editor's note

Dear readers, 

When I first thought about writing this editor’s note, I imagined I’d be doing so in my dorm or in an on-campus library. Instead, as I write now, I’m at home in Texas, social distancing and waiting for the world to return to one that seems more familiar. 


Though several aspects of my life have changed in the past few months, DoubleSpeak is something that has remained constant. When the United States began to respond to COVID-19 and the resulting uncertainty began to surround events and plans, I wasn’t sure that this issue of DoubleSpeak would go to print. A key part of DoubleSpeak’s process has always been our weekly meetings, where members come together to discuss and refine the magazine. I didn’t know how we would go forward without that critical in-person engagement. Nevertheless, DoubleSpeak staff kept working toward the creation of this magazine. From all across the United States—New Jersey, Florida, California, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New York, Georgia, and New Hampshire—members continued our discussions and took time out of their days to complete the many tasks, small and large, that made this issue of DoubleSpeak possible.


The translations in this magazine present a multitude of poets and places, telling stories that relate to all aspects of human experience. These translations explore love, death, life, loneliness, change, dreams, hope, hopelessness, and even poetry. Every translation in this issue has challenged how I approach and view these subjects, ultimately enriching my understanding of the world and helping me to become a more compassionate person. In “The Holy Land,” Italian poet Alda Merini shows me how endlessly tormenting it is, physically and mentally, to be in a psychiatric hospital, and in “Bitter Song,” Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos shares her struggles with existentialism, but also tells me where she finds hope. Translation constantly encourages me to learn from and examine the countless experiences that exist within the world, and I believe the translations in this issue will do the same for you. I’m deeply grateful to and in awe of the poets who were observant, vulnerable, and expressive enough to put their thoughts on paper and to the translators who, displaying the same qualities, diligently brought those poets’ words into another language.


Translation is connection. When a translator brings a text into a particular language, they establish a link between the person translated and readers of the translation. More specifically, the translator connects readers to that person’s feelings and experiences. The translator connects readers to places to which they have not been and to which may never go, to people they have not met and whom they may never meet. The value of these ties cannot be understated. Not only does translation give people the opportunity to see what they share with others—the similarities of thought or belief that exist between those miles apart—but it also shows that what seems distant may actually be quite close.


Translation also helps to create more balanced world, but only if we, as translators, use it to that end. As a woman of color, I am acutely aware that society most often prioritizes the narratives of men, the White, and the wealthy. Translation can be used to offset this, though. With translation, we have the ability to expand the reach of stories that have rarely been told. It’s something we at DoubleSpeak constantly work toward: we strive to publish poems and translations that truly represent all kinds of people and experiences. There is no better way to fulfill translation’s ability to connect and teach than to translate and publish women, people of color, and speakers of minority languages in greater numbers alongside those who have traditionally been treated with more importance. Working in this way, we strike a balance and even start a dialogue. And, of course, we also continue to reveal the ties that exist between translated authors and readers, pushing readers toward a more complex and compassionate understanding of the world and the people in it.


In DoubleSpeak’s interview with Emily Yoon, Yoon refers to translation as the ultimate “un-lonely enterprise.” This description resonates so much with me. The translations in this magazine have shown me that I’m not alone in my feelings of sadness and hope, of frustration and wonder. In this way, translation has connected me to people all over the world and even across time, which I find immensely comforting. Moreover, simply engaging with translations and working to make them available to readers has deepened my connection to DoubleSpeak staff and the many translators who contributed to this issue. In the midst of a pandemic, when everyone feels a little more distant, translation has reminded me that I belong to a wonderful and diverse community. Through these poems and translations, I hope that you, reader, feel like a part of this community too. 

Sincerely, 
Rhosean Asmah
Editor-in-Chief

 

our staff

Rhosean Asmah
editor-in-chief
Vivian Wen
senior editor

Anika Prakash—copy editor
Ashley Sniffen—staff editor, lead copy editor
Chardonnay Needler—copyright regulator, copy editor
Heta Patel—staff editor, marketing chair
Julie Flandreau—staff editor
Kate Jiang—staff editor, lead copyright regulator
Mia Kim—graphic designer
Quinn Gruber—copy editor, graphic designer
Robert Chen—staff editor
Shuke Zeng—copyright regulator, marketing team
Stacy Shimanuki—staff editor
Stephanie Diaz—staff editor, marketing team
Subin Kim—copy editor
Zane Grenoble—staff editor, copy editor

Taije Silverman—faculty advisor

with thanks to Kelly Writers House and the Student Activities Council
at the University of Pennsylvania

table of contents

A Poem [一首诗] 
    written by Shuguang Zhang (张曙光)
    translated from Chinese by Yi Feng

Nabokov’s Butterfly [纳博科夫的蝴蝶]
    written by Shuguang Zhang (张曙光)
    translated from Chinese by Yi Feng

Bitter Song [Canción Amarga]
    written by Julia de Burgos
    translated from Spanish by Heta Patel

To My Mother [A ma mère]
    written by David Diop
    translated from French by Samantha DeStefano

He Who Lost Everything [Celui qui a tout perdu]
    written by David Diop
    translated from French by Samantha DeStefano

Diary [日记]
    written by Haizi (海子)
    translated from Chinese by Zhiqiao (Kate) Jiang

Valet
    written by Erich Arendt
    translated from German by Robert Chen


Unfinished Poem by Vladimir Mayakovsky
    translated from Russian by Jianing Zhao

Little Lessons in Eroticism [Pequeñas lecciones de erotismo]
    written by Gioconda Belli
    translated from Spanish by Sam Friskey

Ah Motherland, Dear Motherland [祖国啊,我亲爱的祖国]
    written by Shu Ting
    translated from Chinese by Anne Chen

Two Poems by Antonio Machado
    translated from Spanish by Anika Prakash

Scissiparity [La Scissiparité]
    written by Georges Bataille
    translated from French by Cory Austin Knudson

After everything, still you [Dopo tutto anche tu]
    written by Alda Merini 
    translated from Italian by Quinn Gruber

Sonnet 1
    written by Théophile Gautier
    translated from French by Shiven Sharma

A Trial Race [תחרות לנסיון]
    written by Nathan Alterman
    translated from Hebrew by Dan Ben-Amos


Grave News at Dawn, Great Tidings at Dusk [清晨的噩耗, 黄昏的捷报]
    written by Zhang Ergun (张二棍)
    translated from Chinese by Kejia Wang

Haiku by Suzuki Masajo
    translated from Japanese by DoubleSpeak Staff

musings
    Two Poems by Yi Sang-hwa
        translated from Korean by Emily Yoon
    Interview with Emily Yoon


Two Poems by Alejandra Pizarnik
    translated from Spanish by Maria Lourdes Riillo

You who cried two thousand years [Vous qui avez pleuré deux mille ans]
    written by Charlotte Delbo
    translated from French by Rhosean Asmah

Conversation [Dialogue]
    written by Charlotte Delbo
    translated from French by Rhosean Asmah

Four Poems by Ruwan Bandujeewa
    translated from Sinhalese by Chamini Kulathunga

The Holy Land [La Terra Santa]
    written by Alda Merini
    translated from Italian by Carla Rossi

Farewell Violin [Violon D'Adieu]
    written by Émile Nelligan
    translated from French by Aylin Malcolm


A French Minstrel and Italian Lady [Domna, tant vos ai prejada]
    written by Raimbaut de Vaqueiras
    translated from Old Occitan and Genovese Italian by Samantha Pious

a sun did not rise [والله ما طلعت شمسٌ] 
    written by Al-Hallaj
    translated from Arabic by Michael Karam

A bookworm [Ein Leseast]
    written by Paul Celan
    translated from German by David Ting

Preaching to Women [สุภาษิตสอนหญิง]
    written by Sunthorn Phu
    translated from Thai by Peeriya Pongsarigun and John Viano

Mirror [镜]
    written by Shu Ting
    translated from Chinese by Shuke Zeng

Crossing [عبور]
    written by Mohammad Ali Bahmani
    translated from Persian by Ali Noori

Two Poems by Tuvya Ruebner
    translated from Hebrew by Yehudith Dashevsky

Just one detail [Solo un detalle]
    written by Karina García Albadiz
    translated from Spanish by Ella Konefal
 

 

一首诗
Shuguang Zhang (张曙光)

一首诗有时不是一首诗。它是一座山。
你得用尽全力才能
达到峰顶。透过云雾,也许
什么也看不见。


一首诗有时不是一首诗。它是一条河。
仿佛是在忘川,你让小船在逆流而上。
或躺在船上,望着天上的云朵
任随波涛把你带到哪里。


一首诗有时不是一首诗。它是一片原野。
长满荒草, 或到处布满瓦砾
你在远古的废墟上
盖起你的小房子。


一首诗有时不是一首诗。它是一块石头。
它击中了你,正像你当时用来
击中别人。现在一切变得安静了。
你在上面雕刻出人形。

A Poem
translated by Yi Feng

Sometimes a poem is not a poem. It is a mountain.
You have to exhaust all your power to
reach its peak. Through the cloud, perhaps
you cannot see anything.


