

***

I’d love to hear about how you came to translate Prado. I’m interested in whether you were on the hunt to translate Portuguese when you were in Brazil.

 

As soon as I knew I was going to live there for a year, I knew I wanted to find a Brazilian poet to translate. When I looked in bookstores in the little provincial town I was living in, I found they had a [group] of male poets, and they didn’t appeal to me. My husband was working at the state university in Santa Catarina at the time. The English department had a little magazine and students translated poems from Portuguese into English, and the students had were struggling to translate a short poem of Adélia’s. They didn’t know the idiom in English to use, but I saw the English (they didn’t even print the Portuguese I don’t think) and I thought, this woman has that spark I’m looking for. And no one, when I asked around at home, had heard of her. So I definitely thought I was on to something.

 

That’s part of the really important work of translation, too, is introducing a poet whom no one else has been able to read yet. Turning to this very personal relationship that the two of you have, I’m interested in the way that you two connect and yet have very distinct ways of being poets in the world. Prado has expressed that she’s an author, but she doesn’t really have interest in inhabiting the role of writer in the professional and public sense. She doesn’t quite make a day-to-day career of her writing, and she said in a BBC radio interview that ‘There’s my normal life, and then there’s poetry.’ And then on the other hand, you are very much a professional writer. You direct the poetry center at Smith, you teach writing workshops, you’re the poetry and translation editor at The Massachusetts Review. I’m wondering how this professional side affects your process of writing and if, when trying to understand where Adélia’s coming from, if that ever felt like something that needed to be worked out?

No, not really. We have an incredible bond, and there are certain similarities in our fervor for different things. She is the spiritual person. I am not that spiritual. I mean, my first book was called We Live in Bodies, so that’s another reason that I gravitated towards her work: that it had the spiritual side but is so dedicated to and full of the body and daily life. For me, the struggle is more one of time. There’s never enough time to do editing and translating and my own writing. I guess I’ll just say that at a point when I was translating novels, I had to quit translating for a number of years in order to get my first book written. And people said, ‘Oh you must be done translating.’ And I said, ‘No, I’m a translator at heart.’ I’ve gotten that far into it. But I just have to find a way to make space to also write my own poems. And I guess I’m a little bit of a workaholic in a way that I love the work that I do, so when we’re in Divinopolis together, when we’re not working she expects me to just go take walks, relax, and she’s like ‘Why are you still working?’ And I say, ‘Well I’m preparing for our next session.’ She kind of feels sorry for me, but I’m excited about this! So, in those ways we’re different.

 

I’d like to request you to read “Where a Bird Is Always Nesting.” It’s from your book Dogged Hearts. It’s a poem that I felt really captured your relationship with Adélia Prado.

 

And it really did start with this pineapple.

 

Where a Bird is Always Nesting

Ellen Doré Watson

For Adélia Prado and Zé Freitas

 

Fresh from a land where they eat

even the tough heart of the pineapple

because ripening in the dusty field it’s

 

sunned to the core, tender-sweet like

the memory of a baby’s face;

fresh from friends who trust me

 

in another language, spill into my lap

more fierce doubt and revel than ever

it has held; fresh from who I am there

 

where God is real and a bird is always

nesting in the grapevine, I land back

among my emblems of hands and palm

 

trees and ready irony, and see only

pebbles, and baubles and pace. Dutiful,

I sliver, I schedule, I chew the fat

 

of complaint, but my mind’s on that

pineapple. It was small and sickly pale

and I was loved across every divide.

 

"Where a Bird is Always Nesting" from Dogged Hearts, published by Tupelo Press, copyright 2010 Ellen Doré Watson. Used with permission.

The last line is still my favorite.

 

I tear up when I say it. I mean, it’s true I am lucky to have these people in my life.

 

I’m wondering if we could talk a bit more about the process of your collaboration with Prado, when you’re sitting down at the table and writing with her, because she doesn’t speak English. Could you talk about explaining your translations to her once they’re written?

 

Well I sort of paraphrase into Portuguese what I’ve got on the page. After a while when we both trusted each other and I trusted what I knew and knew what I didn’t, it was more a matter of opening a book to a certain poem and me having my questions ready. There are references to biblical moments, and although I grew up with the Bible, it was a Protestant upbringing and I don’t remember it all that well, and she will go to great lengths to bring out the Bible and show me what’s in the verse. We just sit there, and sometimes we get distracted and wander off in our talking, and then I say ‘Ok, the next question is…” and then we go back. There was a time in her life when she kind of lost her faith for a while. She was clinically depressed and felt her belief had somehow gotten frail, and she didn’t write for a number of years. She’s such a fervent believer that doubt wasn’t something she could really accept. There are poems that refer to that, and we’ve talked about how much to reveal.

 

I can imagine that having known her poems so deeply and in a way that any other reader, without having spoken to her, wouldn’t quite know them, it would be difficult not to let that wander into your mind while you’re translating and let it show too much, maybe even in ways that she hadn’t.

 

Exactly. I don’t want the poem to reveal more than she put in the poem. Whether she’d want that or not, it really should be loyal to the poem.

 

There’s a compromise in the process of choosing what to keep and what to omit. Not just on a line-by-line, stanza-by-stanza level, but also having to choose which poems from her volumes to publish in English. Could you speak to that process of deciding which poems to keep in?

 

Sometimes poems just have a problem that makes it hard for them to work in English. For the things that get left behind, it’s usually because they’re weaker poems. Occasionally she’ll ask me, ‘Why didn’t you include this poem?’ and I guess what I say, especially when it’s religious content, is that she is known for and unique in her ability to put not just the body and religion in the same poem—sex and belief—but there’s always a counterbalance, a conflict. And some of her poems are just written in a moment of Hallelujah, when she’s praising God, and it’s more likely they could be in a collection. But when they don’t have images within them, when they don’t have the daily in them, and then they end with ‘Amen, Amen, Hallelujah,’ I have a harder time putting them in with these other poems that are so much more substantial. When I think thought about how I would say this to her, I say that it’s that they’re less complicated. When I’m reading student poems or looking at my own poems or looking at peers’ poems, I’m looking for complexity. I’m looking for layers. I try to pick out what I think are the richest Adélia Prado poems when I’m putting a book together.

 

I have some questions that are more specific to translation. Prado has said that what you must translate is the emotion. She’s said, ‘I don’t care about the word.’ I’m wondering how you reconcile such a liberal statement with the translator’s impulse to be more conservative or so meticulously consider every word and how it relates to the whole.

 

I think we make blanket statements to make a point, but I think what that really means is don’t put the word above the emotion. The words are still important. But because she’s not a veiled poet, if I don’t understand something, it’s my lack of cultural context or Portuguese faltering, and that’s sort of the easy part of the fix. Overall my goals in translating her were to create the same sort of energy and accessibility in her work. I think of her poems as inviting and also disconcerting, because they are very open-armed. She’s very inventive in the way the poems move, and I want to keep that level of surprise and spontaneity, because they feel like they’re just happening as you read them, and that’s exactly what they are. She’s so genuine. She says things and she takes them back, but you know she means them both.

 

I’m wondering if I could ask you to read another poem, while we’re on the topic of choosing the right word. This one is called “The Birth of the Poem.” It’s in Ex-Voto, originally from Prado’s O Pelicano.

 
 

O Nascemento Do Poema

Adélia Prado

O que existe são coisas,

não palavras. Por isso

te ouvirei sem cansaço recitar em búlgaro

como olharei montanhas durante horas,

ou nuvens.

Sinais valem palavras,

palavras valem coisas,

coisas não valem nada.

Entender é um rapto,

é o mesmo que desentender.

Minha mãe morrendo,

não faltou a meu choro este arco-íris:

o luto irá bem com meus cabelos claros.

Granito, lápide, crepe,

são belas coisas ou palavras belas?

Mármore, sol, lixívia.

Entender me seqüestra de palavra e de coisa,

arremessa-me ao curacao da poesia.

Por isso escrevo os poemas

pra velar o que ameaça minha fraqueza mortal.