Sometimes a poem is not a poem. It is a river.
As if you were in the Wangchuan,* you would let the boat go upstream
or lie flat on the boat, looking at the clouds in the sky and
allowing waves to bring you nowhere.


Sometimes a poem is not a poem. It is a prairie.
Full of weeds, or covered with shards and tiles everywhere.
You are on archaic relics
building your own little house. 


Sometimes a poem is not a poem. It is a rock.
It hits you, just as you used it in the past to
hit others. Now everything turns to stillness.
You carve a human figure into it. 

 

*  Wangchuan River: According to ancient Chinese myth, after a person dies, he goes through the Ghost Gate which leads to the Yellow Spring Road. He then crosses a bridge over the Wangchuan River to enter the world of the dead. On the bridge, the dead man has the option to drink a cup of soup, provided by an old lady, that would allow him to forget his past life and then be reborn.

 

纳博科夫的蝴蝶
Shuguang Zhang (张曙光)

纳博科夫喜爱蝴蝶。他捕捉
并杀死它们。他把它们做成标本
钉在纸板上。这是否在告诉我们
爱是一件残忍的事情?早餐过后
我清洗着碗筷。大海在远处发蓝。
它沉默。我听不见它的声音。也许太远了。
我听到的只是自来水管发出的哗哗声。
我喜爱海。但我无法捕捉
并杀死它。我无法把它做成标本
钉在纸板上。爱有不同的方式。
美也是这样。大海在远处。发蓝
并沉默。我知道他仍然活着。
它沉默着。但我知道它愤怒时的样子。

Nabokov’s Butterfly
translated by Yi Feng

Nabokov loves butterflies. He captured
and killed them. He made them into specimens and
nailed them on cardboard. Is this telling us 
love is a cruel thing? After breakfast
I am cleaning the dishes. The sea is shining blue in the distance.
It is in silence. I can’t hear the sound of it. Maybe too far away.
All I hear is the huahua sound from the water pipes.
I love the sea. But I can’t capture
and kill it. I can’t make it into a specimen and
nail it on cardboard. Love has different ways.
The same is true in aesthetics. The sea is in the distance. Blue
and in silence. I know that it is still alive.
It is in silence. But I know how it looks when it is in wrath.
 

Yi Feng
on translating Shuguang Zhang (张曙光)

A Poem

It seems that every poet at least once writes about poetry and poetics in a poem, if not several times. Shuguang Zhang’s "一首诗" (“A Poem”) in particular strikes me, since at the beginning of each stanza, it negates itself by saying “a poem is not a poem.” However, after reading the poem, I think that it defines what a poem is precisely and accurately. “A Poem,” by negation, actually values and emphasizes the ambiguity and multiplicity of meanings within a poem, as well as indicates the importance of readers in determining a poem’s meaning. Zhang’s imagery reminds me of T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” which presents images of “rubble,” a “wasteland,” and “rock[s].” Meanwhile, “A Poem” also contains many traditional Chinese poetic features, with images commonly found in Tang Dynasty poetry, such as “boat[s],” “mountain[s],” “cloud[s],” and the legendary “Wangchuan.” I tried to make my English translation align closely with the original poem. For instance, I used a direct translation of Wangchuan River, a mythical river between the living world and the dead world, and provided a footnote for context. I also tried to combine my understanding of the poem with the meanings present within it. For instance, the direct translation of 任凭波涛把你带到哪里 is “allowing waves to bring you anywhere.” My choice of “nowhere” rather than “anywhere” indicates that poetry brings you to a remote place beyond your imagination. In the last line, 你在上面雕刻出人形, the word  “上面” means “on,” yet I translated it as “into” in an effort to imply that the rock actually becomes a human instead of just a human figure—just as a poem becomes what it is after it is read.

Nabokov’s Butterfly
I love this poem since it shows different perspectives on love, nature, and aesthetics. The title refers to Vladimir Nabokov, a famous Russian-American novelist whose work Lolita will perhaps come to the reader’s mind. There is a sense of intertextuality in this poem. Shuguang Zhang’s “纳博科夫的蝴蝶” (“Nabokov’s Butterfly”) ponders over topics such as love, the relationship between nature and human beings, as well as the diversity of aesthetics. We can see Zhang’s masterful writing, in which he fuses scenes from everyday life with images of nature and aesthetics. When translating this poem, I tried to replicate the original by using simple and everyday language. I kept the Chinese onomatopoeia “哗哗” (“huahua”), the dynamic sound of running water, in my English translation. Additionally, I used many prepositional phrases, such as “in the distance,” “in silence,” and “in wrath,” to show a sharp contrast between verbal phrases like “capture and kill them” and “nail them onto cardboard.” With these contrasts, I would like to indicate the disturbing relationship between humans and nature, killing and silence, nearness and distance. 

about the poet

Shuguang Zhang was born in 1956 in Wangkui County, Heilongjiang Province, China. He is a poet, translator, and a retired professor of Chinese at the School of Literature, Heilongjiang University. He began to write poetry when he was in college, pursuing a solid and tough poetic style in the past. Zhang’s poetry collections include The Clown’s Gown, The Snowfall in the Afternoon, Zhang Shuguang’s Poetry, and Haunted House, among others. His more notable collections of translated poetry are Divine Comedy and Czesław Miłosz’s Poetry. Zhang was awarded the first Liu Li’an Poetry Award, the Poetry and People Poetry Award, the “Poetry Construction” Master Award, and in 2019, the Su Shi Poetry Award. His works have been translated into English, Spanish, German, Japanese, Dutch, and other languages. The two poems presented here (“A Poem” and “Nabokov’s Butterfly”) are some of Zhang’s new poems, which diverge from his past poetic style. Recently, Zhang said that his poetic style has been changed over the past two or three years and he has been a close reader of Western poets, including John Ashbery and Czesław Miłosz. Additionally, he has said that he feels kinship with the poetics of Charles Bernstein and other Language poets.

 

about the translator

Yi Feng is a scholar, translator, and associate professor at Northeastern University, China. She was a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania in 2016. Since then, she has published several poems. Her English poems have been published in the Penn Review, Model Minority, and Voice & Verse Poetry Magazine. Her Chinese poems have been published in Lotus (芙蓉) and Chinese Poetry Website. Her translation of poems by Charles Bernstein appeared in Poetry Monthly (诗歌月刊) in 2019. She was awarded the Hunt Scholarship in 2016 and she won the Bronze Prize in an International Chinese Poetry Competition in 2017.

 

Canción Amarga
Julia de Burgos

Nada turba mi ser, pero estoy triste. 
Algo lento de sombra me golpea, 
aunque casi detrás de esta agonía, 
he tenido en mi mano las estrellas.
Debe ser la caricia de lo inútil, 
la tristeza sin fin de ser poeta, 
de cantar y cantar, sin que se rompa 
la tragedia sin par de la existencia. 
Ser y no querer ser? esa es la divisa, 
la batalla que agota toda espera, 
encontrarse, ya el alma moribunda, 
que en el mísero cuerpo aún quedan fuerzas. 
¡Perdóname, oh amor, si no te nombro! 
Fuera de tu canción soy ala seca. 
La muerte y yo dormimos juntamente? 
Cantarte a ti, tan sólo, me despierta.
 

Bitter Song
translated by Heta Patel

 

Nothing disturbs my soul, yet I am sad. 
Something slow and dark strikes me, 
although just behind this agony, 
I have held the stars in my hands. 
It must be the futility of touch, 
the infinite sadness of a poet’s being, 
of singing and singing without breaking
the unconquered tragedy of existence. 
To be and to not want to be…is the war cry, 
the battle that squanders all hope, 
to discover that in the already dying soul, 
the miserable body still has strength. 
Forgive me, oh love, if I do not call for you! 
For without your song, I would be a dry wing. 
Death and I sleep together…
But only in singing to you do I awake.