Recuso-me a acreditar que homens inventam as línguas,

é o Espírito quem me impele,

quer sera adorado

e sopra no meu ouvido este hino litúrgico:

baldes, vassouras, dívidas e medo,

desejo de ver Jonathan e ser condenada ao inferno.

Não construí as pirâmides. Sou Deus.

The Birth of the Poem

translated by Ellen Doré Watson

What exists are things,

not words. That’s why

I’ll tirelessly listen as you recite poems in Bulgarian

just as I’ll spend hours staring at mountains

or clouds.

Signs stand for words,

words stand for things,

things stand for nothing.

Understanding comes like rapture,

it's the same as not understanding.

When my mother lay dying, even my weeping

contained a rainbow:

black will highlight my fair hair.

Granite, gravestone, crepe—

beautiful things or beautiful words?

Marble, sun, cellar door.

Understanding steals me away from words and things

and flings me into the heart of poetry.

That’s why I write poems,

to hide what threatens my fatal weakness.

I refuse to believe that people invented languages,

it’s the Spirit driving me,

wanting to be adored.

He whispers this hymn in my ear:

buckets, brooms, debts, and fear,

the desire to see Jonathan and be condemned to hell.

I didn’t build the pyramids. I am God.

 "The Birth of the Poem" from Ex-Voto, published by Tupelo Press, copyright 2013 Adélia Prado, translation copyright 2013 Ellen Doré Watson. Used with permission.

I like how she has it both ways. “Words stand for things. Things stand for nothing. Understanding comes like rapture. It’s the same as not understanding.”

 

I also especially love the last line: “I didn’t build the pyramids. I am God,” as if we’re not building things; we’re just building poems and words.

 

She says that poetry is the most human kind of communication. So although there’s the God side of it, there’s the human side of it. It’s the body. Poetry is the most human.

 

You can see her spirituality; she finds God in things, in every day. She’s not searching for it in churches and buildings. She’s just writing at a kitchen table. In another interview, you asked Prado: If she thought metaphor was the guardian of reality, then could translation be the guardian of metaphor? Could you elaborate on what you mean by “translation as guardian of metaphor?”

 

It’s like saying, I might have to change the image or metaphor to reflect more of the reality. So it’s the responsibility of what metaphor you choose. Maybe I’m interpreting it right now just in terms of translation and there’s a broader way of understanding it.

 

That makes sense to me though in terms of translation too.

 

We don’t think about the fact that the news cycle uses metaphor. “Boots on the ground,” for example. I’m so sick of that. It’s people in those boots who are going to die. We think in metaphors, but I think that’s not being the guardian of reality to say, “Boots on the ground.” That’s denying reality.

 

That’s almost doing a disservice to the kind of work that metaphor could be doing.

 

It’s not the most human form of communication that metaphor should be doing. It sounds catchy. And once it started to be used, everyone now says that phrase and so many others like it.

 

I’m wondering, for translation to be the guardian of metaphor, do you feel like this means realizing that there are metaphors in every language? Is it preserving that this is a powerful thing we do in the way we think as humans?

 

In a way it’s that you are a guardian, so you need to take it seriously. It’s the commonality, that it happens in both languages, but you have to be creative in order to preserve it. I think translation is not an intellectual act. I think it’s an act of poem making, in which the metaphor is supreme.

 

musings

Starting From the Title: Translating a Captured Ruler and His Captivating Ci  

Yuchao Wang

1

虞美人

李煜

春花秋月何時了,

往事知多少。

小樓昨夜又東風,

故國不堪回首月明中。

 

雕欄玉砌應猶在,

只是朱顏改。

問君能有幾多愁,

恰似一江春水向東流。

original poem by Li Yü

translation into prose by Yuchao Wang

Li Yü, dressed in a coarse gray robe, was in a plain room with bare wooden furniture. The windows, carved with shapes of flowers, clattered in the wind. Li stood up to open the window and looked out to the fresh green leaves and budding flowers in the yard. He stared at them for a moment, without any expression of joy or sorrow, turned, and sat back down beside a low table, leaving the windows open. Against the closed doors, he could see shadows of two armed guards. “They are to protect the safety of your highness,” he remembered being told when he surrendered his kingdom to the army just outside the city walls. “At least no more innocent people in the capital will die because of me,” he thought. “Ah, it’s the third year now.”    

 

In a spring drowsiness, Li dozed off against the wall. In a rare dream, he was back in his carefree teenage years. He was never thought of as the next ruler, as his older brother was in line to succeed. Li indulged himself with the maidens’ dancing and singing, with poetry and painting, and with Buddhism. When his brother died unexpectedly, and he became the ruler, he was not too bothered either—he had even more freedom and resources to do what he liked. Pitiable were the officials who tried to divert his attention to politics and military affairs—they were simply executed.

 

“Lunch!” a guard shouted as he barged into the room, holding a wooden tray with two bowls of plain buns and some pickles. Li, startled awake, silently watched the guard walking in, putting the plate on the table, and closing the door.

 

“What are my people eating now?” Li found his thoughts wandering back to the dream a moment ago. “But it's not my country anymore.” He quickly self-corrected. “Yet, how many of them are still alive? What kind of life are they living? Hopefully better than mine, of course. The palace will probably still be there — it’s too magnificent and too much work to rebuild. Did they change the drapes, and throw away my writing? Ah, the talented maidens, they will probably never be as generously rewarded.”

 

“Oh, this ruthless spring brings so much memory. But I shan’t blame the spring—how many more springs will I see? Ha. I used to say I knew of sorrow. Sorrow when an exquisite piece of music eventually ended, sorrow when my beloved wife died, sorrow when I couldn’t live long enough to read and write all the beautiful things. But now, now, I only long to see the Yangtze River one more time in the spring, with all its majestic tides, and let out a sigh.”

***

Fair Lady Yü

Li Yü

a literal translation by Yuchao Wang

Spring flowers, autumn moon, when will end?

Foregone things, know much or little.

Last night, again, east wind in small pavilion,

Former country, in bright moonlight, bears not turning head back on.

 

Carved railings, jade stairs, should still exist,

Only those crimson faces  have changed.

Ask thee can have how much sorrow,

Just like a river of spring tide eastward flow.

1

  Literally translated from the original, “crimson faces” (朱顏) is a variation of “red faces,” (紅顏) possibly as a result of the poet’s effort to fit the tone of set pattern. “Red faces” is a common phrase to refer to beautiful young girls in classical Chinese and does not suggest embarrassment or exertion.

1

***

The title of this poem has me stuck—not a good sign. Someone once said, “well begun is half done,” and I may have just jeopardized my shortcut.  

 

This title (“Yü Mei Ren”) can be rendered as “Fair Lady Yü” but this lady is not related to the poet, Li Yü. In fact, the title is irrelevant to the content of the poem—specifically, of a ci.

 

As a traditional form of Chinese poetry, ci typically has a title that indicates the “set pattern” of the poem, which dictates the number of characters in each line, as well as their rhymes and tones (explained below). These set patterns initially evolved from lyrics of certain tunes, thus the restrictions, though the tunes themselves were lost in time. This particular tune is said to be written first for Xiang Yü’s (项羽, 232–202 BC) concubine, Yü (虞姬) (this is the Yü used in the title). Xiang Yü was a heroic leader of great nobility and virility, who led revolutions that overthrew the Qin Dynasty (221206 BC). Later, however, he suffered a tragic military defeat and committed suicide. Xiang foresaw this failure, and thus bid a final farewell to his beloved beautiful concubine, Yü, before going to the battlefield. The love and grief between Xiang and Yü, intertwined with the fate of a regime and the tragic heroism, are well known to native readers. In analyzing a ci, people typically attach no importance to the background of the title, because the set pattern can be used for a variety of unrelated themes, and the origin of some tunes can be obscure. Still, it would be fun to speculate whether Li Yü chose this set pattern with a little dark humor, about which readers may form their own judgment after reading the poet’s biography and the translation.

 

But I hesitate to present such extraneous information before the reader gets to the content of the ci itself. On the other hand, if the translation of content is captivating, maybe the reader will seek out this information, and more.

 

Sound

The tones, which are strict, melodious, and crucial to the original poem, are not present in English—and in my opinion, impossible to render faithfully. There are four tones in Chinese, and most Chinese characters have only one of the four (some can have more than one tone, and people need to choose the most appropriate according to the context, e.g. the particular phrase a character is used in). In poetry, these four tones are divided into two categories, which we may call “even” and “oblique.” For every set pattern of Chinese poem, it is pre-determined whether each character should be even or oblique. The tones therefore strongly limit the author’s choice of words. They, however, create a certain melody when one recites the ci in words. There were times I would try to recite a ci, but the words would get stuck on the tip of my tongue; I simply could not remember them. Yet the tones would still come to me spontaneously, and humming them was exhilarating. These were frustrating experiences, but they might speak to the significance of tones in appreciating a ci. Yet, studies show that humans selectively develop sensitivity to phonemes they are exposed to in the first twelve months after birth, and gradually lose the sensitivity to other phonemes (one reason why learning a second language can be so difficult, or why certain racial pejoratives were formed). While tones are different from phonemes, one’s attunement to and appreciation of tones likely rest on significant early exposure to them.

 

Rhyme is another aspect that requires consideration in terms of the sound of ci. The rhyme scheme of “Yü Mei Ren” is in couplets, though the original probably did not have the format presented above, with line breaks and punctuations. Therefore, I hesitate to use words like “verse” or “stanza,” for fear of unfaithfulness and of creating an illusion that non-English poetry maps perfectly onto English poetry. It may be important to note that the standard of rhyme also works slightly differently. In English, the full vowel and the ending consonant, if there is one, must match. Only the ending consonant, or vowel, matters in Chinese. In this poem, for example, "feng" and "zhong" rhyme because of the ending consonant "ng," while "chou" and "liu" rhyme because of the ending vowel "u." The conceptual and nomenclative mismatch goes even further. In fact, the word “poetry” itself creates ambiguities in indistinctively referring to shi, ci, and qu, three different genres of classical Chinese poetry.

 

Syntax

Classical Chinese is strange. Classical Chinese is beautiful. It has a great succinctness and vividness, both of which entice one to explore further. It is mesmerizing yet almost impossible to find an equivalent in English. Ezra Pound interestingly notes that one should use a proportionally antiquated language in translation, meaning to find in the development of the translating language a historical stage similar to that of the translated language. While this notion sounds appealing at first, serious consideration reveals that it is impractical to compare the development of one language to that of another. What we take for granted today as modern Chinese originates from drastic social changes in China in early 20th century, as a tool of breaking free from obsolete traditions and revolutionizing people’s ideologies. Before that, classical Chinese had various forms and levels of sophistication—even Li’s own poems before and after his capture show distinctive changes in vocabulary. Therefore, the issue is more complicated than choosing a linguistic period, as there can be significant variations in a period itself, and the wiggle room just gets smaller (for the interested reader, I highly recommend a translation by Jone A. Turner, S.J, who had a similar notion to Pound’s, and partially succeeded). Other than feasibility, is it fair to create either a pseudo-archaic or modern rendition of the original, and to let readers assume its authenticity? Here, I was initially fascinated by the idea of Vladimir Nabokov, who proposes that translations should be absolutely literary, with extensive footnotes that explain every feature of the original which are lost in translation. After I did a translation accordingly, however, the fascination ceased—the extensive footnotes looked like skyscrapers on a page and were pompous and intrusive; it was difficult to draw the line between conveying features and interpreting features; and most importantly, the process was like sloppily dissecting a poem and laying out the valuable parts for auction, and whatever remaining liveliness in the poem was gone once I announced my translation as “completed.” As a result, I decided to include a word-for-word translation for anyone who wants a glimpse of the original, and removed all footnotes, except one.  

 

Confession

The above is mostly my extended justification (and self-exoneration) for choosing not to preserve the form of the original, as I find no satisfying way to do so. Of course, my judgment is partly clouded by my affection for the original, which I learned how to recite from a young age, and represents a dense and riveting cultural history to me. It was my deliberate choice to write the translation as a third-person narrative, since it allows me to integrate the historical background into the translation rather than to provide a separate and dry footnote that breaks the reader’s immersion in the story. The specific plot with guards and a dream, however, was arbitrary—I scribbled down the scene immediately after it came into my head during a relaxing hot shower. I hope this turns out to be an accessible and enjoyable translation.

At least I managed to get away without a title.

***

about the poet

LI YÜ (李煜, 937978 CE) was the third and the last ruler of the Southern Tang regime during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (907960 CE). Li was not interested in politics, but rather indulged himself with the arts and sensual pleasures. He surrendered the capital to the ruler of the Song regime and lived under what we today may call home custody, though he did not live in his former home, the palace. This drastic change in his life circumstance resulted in a huge shift in the tone and content of his poems. From flowery descriptions of sensual pleasures, Li switched to a more colloquial set of vocabulary, and wrote laments about larger and heavier topics such as regime changes and vicissitudes of life, which were pioneering in the development of ci, a form of Chinese poetry. The stark contrast between his political incapability and his artistic genius makes Li a famous exemplar of the power of fate; people ponder the irony of the tragic destiny that turned him into one of the greatest Chinese poets of all time.

This poem was written during the period of Li’s home custody, and it was speculated that the grief and lament in this poem contributed to the new ruler’s decision to poison Li.  

about the translator

YUCHAO WANG is a sophomore at Haverford College, intending to major in cognitive science. Aside from amusing himself with imagination (like he has done here), he loves classical music, plays classical guitar, and also studies classics. How they all contain some form of “classic” is a completely irrelevant coincidence.

Hong Kong, China. Photo by Jasmine Phun.

 

Lebenslied

Paul Celan

Die Käfer der Nacht

kommen.

Sie wandern über deine Hände in die Welt.

Es hat ein Wind dich quer

gelegt über die Schluchten.

Du bist die Brücke und du weißt es nicht.

 

So schlaf denn, schlafe: Wimpern sind kein Zeichen mehr.

 

Es hat ein Wind dich quer

gelegt über die Schluchten.

Du bist die Brücke, doch du weißt es nicht.

 

Die Käfer der Nacht

kommen.

Life Song

translated by Michaela Kotziers

The beetles of the night

come flying.

They wander across your hands into the world.

A wind has blown you by,

laid you across the canyon.

You are the bridge and you don’t know it.

 

Sleep well then, sleep: eyelashes cease to signify.

 

A wind has blown you by,

laid you across the canyon.

You are the bridge, truly you don’t know it.

 

The beetles of the night

come flying.

translator's note​

The most difficult task in translating this poem was preserving its ambiguity. When translating, you choose to phrase a line in a particular manner, and the new language assigns meaning to the poem. This is especially true when a poem is deeply metaphorical; it can be difficult to separate the task of translation from the task of interpretation. “Wimpern sind kein Zeichen mehr,” for example, might also have been translated to “lashes lose significance” or, more literally, “lashes are no longer signs.” Each has a different implication, none of which are incorrect or unfaithful to the original. In the end, “lashes cease to signify” won in order to preserve the rhyme with lines four and eight.

about the poet

PAUL CELAN was born in 1920 in Chernivsti, the capital of Bukovina, which was formerly northern Romania and is currently Ukraine. Because all of Romania’s medical schools were closed to him as a Jewish man, Celan began his first years of university study in France in 1938–1939. The Soviet Union occupied Bukovina in 1940, with Chernivtsi later coming under German occupation in 1941. Celan’s parents were sent to forced labor camps in June 1942; his father died some months later from typhus, and his mother was killed by an SS guard. Celan was sent to a forced labor battalion in northeast Romania from the summer of 1942 until early 1944. In 1945, Celan relocated to Bucharest where he translated Russian into Romanian and published his first poems. Before moving to Paris in 1948, Celan lived in Vienna, his only residence with German as its exclusive vernacular language. His departure from Vienna was an attempt to leave behind his youth and its unbearable memories of war and his parents’ deaths. This geographic and emotional move is also manifested as a break between Celan’s early and later poetic works. Paul Celan died in Paris in April, 1970.

about the translator

MICHAELA KOTZIERS received her BA in English literature with concentrations in creative writing and medieval studies from the University of Pennsylvania in 2017. She is currently teaching English in Nuremberg, Germany.