Heta Patel
on translating Julia de Burgos

At its heart, “Canción Amarga” (“Bitter Song”) explores the pain of existence, the strength and frailty of the human soul, and the hope one can find in others. It is a poem of feeling, emotions that for me surmised to the notion that life is an unending battle. This realization contextualized the rest of my translation process. For example, the line “la tragedia sin par de la existencia” directly translates to “the unparalleled tragedy of existence.” However, the poet’s voice seems to be frustrated with her inability to succeed in this war of life. It is for this reason that I ultimately decided to translate the phrase as “the unconquered tragedy of existence.” Once again, divisa means “motto,” yet at the same time the conflict between living and dying (to be or to not want to be) is the same call that prompts the battle—it’s the “war cry.”


Given the simple diction, the poem was fairly easy to translate. At the same time, certain phrases proved more difficult to transmit in all of their emotional intensity. The line “debe ser la caricia de lo inútil” means “it must be the caress of the useless.” But, what if touch itself is useless? Although the useless are personified here, the line seems to remark on the “futility of touch” itself. The inherent nature of this sadness is exemplified in the next line where instead of translating “ser poeta” to “being a poet,” I chose “a poet’s being.” These decisions were made with the hope of exemplifying the deep, raw, and subtle emotional versatility Julia de Burgos employs in this poem, a beautiful reminder of the fact that despite the pain, we still have strength and someone to call on for hope. 

about the poet

Julia de Burgos (1914–1953) was a Puerto Rican poet, journalist, and civil rights activist for women and African and Afro-Caribbean writers. She played a crucial role in the Puerto Rican independence movement and, like many politically driven writers, imbued her literary works with politics and her political work with literature. In addition to authoring several poetry collections, she served as the Secretary General of the Daughters of Freedom, the women’s branch of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. Some of her most notable works include “Poema para mi muerte” (“Poem for My Death”), “Yo Misma Fui Mi Ruta” (“I Was My Own Route”), and “Alta Mar y Goviota” (“High Sea and Seagull”), poems that lyrically marry the beauty and the struggle of the oppressed. It was her focus on the marginalized particularly that distinguished her, causing her to catch the eye of Pablo Neruda during his time in Cuba. Her engagement with themes of sexism and social justice in her writing paved the way for many feminist writers to come. To this day, Julia de Burgos’ work still resonates with many and she continues to live through the various cultural centers, schools, and parks named after her.

 

about the translator

Heta Patel is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania studying Health and Societies and Hispanic studies. Language, for her, is an extension of her interest in understanding people, the way they think, and the way their bodies interact with the world. Although this interest has largely manifested itself in her pursuing medicine, immersing herself in Spanish, and trying to pursue global health endeavors in Latin America, she has also found writing and translating poetry instrumental in her desire to learn more about the human condition. In her free time, she enjoys curating her Spotify playlists and bullet journaling.

 

A ma mère
David Diop

Quand autour de moi surgissent les souvenirs
Souvenirs d’escales anxieuses au bord du gouffre
De mers glacées où se noient les moissons
Quand revivent en moi les jours à la dérive
Les jours en lambeaux à goût narcotique
Où derrière les volets clos
Le mot se fait aristocrate pour enlacer le vide
Alors mère je pense à toi
A tes belles paupières brûlées par les années
A ton sourire sur mes nuits d’hôpital
Ton sourire qui disait les vieilles misères vaincues
O mère mienne et qui est celle de tous
Du nègre qu’on aveugla et qui revoit les fleurs
Écoute écoute ta voix
Elle est ce cri traversé de violence
Elle est ce chant guidé seul par l’amour.

To My Mother
translated by Samantha DeStefano

When memories loom up around me
Memories of anxious stopovers on the edge of the abyss
Of icy seas where harvests drown
When the days adrift come to life again in me
The tattered days with a narcotic taste
When behind the closed shutters
The word makes itself an aristocrat to embrace the void
Then mother I think of you
Of your beautiful eyelids burned by the years
Of your smile over my hospital nights
Your smile that spoke of the old vanquished miseries
O mother mine and who is mother of all
Of the Black man whom everyone blinded and who sees the flowers again
Listen listen to your voice
It is this shout traversed by violence
It is this song guided only by love.

 

Celui qui a tout perdu
David Diop

Le soleil brillait dans ma case
Et mes femmes étaient belles et souples
Comme les palmiers sous la brise des soirs
Mes enfants glissaient sur le grand fleuve
Aux profondeurs de mort
Et mes pirogues luttaient avec les crocodiles
La lune, maternelle, accompagnait nos danses
Le rythme frénétique et lourd du tam-tam
Tam-tam de la Joie Tam-tam de l'Insouciance
Au milieu des feux de liberté.
Puis un jour, le Silence...
Les rayons du soleil semblèrent s'éteindre   
Dans ma case vide de sens
Mes femmes écrasèrent leurs bouches rougies   
Sur les lèvres minces et dures des conquérants aux yeux d'acier
Et mes enfants quittèrent leur nudité paisible
Pour l'uniforme de fer et de sang
Votre voix s'est éteinte aussi
Les fers de l'esclavage ont déchiré mon coeur
Tams-tams de mes nuits, tam-tams de mes pères.

He Who Lost Everything
translated by Samantha DeStefano

The sun shone in my hut
And my women were beautiful and supple
Like palm trees beneath the evening breeze
My children slid on the great river
To the depths of death
And my canoes fought with the crocodiles
The moon, maternal, accompanied our dances
The tom-tom drum’s frantic and heavy rhythm
Tom-Tom of Joy Tom-Tom of Innocence
Among the fires of liberty.
Then one day, Silence…
The sun’s rays seemed to go out
In my hut empty of meaning
My women crushed their reddened mouths
On the hard thin lips of steel-eyed conquerors
And my children abandoned their peaceful nudity
For the uniform of iron and blood
Your voice went out too
The irons of slavery tore up my heart
Tom-toms of my nights, tom-toms of my fathers.

Samantha DeStefano
on translating David Diop

To My Mother
After his father’s death when he was eight years old, David Diop was raised by his mother, who often told him positive stories about Africa and taught him pride in Black culture to combat the racism they faced in France. Diop was limited by lifelong leg and lung disabilities that prevented him from completing his medical degree at the University of Montpellier. This poem is about his mother watching over him during his frequent hospitalizations and personifies Africa as a nurturing mother.
Other translators render “on aveugla” as “they blind” or in the passive voice as “is blinded.” However, I literally translated on as “one, everyone” to make it clear that Africans were actively and universally oppressed under French colonial rule. Similarly, I translated “Le mot se fait aristocrate…” as “the word makes itself an aristocrat.” Unlike other translators’ “becomes” or “turns,” my literal translation of se fait as “makes itself” more clearly conveys Diop’s proud emphasis on African self-creation and agency.


I translated “surgissent” as “loom up” instead of “arise, appear” to create a tense mood in the opening line. I translated “cri” not as “cry” but as the more forceful, urgent “shout” to complement the previous line’s reference to the violence inflicted on colonized Africans and the violent resistance that Diop endorsed. I literally translated “elle est ce…” as “it is this…” instead of others’ “this is the…” to equate the mother’s voice, Diop’s poem, and his plan for achieving African independence with a combination of revolt and love for tradition.

He Who Lost Everything
In this poem, David Diop’s language and images are simpler than his description of a vibrant, life-giving woman in “To My Mother.” While Diop celebrates African traditions in the latter poem, this anti-slavery poem mourns their destruction. In Hammer Blows and Other Writings, translators Simon Mpondo and Frank Jones call this poem “Loser of Everything.” However, I think that the negative connotation of “loser” makes the anti-colonial rebellion and African pride that Diop endorsed seem more difficult to achieve. I translated the title literally as “He Who Lost Everything” to make clear that the speaker’s worth is not defined by his loss and to emphasize the act of oppression instead.


The simple language in the first stanza allows Diop to evoke the peaceful, uncomplicated nature of life in Africa before colonial rule. In the second stanza, the same simplicity conveys the swift brutality of the violence of colonization. The last three lines form a sparse but powerful lament that connects the speaker to two aspects of his lost community—the intimacy of “your voice” and “my heart” and the ancestral traditions of “my fathers”—and names the institution of slavery that destroyed them both.


I strove to preserve Diop’s effective directness. Insouciance is the French equivalent of the English word “insouciance,” which means “lighthearted unconcern, nonchalance, carefree attitude,” but I wanted to use a more common English word to keep the language of my translation as simple as Diop’s French. I decided to translate insouciance as “innocence” to convey the lightheartedness of insouciance and of precolonial African life without complicating the poem with a two-word translation like Mpondo and Jones’ “carefree life.” Conversely, Mpondo and Jones translate “belle et souple” as “lovely and lissome” rather than the literal “beautiful and supple,” not only giving the phrase artificially elevated diction but also adding alliteration that Diop did not intend.

about the poet

David Diop was born to a Senegalese father (a cousin of Léopold Sédar Senghor) and a Cameroonian mother in 1927 in Bordeaux, France. Throughout his life, he divided his time between West Africa and France. He was a radical voice of Négritude, a twentieth-century Francophone African and Caribbean literary movement that was inspired by the Harlem Renaissance and Black poets such as Langston Hughes. The movement sought to promote pride in a rich Black culture as a reaction against oppressive French colonial rule. Diop’s protest poetry is more militant than that of African poets like Senghor. His writings display a commitment to African liberation and revolt against colonialism found in the work of Caribbean poets like Aimé Césaire. Diop contributed poems to Présence Africaine (African Presence), an influential Parisian political and literary magazine of the African diaspora. In 1956, he published his only book, Coups de pilon (Pestle Blows), which was translated into English along with additional poems and prose pieces as Hammer Blows and Other Writings in 1973. Diop died in a plane crash near Dakar, Senegal in 1960, days before Senghor was elected the first president of the newly independent nation.

about the translator

Samantha DeStefano graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania with a BA in English, a concentration in medieval and Renaissance literature, and minors in both classical studies and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. At Penn, she studied Latin, Old English, and Middle English. She has published academic research in Transcription Collection and Journal of the Penn Manuscript Collective on a manuscript of Poems, 1805–1818 by John Syng Dorsey, the author of the first American textbook of surgery, for which she translated quotations from Latin poetry. She has near-native knowledge of Spanish, and after graduation she embarked on three years of intensive study of French.

photo by Rhosean Asmah

 

日记
Haizi (海子)

姐姐,今夜我在德令哈,夜色笼罩
姐姐,我今夜只有戈壁


草原尽头我两手空空
悲痛时握不住一颗泪滴
姐姐,今夜我在德令哈
这是雨水中一座荒凉的城


除了那些路过的和居住的
德令哈......今夜
这是唯一的,最后的,抒情。
这是唯一的,最后的,草原。
我把石头还给石头
让胜利的胜利
今夜青稞只属于她自己
一切都在生长
今夜我只有美丽的戈壁 空空
姐姐,今夜我不关心人类,我只想你


1988.7.25 火车经德令哈

Diary

translated by Zhiqao (Kate) Jiang

Sister, tonight I am in Delingha, enveloped in darkness
Sister, tonight I only have the Gobi Desert


At the edge of the prairie I stand with empty hands
Barely gripping a single tear when sadness strikes
Sister, tonight I am in Delingha
It’s a desolate city drenched in rain


Except for those passengers and residents,
Delingha—tonight,
This is the only, the last, lyric.
This is the only, the last, prairie.
I give rocks back to the rocks
Let the victory belong to victory
Tonight the highland barley only belongs to herself
Everything is growing
But tonight I only have the beautiful Gobi Desert, nothing else
Sister, tonight I don’t care about mankind,
I think of nothing but you


7/25/1988 Train passing by Delingha

 

Zhiqiao (Kate) Jiang
on translating Haizi (海子)

I chose this poem by Haizi not only because its depiction of loneliness deeply resonated with me, but also because of its imagery and rhythm, both of which I tried to preserve in my translation. 《日记》 (“Diary”) opens with the scene of the poet writing to his sister from the desert on a rainy and lonely night. The image of him standing alone facing the vast prairie just struck me when I was reading the poem for the first time. Haizi’s loneliness further develops as he describes that everything else is growing while he owns nothing. The poem ends with my favorite line as the poet abandons his usual praise of nature and care for creatures. Rather, Haizi shows us a more personal and vulnerable side of him—a younger brother who misses his sister badly in a lonely desert. 
 

One of my main challenges in translating this poem was knowing what was important and what was not. For the second line in the second stanza, “悲痛时握不住一颗泪滴,” some translations that I found stressed translating “颗,” a measure word for small round objects. But to me, the most important information in the sentence is the verb “握,” which means “grip.” “Grip” is not a verb that is typically associated with tears, as we normally say “wipe one’s tears.” The phrase “gripping a single tear” includes the idea of the measure word “颗” since it implies the metaphor that his teardrops are like glass balls. This imagery vividly depicts how hard the poet cries since his sadness materializes into something solid that can be gripped. “Grip” also reflects the pain that he is experiencing as he tightens his fingers and makes a fist.

about the poet

Haizi (海子) (1964–1989) was a famous Chinese poet known for his Romantic style. He was raised in rural Anhui Province. At the age of fifteen, Haizi was enrolled in Peking University and majored in law. When he was twenty-three, he became a philosophy lecturer at China University of Political Science and Law. He was a prolific poet and completed works of about two million words between 1982 and 1989, a lot of them still popular to this day. Some of Haizi’s well-known works include “Asian Copper” (《亚洲铜》), “Motherland, or Dream as a Horse” (《祖国,或以梦为马》), and “Facing the Sea, with Spring Blooms” (《面朝大海,春暖花开》). Major themes that appear in Haizi’s works include land/village, darkness/light, and death. His poems are expressive, emotional and powerful. On March 6, 1989, Haizi died by suicide on a train track, eight months after he wrote the poem《日记》( “Diary”) on a train. 

about the translator


Zhiqiao (Kate) Jiang.

Chemistry, FC Barcelona, classic rock, in that order. Zhiqiao is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying chemistry and Materials Science and Engineering. She enjoys translating poems because of the creative liberty between staying true to the original texts and making the translations sound natural in the new language.

 

Valet
Erich Arendt

Glühendes Sandkorn im Auge,
den Himmel,
                     er saß
                     Jahre ungezählt
vor der befragten See :
hohlhallend,
jenseitiges Weiß, die Wellen.
Innehausend dem Brustkorb
Antwort:
                           der Meerkiesel
                           altes Verrollen.


Ans Schwarzkliff
                          beiseite gespült
hartschaliger Auswurf, kalt.
Seine Finger darin
spielten
muscheltot mit der Zeit.
Als ob Zeit
etwas ändert,
                                 die Wolke.
Schrumpfend
ein Vogelknochen im Blickkreis (hat
             der Stein denn gesungen).
             Er fror,
aufhorchend : oben,
Spitzmesser in Fels,
Schaufeln gruben
den Schrei aus der Luft. (Er
kennt ihn), saß,
den unerreichten Hohlraum
eng
um sich.


                            Rücklings
                            die Todesharken aufwärts :
Antennen, die sangen
Kindern unter das Dach
das tausendjährig
              verjährte Eurydike.

              Noch
vor der Hütte, hölzernes
Schweigen, er stand,
Frauen, breithüftige Schatten (er
streift sie).
Auf Eisenrosten sand-
entwundene Früchte. Ihm
unter der Zunge das Meer,
er aß,
er trank
Bittres den haarigen Fischern zu.


Als im rissigen Holz spät
das Dorf
anschlief den Tod,
                            seine Adern,
sagt man, haben in anderem Fleisch
gesungen, das
bog sich— 
               oder war's
draußen? Wind,
der in die schneidenden Schalen
der Muscheln
griff— 
 

Valet
translated by Robert Chen

Glowing sand grain in sight, 
the sky, 
he sat 
countless years 
facing the surveyed sea: 
cavernous, 
otherworldly white, the waves. 
Within the chest
Reply: 
the beach pebbles
ancient tumbling.


By the black cliff 
washed aside 
hard-shelled ejecta, cold. 
His fingers within 
played 
mussel-dead with time. 
As if time 
changes something,
the cloud. 
Shrinking 
a bird bone in sight (has 
the stone sung).
He froze, 
listening: above, 
spear in rock, 
shovels dug 
the scream out of the air. (He 
recognizes it*), sat,
the unrivaled void
enveloping
him.