 

ירח

Nathan Alterman

גם למראה נושן

יש רגע של הולדת

שמיים בלי ציפור

זרים ומבוצרים

בלילה הסהור

מול חלונך עומדת

עיר טבולה בבכי הצרצרים

 

ובראותך כי דרך עוד צופה אל הלך

והירח על כידון הברוש

אתה אומר אלי העוד ישנם כל אלה

העוד מותר

בלחש בשלומם לדרוש

 

מאגמיהם המים ניבטים אלינו

שוקט העץ באודם עגילים

ולעד לא תיעקר ממני אלוהינו

תוגת צעצועיך הגדולים

Moon

translated by Josh Glahn

Even a common sight has its moment of rebirth,

a sky devoid of birds,

alien and entrenched

against the moonlit night. Beyond your window lies

a city drowned by wailing crickets.

 

And when you see the path extending on,

the road stares back at you,

and the Moon

impaled on the spike of a cypress.

You ask “God, is it all still out there?

May we still seek it

with whispered tones?”

 

The water watches us from within its pools,

through the resting trees

with their rouge blossoms.

“Never take from me, God,

the sorrow of your monumental playthings.”

 

translator's note​

Hebrew’s rigid grammatical structure and distinct syntax lends itself to the creation of poetry. The relative lack of definite articles and ease in compounding words allows authors to cut extraneous verbiage, allowing exact definition of subjects and agents. This exacting and gendered language proves difficult in translation. As a result, ambiguity arises in literal translation. This rendition of “Moon” reformulates the unclear syntax to preserve the original meaning while maintaining the line-breaks laid out by Alterman. Furthermore, in the original, each stanza contains a disrupted rhyme scheme, abcac, wherein the final syllable of each line is rhymed. Unfortunately, the sing-song quality of the original created by this rhyme scheme was lost in translation.

about the poet

NATHAN ALTERMAN was born into a Jewish family in Warsaw, Poland in August 1910. At the age of fifteen, he relocated to Tel Aviv, which was then under British mandate. Though he had trained to be an agronomist in France, Alterman began a promising career as a poet, journalist, translator, and activist. He became an active participant in the establishment of the State of Israel and the reclamation of Hebrew as its national language. His poetry narrates the Jewish people’s longing for a homeland and the sacrifices necessary to secure a brighter future. His voice was highly influential in the development of contemporary Israel consciousness, and his poem “The Silver Platter” (1967) is still traditionally performed on Israeli Independence Day. Alterman died in 1970.

about the translator

JOSH GLAHN is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in English with a concentration in Narrative Bioethics. He grew up exposed to a variety of languages, including Biblical and Modern Hebrew. After high school, Josh spent a year in Israel at Yeshivat Har Etzion where he pursued Talmud and Advanced Judaic Studies.

“Moon” by Nathan Alterman © 1938, Nathan Alterman, From: Stars Outside, Publisher: Yachdav, Tel Aviv. 

 

눈 내리는 밤

Moon Taejoon

말간 눈을 한 애인이여

동공에 살던 은빛 비늘이여

오늘은 눈이 내린다

목에 하얀 수건을 둘러놓고 얼굴을 씻겨주던

가난한 애인이여,

외로운 천체에

성스러운 고요가 내린다

나는 눈을 감는다

손길이 나의 얼굴을 다 씻겨주는 시간을

A Snowy Night

translated by Chenel Morrison

My lover who has pure eyes,

Who has silver scales for pupils.

Today, snow falls

Around my neck like a white towel, washing my face.

My poor lover,

A lonely celestial being

Falls with a sacred calm.

I close my eyes

In the moments your hands wash my face.

translator's note​

눈 is one of the first Korean words I learned. Throughout my life, I kept encountering it, perhaps by chance, in my Korean textbooks, Korean ballads, and Korean dramas. 눈 can mean both “snow” as well as “eyes.” I decided that I wanted to translate a poem related to 눈 because nature (snow) and the body (eyes) are both popular topics in poetry. As I am not a native Korean, I wanted a poem that I could translate independently. “The Snowy Night” is short and contains many words that I recognized. However, there were words that I did not know and as a result I felt I could not completely understand what the poem was saying. I wanted to find out, so I looked up all the unknown words and wrote down denotations of each line. Another aspect of Korean that fascinates me is the possibility of sentences conveying multiple meanings depending on context. Hence, my next action was to think of all the possible connotations of each line. Perhaps the hardest part was aiming to make the translation more poetic while not deviating much from the literal meaning. I now understand the poem in a literal sense; however, I am hesitant to stay that I understand it poetically. If I must, I will say that the author seems to have a love for the snow due to the strong emotions (to the point of personification) that he experiences when it snows.

about the poet

MOON TAEJOON (1970–) is a contemporary Korean poet who is known for the comfort pervading his poetry. He has published three poetry collections since his debut in 1994 and is a considerably new Korean poet. Most of his collections are written solely in Korean, and only one of his works is currently in the process of translation. He is known for his attempts to fuse the subject and object of his poem, as he does with the snow and speaker in “The Snowy Night.” He is also respected for his use of “traditional lyrics” in his poems, and he is unique because his work perfectly blends “old lyricism” with familiar topics that most people can relate to, such as snow.  

about the translator

CHENEL MORRISON is a student studying biology. Despite her aspiration of entering a career in medicine, she has a passion for reading, writing, and learning languages. She started studying Korean as a sophomore and is currently learning Chinese as an extracurricular activity. Although she has loved poetry since she was young, she currently finds her interest drawn by non-fiction and essays (especially about literature and history).

 

Minnena Ser Mig

Tomas Tranströmer

En junimorgon då det är för tidigt

aat vakna men för sent att somna om.

 

Jag måste ut i grönskan som är fullsatt

av minnen, och de följer mig med blicken.

 

De syns inte, de smälter helt ihop

med bakgrunden, perfekta kameleonter.

 

De är så nära att jag hör dem andas

fast fågelsången är bedövande.

Memories Watch Me

translated by Rhosean Asmah

A morning in June, too soon to wake

yet too late to fall back asleep:

 

I must go out into the greenery packed

with memories that follow me with their eyes.

 

They can’t be seen, they merge entirely

with the background, true chameleons.

 

They’re so close that I can hear them breathe

even though the birdsong is deafening.

translator's note​

I translated Tomas Tranströmer’s “Memories Watch Me” without any familiarity with the original Swedish. As a result, my translation is based more on direct translations of individual words, in-class discussions of the poem, and my knowledge of the author rather than on my comprehension of the original poem.

In the original, a period ends the first stanza, but I decided to end the stanza with a colon. The colon brings a cohesiveness to the translation, connecting the speaker’s experience to the memories and the June day. The second stanza of the poem was the most difficult for me to translate. The problem was not in conveying what the original poem was saying, but in structuring those ideas in English and fitting them into the rest of the translation. I played around with several arrangements, but ultimately settled on the current version because I felt that it sounded the most cohesive when read aloud. Other arrangements of that stanza that I read in other translations or tried to create myself were awkward and confused the meaning of the poem. My only concern for the current version is in the lack of punctuation, which could cause one to rush as they read it. Nevertheless, these decisions, among others, allow my translation of “Memories Watch Me” to both accurately represent my interpretation of Tranströmer’s thoughts and be pleasing to the ear.

about the poet

Born in 1931, TOMAS TRANSTRÖMER was a Swedish poet, translator, and psychologist. The publication of 17 dikter (17 Poems), his first book of poetry, was well received and he went on to become one of the foremost Swedish poets of his generation. Tranströmer’s work is internationally acclaimed, and has been translated into over 60 languages. His poetry is admired for its distinctive language and form, most evident in his use of metaphor and his concision. He chose to address ideas of human isolation, memory, and identity and integrated them with images of nature. In 1990, Tranströmer suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed and robbed him of his ability to speak. Nevertheless, he continued to write poetry. In the same year, he received the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and in 2011 he received the Nobel Prize in Literature, for which he had been nominated every year since 1993. Tranströmer passed away in 2015 at the age of 83.

about the translator

RHOSEAN ASMAH is a sophomore studying linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. She has always been interested in languages and culture, which led her to take a class in poetry translation during her freshman year. She realized that she does like poetry and loves the challenge that comes with translating it. So far, she has only translated poems from languages she is unfamiliar with, but is currently working on poetry translations from French and Mandarin Chinese, both of which she studies.