                            Backwards 
                            the death-rakes upwards: 
antennas, sung by 
children under the roof 
of the thousand-year-old
               Eurydice. 


Still
in front of the hut, wooden 
silence, he stood, 
women, broad-hued shadows (he 
brushes them). 
On iron rust sand-
liberated fruits.
Under his tongue the sea, 
he ate, 
he drank 
bitters to the hairy fishermen. 
As in the cracked wood late 
the village 
slept upon death, 
                            its veins, 
it is said, have in other flesh
sung, which
bent — 
              or was it 
outside? Wind, 
which into the slicing shells 
of the clams
reached— 

*  the scream

 

Robert Chen
on translating Erich Arendt

Erich Arendt’s works of this period are characterized by the “timelessness of time” and the “spacelessness of space,” and “Valet” is no exception. Arendt pushes the limits of comprehension to an extent where even he, narrating in the third person, is disoriented by his memories.

 
The poem is not difficult to translate, with the exception of some nuances. For example, Verrollen implies not only a dull, roaring sound but also the act of thrashing and twisting, and there is no direct translation that preserves the dual meanings. Additionally, while it is clear in German that ihn (“him/it”) in “Er kennt ihn” refers to “Schrei” (“scream”), clarity is lost when translating because English lacks grammatical gender. It is also important to note that although German sentence structure differs significantly from that of English, there remains room for choice, and I have replicated Arendt’s choices wherever possible.

 

Because Arendt’s poetry was an exploration of both the private and political spheres, it is difficult to understand “Valet” without knowledge of his circumstances; translation alone does not alter this requirement. The mention of bird bones, Eurydice, and mussels seem unrelated until one considers Arendt’s frequent visits to Greece, where he sought in mythology and culture a better understanding of his own existence. The keywords “waves,” “cloud,” “sea,” and “wind,” among others, were common throughout his poems and conveyed the idea of the ever-changing personal and political landscapes. Surrealism and ontological contradictions—the sky reduced to a “grain of sand,” “shovels [digging] / the scream out of the air”—represent Arendt’s rebellion against bourgeois conformism, although it is clear he does not equate artistic freedom (which he nonetheless was continually denied) with social liberation.

about the poet

Erich Arendt spent the last three decades of his life a prisoner of the German Democratic Republic (GDC), transforming the story of his life into poetry. Born in 1903 in Neuruppin, Germany, he first published his poetry in 1925 in Herwarth Walden’s expressionist magazine Der Sturm. He joined the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) in 1926 and the Association of Proletarian-Revolutionary Authors (BPRS) in 1928; however, his works were criticized by BPRS chairman Johannes Becher for being too bourgeois, causing Arendt to pause his writings. In 1933, Arendt and his half-Jewish wife, Käthe, fled from Nazi Germany to Switzerland, and subsequently to Spain in 1934, France in 1939, and Colombia in 1942. In Colombia, he became active in anti-Nazi political organizations (the AFNB and the NKFD), wrote his first book, and toured the Caribbean; the mention of “hairy fishermen” in “Valet” likely refers to the Caribbean fishing village of Tolú and its inhabitants, whose contemplativeness and beauty left a deep impression on him. Due to political instability in Colombia in the late 1940s, he and his wife returned to East Germany in 1950. Aligning himself with reform socialism, he was denied admission to the East German Communist Party (SED), was continuously monitored by the Stasi (the state security service for the GDC) after 1957, and had his poetry censored. Following the construction of the Berlin Wall and the Prague Spring in the 1960s, he increasingly distanced himself from the SED regime and found popularity in West Germany. Arendt died in 1984 in his home in Wilhelmshorst.

 

about the translator

Robert Chen studies chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania. He pursues German because German is the language of chemistry, which in turn is the language of life.

 

Unfinished Poem by Vladamir Mayakovsky

translated by Jianing Zhao

I
Любит? не любит? Я руки ломаю
и пальцы 
         разбрасываю разломавши 

так рвут загадав и пускают 
                          по маю 

венчики встречных ромашек
пускай седины обнаруживает стрижка и бритье
Пусть серебро годов вызванивает 
                                                               уймою 

надеюсь верую вовеки не придет
ко мне позорное благоразумие

II
Уже второй 
                         должно быть ты легла 

А может быть 
                         и у тебя такое 
Я не 
спешу 
            И молниями телеграмм
мне незачем 
                         тебя 
                                     будить и беспокоить

III
море уходит вспять
море уходит спать
Как говорят инцидент исперчен
любовная лодка разбилась о быт
С тобой мы в расчете
И не к чему перечень
взаимных болей бед и обид

IV
Уже второй должно быть ты легла
В ночи Млечпуть серебряной Окою
Я не спешу и молниями телеграмм
Мне незачем тебя будить и беспокоить
как говорят инцидент исперчен
любовная лодка разбилась о быт
С тобой мы в расчете и не к чему перечень
взаимных болей бед и обид
Ты посмотри какая в мире тишь
Ночь обложила небо звездной данью 
в такие вот часы встаешь и говоришь
векам истории и мирозданию

V
Я знаю силу слов я знаю слов набат
Они не те которым рукоплещут ложи
От слов таких срываются гроба
шагать четверкою своих дубовых ножек
Бывает выбросят не напечатав не издав
Но слово мчится подтянув подпруги
звенит века и подползают поезда
лизать поэзии мозолистые руки
Я знаю силу слов Глядится пустяком
Опавшим лепестком под каблуками танца
Но человек душой губами костяком

I
She loves me? She loves me not? I break my hands
and fingers, 
                                scatter
                                and shatter, 
    as the others seize 
            and release 
                tête-à-tête petals of daisy
                                into May. 

let a haircut and shave reveal                     the gray 
let silver ages 
                resound 
                                  all 
                                           the way
but without ever bringing me, 
            I hope, I believe—
the shameful prudence. 

II
It’s almost two o’clock  
                          you must have gone to sleep
But maybe
                          like me, you also—
Alas, I won’t rush it
                          And with the lightning of a telegram— 
no, I have no reason 
                          to awake and disturb 
                                                                 you

III
The sea goes to sleep
The sea goes—freeze
Like they say, the incident is settled—spoiled and soured 
Love’s gondola crashed against the mundane 
With you all accounts have been sealed 
No point in tallying up mutual pain and hurt and grief

IV
it’s almost two o’clock you must’ve gone to sleep 
at night the Milkyway looks like a silver river
i won’t rush it and with the lightning of a telegram
i have no reason to awake and disturb you
as they say the incident is settled and spoiled and soured 
love’s gondola crashed against the mundane 
with you all accounts have been sealed there’s no point tallying up
mutual pain and hurt and grief 
you see how in the world reigns silence
night imposed tribute on the sky in the form of constellation
at such an hour you rise and speak
to centuries and history and universe creation 

V
I know the power of words I know the words’ penetrating voice 
They are not the ones applauded by the theater boxes 
From such words coffins break free from the earth 
and with their four feet of oak stride forth
They could be discarded unprinted unpublished – it happens, 
But with tightened reins the word races forward 
and rings for centuries and trains crawl up  
to lick the callused hands of poetry
I know the power of words. A seeming trifle
like fallen petals under dancing heels,
but with lips and a soul—is a man with a backbone.

Jianing Zhao
on translating Vladimir Mayakovsky

“Part III” is the most well-known, and perhaps most well-crafted, part within this poem. It opens with rhymed couplets about the sea, which are extremely difficult to translate because they not only introduce the water imagery that will be elaborated upon by the metaphor of the love boat later in the poem, but also because they reference a popular Russian children’s game that finds no parallel in Anglophone culture. In this game, a chosen leader chants: “Море волнуется раз, море волнуется два…морская фигура на месте замри!” (“The sea waves once, the sea waves twice…marine figures freeze in place!”). Players swing and spin until hearing the word “freeze,” at which point they must freeze in a pose; if they don’t freeze, they lose. Due to the lack of similar games in English whose names keep the water imagery, I decided to keep a literal translation for the first half of these lines (“море уходит”—“the sea goes”), but tweaked the second half to create rhymed endings, especially with the use of the word “freeze” at the end to evoke the chant featured in the children’s game. The dash I put between “goes” and “freeze” allows for multiple ways of interpretation: in context of the game, it could emphasize the abruptness of the action, when the game leader suddenly chants “морская фигура на месте замри!” ("Marine figures freeze in place!”); if we disregard the game reference, “freeze” can be conceived as synonymous with “sleep,” and the dash could suggest a long, dragged-out process during which the relationship, like the freezing sea, becomes cold and stagnant. 