"Minnena ser mig" by Tomas Tranströmer. Used with permission, 2018.

Vålsjö, Sweden. Photo by Simon Bazilian.

 

Poesía no eres tú

Rosario Castellanos

 

Porque si tú existieras

tendría que existir yo también. Y eso es mentira.

 

Nada hay más que nosotros: la pareja,

los sexos conciliados en un hijo,

las dos cabezas juntas, pero no contemplándose

(para no convertir a nadie en un espejo)

sino mirando frente a sí, hacia el otro.

 

El otro: mediador, juez, equilibrio

entre opuestos, testigo,

nudo en el que se anuda lo que se había roto.

 

El otro, la mudez que pide voz

al que tiene la voz

y reclama el oído del que escucha.

 

El otro. Con el otro

la humanidad, el diálogo, la poesía, comienzan.

You Are Not Poetry

translated by Stephanie Diaz

Because if you existed,

I would also have to, and that is wrong.

 

Nothing but us: the couple,

sexes reconciled in a child,

heads together, neither studying the other

(to avoid turning into a mirror)

instead looking ahead towards each other.

 

The other: mediator, judge, balance

between opposites. Witness, knot

in which the broken is tied.

 

The other: muteness that asks

a voice of he who has one

and demands the ear of he who listens.

 

The other. With whom

humanity, dialogue, and poetry begin.

translator's note​

Above all, this poem seems both intensely personal and yet widely universal. In this poem Castellanos addresses her quarrels with the concept of what a relationship is and what this means to her existence as an individual. I think that it’s particularly important to consider the time and place in which “Poesía no eres tú” was created, as the literary role of women at this point in time was often very restricted.

 

In translating this poem, I stumbled on the first stanza because of the line “Y eso es mentira.” First of all, the line begins with the word “and,” a conjunction which every elementary teacher has told me should never start off a sentence. In the original version I found that “y” has a more disruptive quality because the sharp sound of its pronunciation does not allow you to rest after the end of the first sentence, but instead pushes you into Castellanos’ next definitive line. Secondly, the sentence itself is a bit tricky since it does not use an article. Literally, the line reads “And that is lie.” To clear up this issue, I first tried to simply insert the article and say, “And that is a lie.” However, I found that this version did not quite pack the same punch that Castellanos’ did. I then realized that what made her version so impactful was that I could imagine the lines being spoken in an argument. My translation of “and that is wrong” was my effort to replicate this effect.

about the poet

ROSARIO CASTELLANOS, born in 1925, was a Mexican writer and diplomat. Considered one of Mexico’s most important authors, Castellanos wrote on topics including culture and gender, often focusing on the experience of being a Mexican woman. She also highlighted the oppression of the indigenous population in her native Chiapas, in her poetry. In addition to addressing injustices committed against this population, Castellanos worked with the National Indigenous Institute to improve literacy in the region. In her later years, Castellano served as the Mexican Ambassador to Israel.

about the translator

STEPHANIE DIAZ is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying whatever she happens to find interesting (at the moment, French and Francophone studies, with minors in art history and sociology). She has recently discovered that defining "home" is a bit difficult for her. However, she can tell you that she grew up in a small town in Georgia and that her family comes from a Mexican town called Rio Verde. Stephanie grew up speaking Spanish, despite initial difficulties rolling her Rs, and started learning French in high school. Her hobbies include being overly-critical of pop culture and high art alike, and dreaming of living in a cottage by a lake with two loving dogs.

 

祖国啊,我亲爱的祖国

Shu Ting

我是你河边上破旧的老水车,

数百年来纺着疲惫的歌;

我是你额上熏黑的矿灯,

照在你历史的隧洞里蜗行摸索

我是干瘪的稻穗,是失修的路基;

是淤滩上的驳船

把纤绳深深

勒进你的肩膊,

——祖国啊!

 

我是贫困,

我是悲哀。

我是你祖祖辈辈

        痛苦的希望啊,

是“飞天”袖间

千百年未落到地面的花朵,

——祖国啊!

 

我是你簇新的理想,

刚从神话的蛛网里挣脱;

我是你雪被下古莲的胚芽;

我是你挂着眼泪的笑涡;

我是新刷出的雪白的起跑线;

是绯红的黎明

        正在喷薄;

—— 祖国啊!

 

我是你的十亿分之一,

是你九百六十万平方的总和;

你以伤痕累累的乳房

喂养了

迷惘的我、深思的我、 沸腾的我;

那就从我的血肉之躯上

去取得

你的富饶、你的荣光、你的自由;

—— 祖国啊,

我亲爱的祖国!

O Motherland, My Dear Motherland

translated by Vivian Yuxin Wen

I am the wan, battered waterwheel by your riverbank,

weaving a haggard song for hundreds of years;

I am the smoke-smeared miner’s lamp on your forehead,

shining into the tunnel of your history,

searching and groping.

I am the husk of rice, shriveled; the roadbed, out of repair;

I am the barge mired in the silted strand,

towed, a rope

carving into your arms and shoulders;

—O Motherland!

 

I am poverty,

I am sorrow.

I am your generations of generations

       in aching hope,

I am the flowers in the wide sleeves of Feitian

that, for thousands of years,

have not landed;

—O Motherland!

 

I am your youngest wish,

shaking off the cobwebs of mythos;

I am the embryo of an ancient lotus,

germinating under your quilt of snow;

I am the tears pooling in the crease of your smile;

I am your starting line, just painted;

the red light of dawn,

  effusing, racing,

outpouring;

—O Motherland!

 

I am one fraction of your billions,

I am the sum of your nine-million-six-hundred-thousand square;

You with your breasts, inscribed

with wounds, have nurtured me,

who waits

in bewilderment, in musing, in rapture;

so from my body of skin and pulse

please, take

your glory, your flourishing, your liberation;

—O Motherland,

My dear Motherland!

translator's note​

I used to be daunted by the impossible task of being “absolutely faithful” in translation, but have since learned to enjoy the process as a creative endeavor, while maintaining the utmost respect for the poet and the original work. In "O Motherland, My Dear Motherland," what I try to preserve is not the word-for-word accuracy, but the overall sentiment: we are enraptured by our country’s glorious moments, and we become deeply disappointed when she stops trying for herself.

 

The end-rhyme of the first two lines in the original poem has no direct equivalence in English. Having recognized that it is very difficult to preserve such end-rhymes without compromising syntactic clarity in English, I decided to utilize internal rhyme (“battered,” “haggard”), and let the poem sing through alliteration and assonance (“wan,” “waterwheel,” “weaving”). These drawn-out sounds also aptly capture the weariness of the old waterwheel with a near onomatopoeia, a pleasant surprise that even the original Chinese could not deliver. Such an aspect of the poem demonstrates my translation process: I read the lines aloud one time after another to let the sounds come to me and guide me, and then, amazingly, the meanings soon followed.

 

In the poem, the imagery least accessible to English speakers is perhaps Feitian, which refers to the flying female spirits painted on the walls of Mogaoku in Dunhuang (widely known as “Thousand Buddha Grottoes”). I initially translated the imagery into “apsaras”—defined by the Oxford Dictionary as female spirits in Hindu and Buddhist culture. Yet I soon realized how the seemingly accessible rendering could be misleading. Apsaras are strongly associated with Indian Buddhism; Feitian evokes the many treasured Chinese relics in Dunhuang that have been snatched by other civilizations and are, still, unreturned. This case presents a stricter version of “faithfulness” in translation—an impossible yet necessary task.


Interestingly, the word choice in the original poem was no less difficult; Shu Ting’s work was initially denied publishing on the basis of superfluous imagery and obscurity. The “waterwheel(水车)” we see here was an edit from “windmill(风车)” in an effort to make it more relatable to the average Chinese man. Another suggestion was made to change “weaving [the song]” to “singing [the song]” (“how could one ‘weave’ a song?”), but Shu Ting remained firm in her choice. The poem was finally published in the official poetry journal, Shi Kan, and became widely applauded for the human, fervent and discerning expression of “patriotism.”

about the poet

SHU TING (1952–) is arguably the most celebrated contemporary Chinese female poet. Born in Fujian in southeast China, she lived through the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), the most tumultuous and tortured years for Chinese intellectuals. In 1969, she was sent to the countryside, forced by the government who sought to transform “privileged urban educated youths” into “cultural workers” to serve the people. This movement destroyed many treasured Chinese literary and artistic works; the entire generation was denied access to formal education. Ironically, it inspired poets like Shu Ting to read and write even more fervently in quiet protest.

 

Widely considered a part of "the Misty School" along with poets like Bei Dao and Gu Cheng, Shu Ting writes in a penetrating language beyond the label. "O Motherland, My Dear Motherland" won the National Poetry Award in 1980; more importantly, it speaks of profound, ambivalent feelings that one can harbor for one’s country. Shu Ting is now back in her hometown, serving as the chair of Xiamen Federation of Literary Art Circles and a member of the China Writers’ Association.

about the translator

YUXIN WEN (affectionately known as Viv/Vivi/Vivian) is a sophomore studying comparative literature and art history at Penn. She never thought she would become a translator until she found herself angry at the absence of good translations and the presence of bad translations of many Chinese poems; she has thus been inspired to find English words that allow her to share the lyricism of her mother tongue. Besides languages, she has a healthy obsession with running, watercolor painting, and writing letters, and her favorite foods are still back in Asia.

 

Из “Реквием”

Анна Ахматова

8

 

К смерти

 

Ты все равно придешь - зачем же не теперь?

Я жду тебя - мне очень трудно.

Я потушила свет и отворила дверь

Тебе, такой простой и чудной.

Прими для этого какой угодно вид,

Ворвись отравленным снарядом

Иль с гирькой подкрадись, как опытный бандит,

Иль отрави тифозным чадом.

Иль сказочкой, придуманной тобой

И всем до тошноты знакомой,-

Чтоб я увидела верх шапки голубой

И бледного от страха управдома.

Мне все равно теперь. Клубится Енисей,

Звезда Полярная сияет.

И синий блеск возлюбленных очей

Последний ужас застилает.

 

    19 августа 1939, Фонтанный Дом


 

Эпилог

 

I

 

Узнала я, как опадают лица,

Как из-под век выглядывает страх,

Как клинописи жесткие страницы

Страдание выводит на щеках,

Как локоны из пепельных и черных

Серебряными делаются вдруг,

Улыбка вянет на губах покорных,

И в сухоньком смешке дрожит испуг.

И я молюсь не о себе одной,

А обо всех, кто там стоял со мною,

И в лютый холод, и в июльский зной

Под красною ослепшею стеною.

From Requiem

translated by Yehudith Dashevsky

8

 

To Death
 

You will come. Why not at once?

I wait for you. I find it difficult.

I have blown out the candles, unlocked the door

for you, simple and wondrous thing.

Put on any sort of face, any form—

blow me up with a poison-filled grenade,

or sneak up with a kettlebell, like an experienced bandit

or infect me with typhus,

or do it with a little story, made up by you

and familiar to all, ad nauseam—

for which I will be taken

past the blanched face of the superintendent

to the commander in the blue cap.

It’s all the same for me now:

The Yenisei river ripples, Polaris twinkles

and the blue gleam of the beloved eyes

glazes over in the final terror.     

 

19 August, 1939 Fountain House

Epilogue

 

I

 

I’ve soon found out how faces fall,

how lashes hide a trace of fear,

how suffering is etched on cheeks

in crude strokes of cuneiform,

how strands of black or ashen hair

can silver in a day or hour,

the smile wilts on docile lips,

the hollow laugh trembles with fear.

I pray not for myself alone

but everyone who stood with me;

in savage cold, in the heat of July  

beside a wall, brick-red and blind.

translator's note​

Anna Akhmatova’s Requiem is a cycle of poems about the years of terror in Russia (19351938) known as the Great Purge. Although it was written during and soon after the events it describes, the cycle remained unpublished in Russia until 1987, thirty-five years after Stalin’s death. The two poems above were excerpted from Requiem and capture two of its main subjects: Akhmatova’s individual suffering and the suffering of the many in Russia. In “To Death,” Akhmatova alludes either to her son, Lev, being taken to a labor camp in Siberia or to her former husband, Nikolai Gumilev, being shot. In “Epilogue I,” Akhmatova mentions all those who waited on the prison lines to visit friends and family members, often to no avail. The shift from the individual to the collective is distinct here in that Akhmatova’s voice remains heard; the pronoun “I” is still used.

I chose not to carry over the formal structure of the poems, which includes rhyme and a distinct Russian cadence, as it is heavily reliant on the Russian language’s fluidity and easily-formed end-rhymes. However, some echo of the form may be felt in the use of iambic tetrameter of “Epilogue I.” Although the original expresses its emotional register through the rhyme and rhythm, giving the content its expressive power, I chose to stay as close as possible to the images in the poem, which communicate by being direct and precise, and let the sound follow.

about the poet

ANNA AKHMATOVA (1889–1966) was an acclaimed Russian poet of the “Silver Age” of Russian poetry, the first half of the twentieth century. After moving to St. Petersburg, Akhmatova became a part of the Acmeists, a literary group of six people who attempted to write poetry that focused on the objects and incidents of everyday life and was in traditional form, in contrast with the highly experimental poetry in fashion at the time. During the war years, Akhmatova’s former husband Nikolai Gumilev was shot, her son Lev was imprisoned and exiled to Siberia, and her close friend Osip Mandelstam, was arrested, exiled and killed in a labor camp. Requiem, along with many other poems, was a response to those times. Beginning in 1925, Akhmatova’s poetry was banned by the Soviet government; even when the official ban was lifted, the implicit ban remained. Still, her poetry circulated orally and on scraps of paper that were burned upon being read. Akhmatova is seen as a mother of the modern Russian voice. She is also known as one of the only well-known poets to outlive the Stalinist era, stay in Russia, and chronicle those times.

about the translator

YEHUDITH DASHEVSKY is a junior studying English, Russian, and Hebrew literature. She has also dabbled in Arabic and Old English. Her fascination with translation stems from her mental blocks in the world of words, and she is repeatedly amazed at how the space in the imagination before language is bridged when the right words (for a given time and place) are found. One word she recently encountered and was surprised exists is “idiolect,” which according to Wikipedia is “an individual’s distinctive and unique use of language.”

Moscow, Russia. Photo by Dalia Wolfson.

 

La morte meditata

Giuseppe Ungaretti

Canto primo

O sorella dell’ombra,

Notturna quanto più la luce ha forza,

M’insegui, morte.

In un giardino puro

Alla luce ti diè l’ingenua brama

E la pace fu persa,

Pensosa morte,

Sulla tua bocca.

Da quel momento

Ti odo nel fluire della mente

Approfondite lontananze,

Emula sofferente dell’eterno.

Madre velenosa degli evi

Nella paura del palpito

E della solitudine,

Bellezza punita e ridente,

Nell’assopirsi della carne

Sognatrice fuggente,

Atleta senza sonno

Della nostra grandezza,

Quando m’avrai domato, dimmi:

Nella malinconia dei vivi

Volerà a lungo la mia ombra?

 

Canto secondo

Scava le intime vite

Della nostra infelice maschera

(clausura d’infinito)

Con blandizia fanatica

La buia veglia dei padri.