Mayakovsky coins the word исперчен from several similar-sounding words: исчерпен (“to settle”), испорчен (“to spoil”), and перчить (“to pepper”). As there is no single English word to capture all these layers of meaning, I decided to use three words to be true to the complexity of Mayakovsky’s diction here. I used alliteration to create a sense of coherence among these three adjectives that were bred from the same source word (“исперчен”), and a dash in between to elucidate the logic: the incident looks like it has been settled, but in fact it has been spoiled and soured. In the ensuing lines, I translated “в расчете” as “all accounts have been sealed.” I thought about translating it as “we’re even,” which would be more idiomatic, but I decided to reflect the shared “че” root in “исперчен” and “расчете” (as well as in “перечень” in the next line) by extending the alliteration from “settled/spoiled/soured” to “sealed.” These “чень”/“чет” root establishes the motif of counting, which is centralized in this poem, most notably through the ideas of “расчет” (in my translation, “accounts”) and “перечень” (in my translation, “tallying up”), but also hinted through the children’s game (the counting in “Море волнуется раз… два… три…”). One finds this motif of counting even in the beginning of the first poem, when the lovers count off flower petals to make guesses about love. 


As for the iconic refrain, at the time of Mayakovsky’s writing, there were few options of entertainment for the youth, and lovers would often go on boat rides in the parks. To highlight this particular phenomenon, I translated “лодка” to not the more intuitive and literal answer, “boat,” but to “gondola,” which is a particular type of boat rented often by lovers to roam around the city of Venice in leisure, to evoke images of idealized romance associated with “любовная лодка” as opposed to the harsh realism of the Soviet “быт.” The word “быт” itself is almost untranslatable. However, I also did not want to leave it untranslated, since readers without a Russian background would hardly understand what it means; the use of a footnote is possible, but would interrupt the rhythm of the poetry-reading experience. I considered “life,” “existence,” “being,” but all of them seemed too broad and nonsensical in the context of this line. I eventually chose “mundane” to sharpen and focalize the contrast with what the “любовная лодка” represents.


As I translated this poem, I followed Mayakovsky along his journey of the mind and of the soul, in his frustrations as both a lover and a poet. We will  never know why he eventually still decided to end his life, as these last few lines suggest a degree of optimism. Perhaps the pressure from the dancing heels were too much to bear; perhaps the love boat crashing against the mundane was too devastating. I do not know, but from reading Mayakovsky, what I have learned, is the power of words, to create, to destroy, to persist, and to transform, as his words still—as he himself predicted—race forward and ring in our world today.

photo by Jianing Zhao

about the poet

Vladimir Mayakovsky. Renowned as one of the most prominent figures of the Russian Futurist movement and the Russian Revolution, Mayakovsky produced a diverse body of work during his career: he wrote poems, directed plays, appeared in films, edited journals, and created posters in support of the Communist Party. Though Mayakovsky’s work regularly demonstrated ideological and patriotic support for the revolutionary ideology, Mayakovsky’s relationship with the Soviet state was always complex and often tumultuous. In 1930, Mayakovsky died by suicide at the age of thirty-seven in his apartment, which shocked the Soviet world. Joseph Stalin described Mayakovsky after his death as “the best and the most talented poet of our Soviet epoch.” What I have chosen to translate is an incomplete and unpublished poem found in Mayakovsky’s apartment, presumably his last work before his death.

about the translator

Jianing Zhao is a senior at Princeton University majoring in Slavic languages and literatures and minoring in archaeology, theater, and digital humanities. She spent the past summer modeling in Berlin and St. Petersburg, climbing rooftops, listening to Soviet rock, and touching electric wires.

 

Pequeñas lecciones de erotismo
Gioconda Belli

I
Recorrer un cuerpo en su extensión de vela
es dar la vuelta al mundo
Atravesar sin brújula la rosa de los vientos
islas golfos penínsulas diques de aguas embravecidas
no es tarea fácil  -si placentera-
No creas hacerlo en un día o noche
de sábanas explayadas.
Hay secretos en los poros para llenar muchas lunas


II
El cuerpo es carta astral en lenguaje cifrado.
Encuentras un astro y quizá deberás empezar
a corregir el rumbo cuando nube huracán
o aullido profundo
te pongan estremecimientos.
Cuenco de la mano que no sospechaste


III
Repasa muchas veces una extensión
Encuentra el lago de los nenúfares
Acaricia con tu ancla el centro del lirio
Sumérgete ahógate distiéndete
No te niegues el olor la sal el azúcar
Los vientos profundos
cúmulos nimbus de los pulmones
niebla en el cerebro
temblor de las piernas
maremoto adormecido de los besos


IV
Instálate en el humus sin miedo
al desgaste sin prisa
No quieras alcanzar la cima
Retrasa la puerta del paraíso
Acuna tu ángel caído
revuélvele la espesa cabellera
con la espada de fuego usurpada
Muerde la manzana


V
Huele
Duele
Intercambia miradas saliva impregnante
Da vueltas imprime sollozos piel que se escurre
Pie hallazgo al final de la pierna
Persíguelo busca secreto del paso forma del talón
Arco del andar bahías formando arqueado caminar
Gústalos


VI
Escucha caracola del oído
como gime la humedad
Lóbulo que se acerca al labio sonido de la respiración
Poros que se alzan formando diminutas montañas
Sensación estremecida de piel insurrecta al tacto
Suave puente nuca desciende al mar pecho
Marea del corazón susúrrale
Encuentra la gruta del agua


VII
Traspasa la tierra del fuego la buena esperanza
Navega loco en la juntura de los océanos
Cruza las algas ármate de corales ulula gime
Emerge con la rama de olivo
Llora socavando ternuras ocultas
Desnuda miradas de asombro
Despeña el sextante desde lo alto de la pestaña
Arquea las cejas abre ventanas de la nariz


VIII
Aspira suspira
Muérete un poco
Dulce lentamente muérete
Agoniza contra la pupila extiende el goce
Dobla el mástil hincha las velas
Navega dobla hacia Venus
estrella de la mañana
—el mar como un vasto cristal azogado—
Duérmete náufrago.

Little Lessons in Eroticism
translated by Sam Friskey

I. 
To ride the waters of a body 
is to sail around the world, navigating 
a windrose without a compass.
Islands, gulfs, peninsulas, breakwaters— 
it’s not an easy task, though pleasurable—
don’t think you can do it all in one day 
or in one night filled with splayed sheets.
There are enough secrets in our pores 
to fill many moons. 


II. 
The body is an astrology chart 
written in an encrypted language. 
You find a star, and then, perhaps, 
begin to correct your course, 
when a storm cloud
or a moan most profound
makes you tremble. 
You did not suspect that you would be 
in the hollow of this hand.


III. 
Go over a certain spot again and again.
Find the water lilied lake 
and anchor your caress in its center. 
Submerge yourself, sink yourself, stretch out.
Do not deny yourself the smell, the salt, the sugar. 
The deep winds—the cumulus nimbus in your lungs—
have clouded your mind. The tremor of legs,
the lulling tidal wave of kisses.


IV. 
Sink into soil. There’s no fear 
of wearing out, no hurry. 
Don’t reach the peak just yet.
Delay the gates of paradise. 
Cradle your fallen angel.
Tousle their thick mane, 
wield the flaming sword that you stole.
Bite the apple.


V.
Inhale. Ache.
Exchange looks. Exchange saliva. 
Cause your own pregnancy. 
Circle the imprints in the skin that you made.
Find the foot at the end of the leg.
Search for the secret step formed by the heel. 
The arch of your step, bays formed by arched walking. 
Enjoy them. 


VI. 
Listen to the conch of an ear,
how wetness seems to moan. 
Earlobe approaches lip—the sound of breathing,
pores rising as they form tiny mountains.  
Skin trembles from the rebellion of touch, 
as the bridge of your neck 
descends to the sea of your chest.
Whisper the heart’s tide.
Find the water’s source. 


VII.
Cut through Tierra del Fuego, 
the Cape of Good Hope.
Navigate the madness of where seas meet. 
Cross over algae. Arm yourself with corals. Howl, moan. 
Emerge with the olive branch. 
Cry, subvert all hidden tenderness. 
Undress your gaze of awe.
Throw the sextant off the cliff, 
from the height of your eyelashes. 
Arch your eyebrows, 
open your nostrils like windows.