Morte, muta parola,

Sabbia deposta come un letto

Dal sangue,

Ti odo cantare come una cicala

Nella rosa abbrunata dei riflessi.

 

Canto terzo

Incide le rughe segrete

Della nostra infelice maschera

La beffa infinita dei padri.

Tu, nella luce fonda,

O confuso silenzio,

Insisti come le cicale irose.

 

Canto quarto

Mi presero per mano nuvole.

Brucio sul colle spazio e tempo,

Come un tuo messaggero,

Come il sogno, divina morte.

 

Canto quinto

Hai chiuso gli occhi.

Nasce una morte

Piena di finte buche,

Di suoni morti,

Come di sugheri

Di reti calate nell’acqua.

Le tue mani si fanno come un soffio

D’inviolabili lontananze,

Inafferrabili come le idee,

E l’equivoco della luna

E il dondolio, dolcissimi,

Se vuoi posarmele sugli occhi,

Toccano l’anima.

Sei la donna che passa

Come una foglia

E lasci agli alberi un fuoco d’autunno.

 

Canto sesto

O bella preda,

Voce notturna,

Le tue movenze

Fomentano la febbre.

Solo tu, memoria demente,

La libertà potevi catturare.

Sulla tua carne inafferrabile

E vacillante dentro specchi torbidi,

Quali delitti, sogno,

Non m’insegnasti a consumare?

Con voi, fantasmi, non ho mai ritegno,

E dei vostri rimorsi ho pieno il cuore

Quando fa giorno.

The Meditated Death

translated by Carla Rossi

First canto

O sister of shadow,

darker in the brightest of lights,

you chase me, death.

In an untouched garden

naive craving bore you,

and peace,

pensive death,

was lost on your mouth.

Since that moment

I have heard you in the flows of my mind

well-known distances

aching imitator of the eternity.

Venomous mother of ages,

in the fear of a heartbeat

and of loneliness,

punished and laughing beauty,

in the slumber of flesh,

fugitive dreamer,

sleepless athlete

of our greatness,

once you have tamed me, tell me:

will my shadow fly long

in the melancholy of the living?

 

Second canto

The dark vigil of our fathers

with its crazy blandishments

hollows out the intimate lives

of our unhappy mask

(enclosure of the infinite).

Death, a still word,

sand laid as a bed

by blood,

I hear you singing like a locust

in the darkened rose of reflections.

 

Third canto

The eternal deception of our fathers

engraves secret wrinkles

on our unhappy masks.

In the broad light,

you, confused silence,

insist like tense locusts.

 

Fourth canto

Clouds took me by the hand.

Upon the hill, I consume space and time

like your harbinger,

like a dream, divine death.

 

Fifth canto

You have closed your eyes.

A night is born,

a night full of false holes,

of dead sounds,

like corks

of nets dropped into the water.

Your hands become a breath

of inviolable distances,

as unreachable as ideas,

and the moon’s ambiguity

and its swinging—so tender—

if you want to lay them on my eyes,

they touch my soul.

You are the woman

who goes by like a leaf

and gives the trees

the colors of a fire in the fall.

 

Sixth canto

O beautiful prey,

nocturnal voice,

the way you move

raises my fever.

Only you, demented memory,

could capture freedom.

On your flesh, unreachable

and wavering in turbid mirrors,

what crimes, dream,

didn’t you lead me to commit?

With you, ghosts, I have no restraint

and my heart is filled with your remorse

when a new day rises.

translator's note​

As usually happens when translating poetry, the title presents the first challenge to the translator, and “La Morte Meditata” is no exception. First of all, one wonders what “la morte meditata” actually means. I believe the meaning of the title is closely connected to the act of reflecting on something, meditating on what all human beings have in common—mortality. At some point in their lives, all people question themselves about death. This why I decided to translate the title as “The Meditated Death.” It does not refer to death per se, but, more precisely, to death that inevitably becomes a part of people’s thoughts. The poem is divided into six canti, which I decided to keep as “canto.” The most obvious and literal translation of canto is “song,” but I do not think that gives justice to Ungaretti’s word choice. The word canto echoes the one hundred cantos of Dante’s Divine Comedy—at least to the ears of an Italian speaker—and I think it is a fair tribute to the Italian literary tradition. One of the lines I liked the most is the fifth line of the second canto, where death is defined as “muta parola”—mute word. It is an exceptionally powerful and paradoxical image, full of tension: how can a word be mute? It could be so before it is spoken, when the word is still an idea. Instead of opting for “mute,” the most straightforward equivalent, I decided to use “still.” It is such an interesting word in English, because it conveys both a meaning related to sound and the idea of steadiness. And of course, nothing is as steady and as motionless as death.

about the poet

GIUSEPPE UNGARETTI was born on February 10th,1888 in Alexandria, Egypt, to an Italian family originally from Lucca (in Tuscany). The multicultural and cosmopolitan city of Alexandria had a considerable influence on both Ungaretti’s life and work. In Italy, Ungaretti is known as “Il Poeta Soldato” or “the soldier poet.” In 1915, when Italy joined World War I, he decided to volunteer. World War I left a mark on his life. He learned of both suffering and true brotherhood. Giuseppe Ungaretti is certainly one of the most appreciated Italian poets of the 20th century. Students remember him for his short and incisive poems, partly inspired by his experience during the war.

about the translator

CARLA ROSSI is a 25-year-old from Italy. Last year, she spent the spring semester at Penn and fell in love with it. She just graduated from the University of Bologna, having majored in conference interpretation with concentrations in English and Spanish. She mostly translates speeches in English and Spanish into Italian (but also the other way around). In her free time, she likes playing with words, talking to her friends, and deciding where to travel next.

 

El Verbo

Mario Benedetti

En el principio era el verbo

y el verbo no era dios

eran las palabras

frágiles transparentes y putas

cada una venía con su estuche

con su legado de desidia

era posible mirarlas al trasluz

o volverlas cabeza abajo

interrogarlas en calma o en francés

ellas respondían con guiños cómplices y corruptos

qué suerte unos pocos estábamos en la pomada

éramos el resumen la quintaesencia el zumo

ellas las contraseñas nos valseaban el orgasmo

abanicaban nuestra modesta vanidad

mientras el pueblo ese desconocido

con calvaria tristeza decía no entendernos

no saber de qué hablábamos ni de qué callábamos

hasta nuestros silencios le resultaban complicados

porque también integraban la partitura excelsa

ellas las palabras se ubicaban y reubicaban

eran nuestra vanguardia y cuando alguna caía

acribillada por la moda o el sentido común

las otras se juntaban solidarias y espléndidas

cada derrota las ponía radiantes

porque como sostienen los latinoamericanos del boul mich

la gran literatura sólo se produce en la infelicidad

y solidarias y espléndidas parían

adjectivos y gerundios

preposiciones y delirios

con los cuales decorar el retortijón existencial

y convertirlo en oda o nouvelle o manifesto

las revoluciones frustradas tienen eso de bueno

provocan anguistias de un gran nivel artístico

en tanto las triunfantes apenas si alcanzan

logros tan prosaicos como la justicia social

 

en el despúes será el verbo

y el verbo tampoco será dios

tan sólo el grito de varios millones de gargantas

capaces de reír y llorar como hombres nuevos y mujeres

nuevas

 

y las palabras putas y frágiles

se volverán sólidas y artesanas

y acaso ganen su derecho a ser sembradas

a ser regadas por los hechos y las lluvias

a abrirse en árboles y frutos

a ser por fin alimento y trofeo

de un pueblo ya maduro por la revolución y la inocencia.