VIII.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Die just a little.
Die sweetly, slowly.  
Agonize with your eyes, extend your pleasure.
Turn the mast, give wind to the sails.
The sail bends towards Venus
morning star— 
the silver sea like a vast crystal—
rest, you castaway. 
 

Sam Friskey
on translating Gioconda Belli

As I translated this poem, the most important element that I wanted to maintain was its sensuality, as, after all, this poem is a guidebook in eroticism. I wanted my translation to flow out of the mouth—I wanted the words to feel like they themselves were living and wanting and seeping in their own sweat, as I felt about Belli’s words when I read the poem in its original language. 

about the poet


Gioconda Belli. Born on December 9, 1948, Nicaraguan poet and activist Belli is known for her celebration of the female body and working against the “cult of machismo.” In an interview with BOMB Magazine, she said that she often writes “about [her] body as a geographical metaphor for [her] country.” As an active member of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (SNLF), Belli worked to overthrow the dictatorship of Anastasio Samoza. It was her work with the SNLF that ultimately caused Belli to live in exile in Mexico and Costa Rica before returning to Nicaragua in 1979. Belli now spends her time in Nicaragua and the United States. She has lectured at Princeton, Columbia, Boston College, and the University of California at San Diego.

about the translator

Sam Friskey—always a playwright, occasionally a translator of Spanish poetry—is a senior in the College studying English with minors in economics and theatre arts.

photo by Vivian Wen

 

Ah Motherland, Dear Motherland
translated by Anne Chen

 

I am your battered waterwheel, 
Weaving an ancient weary chime.  
I am a smoke-tinted miner’s lamp,
Lighting your drag through the tale of time.
I am a rice sprout wrinkled and toasted, 
lost in oblivious lanes.
I am an untamed boat by the coast, 
lashing your shoulders with chains.
…Ah Motherland!


I am poverty 
I am grief
I am the ache within your hope 
your posterity yet ancestry.
I am born in utopian land,
where million-year-old petals 
refuse to drop from trees.
…Ah Motherland!


I am your ideals fresh and wild,
Rescued from cobwebs you have fabled.  
I am the lotus rooted beneath snow,
Melting to tears in smiling dimples.
I am a white starting line 
freshly traced
against scarlet dawn, 
beaming gold rays.
…Ah Motherland!


I am a bit of your billion,
summing acres beneath your feet.
Your eroded and beaten breasts have nurtured
a confounded boiling me.
Please take my name and blood to fuel 
your prosperity and liberty.
Oh Motherland
…Dear Motherland!

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!

Anne Chen
on translating Shu Ting

I attempted to translate the weary, hopeful, and zealous tone of the poem. I chose to use “Ah” in the title to make the poem colloquial, which is a quality present in many of Shu Ting’s poems. Also, I translated the line “ache within your hope” to portray the bitterness and frustration presented by the author. The phrase “utopian land” in the original is “immortal’s sleeve,” which symbolizes an idealistic and happy place. I used “utopian land” to convey the cultural connotation.

 

about the poet


Shu Ting is one of the most prominent female Chinese poets of the twentieth century. At the age of seventeen, she was sent to work in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. However, this did not stop her pursuit of literature and poetry. In the early 1980s, she was regarded as the leading female representative of the Misty Poets, who reacted against the restrictions on art during the Cultural Revolution. Shu Ting had joined the join the official Chinese Writers’ Association and won the National Outstanding Poetry Award twice now.

about the translator

Anne Chen is a junior studying digital media design at the University of Pennsylvania. She lived in China for six years when she was young. She admires the rhythm, language, and expression of Chinese poems, and hopes to recreate such aspects through translation.

 

Two Poems by Antonio Machado
translated by Anika Prakash

Galeria LXII

Desgarrada la nube; el arco iris

brillando ya en el cielo,

y en un fanal de lluvia

y sol en el campo envuelto.

Desperté. ¿Quién enturbia
los mágicos cristales de mi sueño?
Mi corazón latía
atónito y disperso.


...¡El limonar florido,
el cipresal del huerto,
el prado verde, el sol, el agua, el 
iris..., el agua en tus cabellos!...


Y todo en la memoria se perdía como
una pompa de jabón al viento.

Varia XCIV
En medio de la plaza y sobre tosca piedra,
el agua brota y brota. En el cercano
huerto eleva, tras el muro ceñido por la
hiedra, alto ciprés la mancha de su ramaje
yerto.


La tarde está cayendo frente a los caserones
de la ancha plaza, en sueños. Relucen las 
vidrieras con ecos mortecinos de sol. En los 
balcones
hay formas que parecen confusas calaveras.


La calma es infinita en la desierta plaza, 
donde pasea el alma su traza de alma en 
pena. El agua brota y brota en la marmórea 
taza.
En todo el aire en sombra no más que el agua suena.
 

Galeria LXII

The clouds are torn, the rainbow is already shining

in the sky: the rain quiets

and sunlight wraps the field.

 

I woke up. Who disturbed the magic crystals
of my dreams? My heart pounded
and then scattered.


The flowering lemon tree, 
the cypress in the orchard,
the green meadow, the sun, the water, the iris! 


The droplets in your hair!
Suddenly, everything in my memory dissipated
like a soap bubble in the wind.

Varia XCIV
In the middle of the square, atop rough stone,
the water gushes and spouts. In the nearby orchard
behind the ivy-covered wall, the stiff branches
of the cypress rise high.


Afternoon settles on the wide square like a dream. 
The stained-glass windows gleam with dull echoes 
of the sun. On the balconies, there are shadows
that look like distorted skulls.


An infinite peace consumes the deserted square,
where the soul wanders and traces its pain.
The water gushes and spouts into a marble bowl;
The air darkens no more than the water sing 
 

Anika Prakash
on translating Antonio Machado

Antonio Machado’s poetry is rich with imagery, and not all of it is properly expressed through direct translations of each word. For example, in “Varia XCIV,” the phrase “confusas calaveras” translates literally to “confused skulls,” but I felt as though the image of shadowed heads would be better represented by the phrase “distorted skulls.” In other places, I focused on simplifying the meaning by eliminating extra words; for example, in the same poem, the line “dónde pasea el alma su traza de alma en pena” directly translates to something like “where the soul walks, the soul traces its pain,” but I translated it as “where the soul wanders and traces its pain” for the sake of simplicity. 

about the poet

Antonio Machado (1875–1939) was a Spanish poet part of the literary movement known as the Generation of ’98. He wrote both Modernist and Romantic poetry, but the vast majority of his work derived from similar themes. His poetry was very well received and over the course of his lifetime, he published several books of poetry, the most notable ones being Soledades, Soledades. Galerias. Otras poemas., and Nuevas Canciones. Each of these books primarily consists of poems that are numbered instead of titled.

about the translator

Anika Prakash is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania and the editor-in-chief of Red Queen Literary Magazine. She was a participant in the 2016 Adroit Journal Mentorship Program, the 2017 Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, and the 2018 Kelly Writers House Summer Workshop. Her poetry has been recognized by the Adroit Journal, Scholastic Art & Writing, and the Writers’ Theatre of New Jersey, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in a Platypus Press anthology, Red Paint Hill, Noble Gas Qtrly, Hobart, the Ellis Review, and Glass, among others.

 

La Scissiparité
Georges Bataille

I


Pris de rage et de rage.

    Ma tête? Un ongle, un ongle de nouveau-né.


    Je crie. Nul m’entend. L’opacité, l’éternité, le silence vides—évidement de moi.
    Je me supprimerai en m’égoillant : cette conviction est digne d’éloges.


               Je mangerai, b…, écrirai, rirai, mentirai, redouterai la mort, et pâlirai à l’idée qu’on me      retourne les ongles.


II


               J’aimerais m’en tenir à l’idée tranchante de moi-même, élevant dans l’air ma tête ridée et niant l’odeur de la mort.


               J’aimerais oublier l’insaissable glissement de moi-même à la corruption.


               J’ai la nausée du ciel dont l’éclatante douceur a l’obscénité d’une “fille” endormie.


               J’imagine une jolie putain, élégante, nue et triste dans la gaieté de petit porc.