The Verb

translated by Ella Konefal

In the beginning there was the verb

and the verb was not god

there were words

fragile transparent and fucked

each came in its wrappings

with legacies of indolence

you could hold them to the light

or turn them upside down

interrogate them calmly or in french

they’d toss back putrid cunning winks

a lucky few were in the know

we were the digest the quintessential the juice

they were the passwords that swayed us to orgasm

taunted our sheepish vanity

while that town of strangers

with tortured sorrow said they couldn’t fathom

what we might be speaking of or what was left unspoken

and even our silences rang twisted

since they too would play that sublime score

those words that settled and resettled

they were our vanguard and when one fell

struck down by fashion or by common sense

the others rose together in splendid solidarity

each defeat would feed their radiance

because like the latinos on boul mich will prophesize

great literature comes only from unhappiness

and in splendid solidarity they birthed

adjectives and gerunds

prepositions and deliriums

with which to decorate the existential contraction

and turn it into ode or nouvelle or manifesto

these stymied revolutions have that going

inciting angst of artistic proportions

while triumphs rarely even reach for

such banal achievements as social justice

 

in the end will be the verb

and the verb will not be god

only the shout of some assorted million throats

free to laugh and cry like men and women

new

 

and the fucked and fragile words

will grow into artisanal stability

and maybe win their right to planting

to be drenched in facts and floodings

to bloom as trees and fruits

to at last give sustenance and trophy

to a people overripe for revolution and for innocence.

translator's note​

I was drawn to translate Benedetti’s work from Spanish into English for much the same reason, I think, as Benedetti was drawn to translate the world from experience into poetry. Which is to say, not because I immediately loved it or found beautiful, but rather because it confused and overwhelmed me, and I wanted to figure it out. Benedetti’s work is chaotic, wordy, both straightforward and cacophonous. There are too many simultaneous truths, there is too much death for life to hold, there are too many words, and the words can’t hold the death, either. I wanted to translate “El Verbo” almost as a coping mechanism, some way to methodically and concretely process a mess that resists detangling.


Benedetti writes in a conversational tone, no flourishes: “This people is overripe for revolution and for innocence.” “The verb will not be god.” The world is a mess and words are failing us. I will throw them at you in a fluid stream and hope that something sticks. Somehow this head-on confrontation of injustices, for all its matter-of-fact-ness, can’t make sense of the mess. To me, understanding Benedetti’s poetic translations of experience means understanding that words can’t make sense of unfathomable horror, be they fragments or sentences or Spanish or English. The world is not right; Benedetti searches frantically within and between and underneath words, grasping at some sense of understanding. Whether he achieves it is another question. Whether I achieve it by puzzling through his puzzling is also another question. Reading and translating Benedetti requires rigorous dialogue between how the world is and how it ought to be. Whether we get to the bottom of this or not, that dialogue is a good place to start.

about the poet

MARIO BENEDETTI (1920–2009) came of age and died in Montevideo, Uruguay, the country’s coastal capital that serves as a backdrop for much of Benedetti’s poetry. Part of the Generación del 45, he was and is one of the most widely read poets in Latin America, revered for his seamless interweaving of love and politics and best known for his short stories. In his youth he worked as a car mechanic, typist, secretary, journalist, and translator of Kafka from German into Spanish. Benedetti was a vocal figure in left-wing political organizing in Uruguay. He was passionate and active in shaping domestic politics, championing revolutions in Puerto Rico and Cuba, and criticizing US political and economic involvement in Latin American dictatorships. The poet also wrote plays and novels and was heavily involved in journalism. He founded and led a leftist magazine called Marcha, which was shut down when Benedetti was forced into exile during the country’s 1973 military coup. He moved first to Buenos Aires, but fled to Cuba, Peru, and finally Spain following threats from Argentina’s right-wing military regime. He returned to Uruguay after twelve years of exile and split his time between Montevideo and Madrid until his death at 88.

about the translator

ELLA KONEFAL is a Penn junior studying fine arts and comparative literature. She cares deeply about voice, in all its many varied manifestations. She’s fluent in English, Spanish, and drawing, and getting there with Italian, French, and audiovisual composition. She’s grown up with a frequently shifting sense of home, having lived with her family of five in New York, Pennsylvania, Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, and Virginia. She’s happy to add a cozy third floor apartment in West Philly to the list. The translation of poetry is a new pursuit, and she hopes you enjoy the final product as much as she enjoyed its formation.

 

בִּמְדוּרוֹת מִלְחָמָה

Hannah Szenes

,בִּמְדוּרוֹת מִלְחָמָה, בִּדְלֵקָהִּ, בִּשְרֵפָה

,בֵּין יַמִּים סוֹעֲרִים שֶׁל הַדָּם

,הִנְנִי מַבְעִירָה פַּנָּסִי הַקָּטָן

.לְחַפֵּשׂ, לְחַפֵּשׂ בֶּן-אָדָם

,שַׁלְהֲבוֹת הַשְּׂרֵפָה מַדְעִיכוֹת פַּנָּסִי

;אוֹר הָאֵשׁ מְסַנְוֵר אֶת עֵינַי

,אֵיךְ אַבִּיט, אֵיךְ אֶרְאֶה, אֵיךְ אֵדַע, אֵיךְ אַכִּיר

?כְּשֶׁהוּא יַעֲמֹד לְפָנַי

 

,תֵּן סִימָן, אֱלֹהִים, תֵּן סִימָן עַל מִצְחוֹ

,כִּי בָּאֵשׁ, בַּדְלֵקָה וּבַדָּם

,כֵן אַכִּיר אֶת הַזִּיק הַטָּהוֹר, הַנִּצְחִי

.אֶת אֲשֶׁר חִפַּשְׂתִּיו:  בֶּן-אָדָם

נהלל, 11.10.1940

In the Pyre of War

translated by Jacob Hershman

In the fire, explosions, the pyre of war.

Between days that are stormy with blood,

I am burning my little lamp, casting the light,

and I search, and I search for someone.

The blaze darkens the glow of my little lamp’s flame,

it is so bright that I cannot see;

will I realize, gaze forth, will I know, ascertain

when he finally stands before me?

 

Give a sign, Blessed God, on his forehead a sign,

for in fire, in explosions and blood,

I will see the pure spark, see the infinite spark,

and find what I have searched for: someone.

 

10.11.1940 Nahalal

translator's note​

In the original Hebrew, there are twelve syllables in the first and third lines of each four-line stanza. These lines are not rhymed. The second and fourth lines contain nine syllables and are rhymed. The poem as a whole follows a tribrachic meter, meaning each line comprises an assortment of three short, unstressed syllables.

I was able to recreate the syllabic makeup of each stanza, as well as the rhyme scheme. To do this successfully, I had to make a few sacrifices. For instance, notwithstanding the primacy of syllabic triplets in במדורות מלחמה, I could not incorporate tribrachic meter into this translation. I found it impossible to both rhyme the second and fourth lines and translate into the original meter without totally transforming the diction. I ought to mention that, strictly speaking, there is no rhyme in the first and final stanzas of my translation, merely an assonance between “blood” and “someone.” Given, first, my ultimate objective of representing the essence of the original piece, second, the parameters of my translation and, third, the exact rhyme in the second stanza, I believe my readers will be able to infer that the original Hebrew bears a rhyme.

about the poet

Like many European Jews in the early 20th century, HANNAH SZENES was captivated by the prospect of establishing a Jewish homeland. As a teenager in Budapest, she joined local Zionist youth movements, eventually emigrating to Palestine in 1939 at the age of seventeen. For two years she lived in an agricultural cooperative (in Hebrew, moshav) in Nahalal. It was here that she composed, among other works, “In the Pyre of War.” In 1941, she relocated to a kibbutz in Caesarea.

In 1943 Szenes joined a Zionist paramilitary organization called the Palmach as a volunteer. A year later, she joined the organization’s paratrooper unit, and, in 1944, she was dropped into Yugoslavia to aid anti-Nazi forces. Only hours after entering Hungary, which was the central objective of the mission, Szenes and her compatriots were captured and imprisoned. Although Szenes was tortured for months, she never capitulated to her captors. In late November 1944, she was offered the choice to petition for clemency or face the firing squad. She did not want to beg for her life; she chose to die. Szenes faced her executioners without a blindfold. She was twenty-three.

about the translator

JACOB HERSHMAN is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, studying English.

Negev, Israel. Photo by Josh Glahn.