               Un soleil de fête inondait ma chambre. Je me rasais nu devant la glace, limitée par un cadre aux dorures ouvragées. Debout, je tournais le dos au disque solaire, mais la glace, sur ma tête, en reproduisant l’image. Qui suis-je? J’aurais py sur le verre ensoleillé tracer mon nom, la date, en lettres de savon : j’aurais cessé d’y croire et n’en aurais plus ri. Cette aisance avec moi-même, ce mensonge de la clace, l’immensité de la lumière, dont je suis l’effet?


               J’aurais de moi-même une idé sublime : pour cela, j’ai la force necessaire. J’égalerais l’amour (l’indécent corps à cors) à l’illimité de l’être—à la mausée, au soleil, à la mort. Lobscénité donne un moment de fleuve au délire de sens.


               Ce qui, dans mon caractère, est le moins accuse (mais enfin…) : le côté Gustave (ou cochon).
 

III


Lettre de l’auteur à Mme E…


               Reçu de Monsignor un télégramme :
              “Réussite. Accourez. Situation difficile.”
              Je me suis longuement regardé dans la glace et j’avais peur de rire aux éclats.
              Le dédoublement de Monsignor m’agace à perdre le tête.
             Ce qu’il laisse entrevoir est le fond des choses dt décidément c’est truqué.


Lettre de Mme E… à l’auteur.


              …finalement j’ai la gorge serrée. L’état où votre mot m’a mis est le plus énervant que j’aie connu. Par moment, je ris aux éclats. Et j’imagine que, désormais, ce rire de folle ne cessera pas. Il cesse, et à ce moment-là j’ai le sentiment pénible, mais voluptueux, d’être mouchée, et faite comme un rat…


IV

              Routrouvé Mme E… à Paris. Nous partons demain pout Rome, où nous attend Monsignor. Monsignor ou plutôt…
              Opéra. Grande musique. Quantité d’alcool.
              Ce matin, tombant, un couteau auguisé à la main, je me suis ouvert un doigt. Mme E… rit très haut de me coir tombé, mais le sang qui abondait et d’avoir ri aussi haut le gênèrent. J’achevai de la gêner en riant : j’étais gentil, flottant, adorable : elle sournoise, pale et colontairement indécente.

              Si l’intelligence est femme…
              … Je voudrais qu’en un movement résolu la mienne ressemble à une femme impie.
              Il existe un conjugaison des verbes de chair, de laquelle la chanson comique est la désinence.
              Je chanterai jusqu’à la honte à une table de banquet :

                            Ravadja la moukère
                            Ravadja bono


et la violence du chang, malgré moi, hors de moi, rebondirait :

                            Trempe ton cul dans la soupière,
                           
Tu verras si c’est chaud.

              Si elle n’allait jusqu’au ravadja la femme impie n’aurait pas le pouvoir de pourrir aussi résolument la lumière, ni d’être aussi résolument belle : pourriture et rayon du soleil. Mais c’est ma façon d’aimer Mme E…, de rire et, finalement, de raisonner.
             

              Visite d’Alexandrette à deux heures. Je tremblais (l’alcool de la veille?). Il avait l’air haineux de ces minuscule cages à mooches qu’enfant j’emplissais d’insectes odieusement vivants. Il s’en est allé et nous restâmes, Mme E…, et moi, dans un désert de f… A l’assaut des étoiles, en un mouvement de grandiloquence. Nous prenons dans deux heures le train de Rome.
 

              Musique hier soir à sauter la tête. A pleurer, à vomir gaiement. Ruissellements échevelés. Politesse de Mme E… Décolleté, bonne éducation, mais quelle indécence!


V

              Quand je fais l’amour, aujourd’hui, ma joie ne m’est plus dérobée par le sentiment qu’elle va finir—et que je mourrai sans l’avoir saisie. Il m’arrivait dans d’heureux excès que le plaisir brûlant s’annulât, comme en rêve : j’imaginais un temps où je n’aurais plus de moyen de le renoiveler. Il me manquait le sentiment d’exubérante richesse de la fête, la malice puérile et le rire qui égale Dieu! La puissance elle-même est fuyante, il est vrai : elle est de même nature que la douleur. Je m’abandonne à son humeur? Aussitôt, je m’accorde à un impossible et je jouis comme un monster meurt.
              Rome, un fiacre, Mme E… Violent éclairage électrique. Pluies et lune dans des rues blanches d’opéra-comique : pins, délices et indolence.

              J’accepte la vie à une condition.
              A travers le sublime, l’éternité, le mensonge, à tue-tête chanter, porté par un choeur de théâtre.

              Acheté un loup pour Mme E… Je mise, assoiffé d’insolence, sur les fêtes de Monsignor.
             

              Je griserai par l’allure insolite.
              Que chanter à la foule sinon ce qui la grise?
              Dix mille yeux dans la nuit sont le ciel étoilé.

              Le plus anxieux, le plus heureux des hommes.
              Invoquer la mort, lui crier :
              — Saisis tes couteuax de comédie, auguise-les sur les dents des tiens!
              La dame en décolleté (indécente, je l’ai dit, profondément) : son décolleté à la mesure de la mort, la mort à la mesure du décolleté.


VI

              Farce de village!
              Devant le cartonnage et la contrefaçon, le parti que j’ai adopté de tout réunir dans la nuit, de ne plus dire ce qui nous occupe, est seul à la mesure de mon dessein. Qu’il est necessaire d’aller loin… Être étoile et déshonorer le haut des cieux. N’ecouter rien, crier ou discourir en des solitudes de ciel. Je téléphone à Monsignor.


              Et nous, nous venons dans une heure.
              Alpha, Bêta (ainsi distinguons-nous les sosies issues d’un dédoublement), Mme E… et moi.


              Comme moi, Mme E…, dans le fiacre découvert, ivre sans alcool, et riant sourdement :
              — Mais qui t’a répondu? Alpha? Bêta?
              Le trouble donnait à ses traits une convulsion lente et voluptueuse.
             

              Le prélat descendant l’escalier de pierre vint à nois, nous tendant les mains.
              Mme E…, gênée, lui dit avec un rire de fille :
              — Bonjour, Bêta!

             

              Ce qui, quand Mme E… lui dit : “Bonjour, Bêta!” me frappa (j’éprouvais alors comme heureux moins l’escalier ensoleillé que les panneaux où des déesses en robes troussées tendaient, comme des cassolettes d’épices, un sournois homage au plaisir) fut la vulgarité de mon amie. Elle baisa, s’inclinant, l’anneau épiscopal et cet humble mouvement, comme l’instant d’avant son rire canaille, accusa sa nature, sous le tailleur de ville, laissant deviner l’animal. Je me rappelais qu’on ne voyait d’habitude en Mme E… que la “fille” et, dans ces richesses irréelles, j’étais heureux que cette misère vraie répondit à mes passions.

             

              Sans transition, le moment devenait grave.


              Soudain, je sus qu’en haut de l’escalier, dans un désordre obscène, je verrai l’autre versant.


              De ces palais de tragédie qui semblent vides, parce que le seuil n’en est plus sanglant, et que les chiens de Jézabel les ont fuis, je compris qu’en dépit de leur apparence agréable, ils demeurent favorable aux voeux les plus débauchés.
              Ce qui frappe dans un palais—comme en un coup de théâtre soudain—est la haine des hommes entre eux. Le haut de l’escalier monumental que Monsignor et Mme E… gravirent en riant ne m’attirait pas seulement comme le seuil d’un royaume affreux. Je ne pouvais m’empêcher de voir en contraste—à ce moment de triomphe de Mme E…, sa haute taille et ses airs, trop hardis, de grande dame ennoblie par ce cadre de pierre—le tableau de la femme lapidée. Non qu’alors j’aie vu rien de plus qu’une entrée royale. Je ne voyais pas mon amie terrassée, dans le sang, dans la boue, dans le bruit immonde de la foule. (Le toit ne suggère pas le corps écrasé mais donne le vertige.)


              Rarement, le désir de mon amie me prit de façon plus bestiale. Une chaleur en un sens glacée me saisit. J’eus le sentiment de la foule lapidatrice, qui hait comme elle sue.
              Qui ne peut attendre un instant.
              Mme E… rapidement franchit le seuil.
              Alpha ouvrait la porte à deux battants.

Scissiparity
translated by Cory Austin Knudson

I


               Consumed with rage and enraged
               My head? A nail, the nail of a newborn child.


               I cry out. No one hears. The opacity, the eternity, the silence, all empty—me of course.
               I will do away with myself screaming my throat out: this conviction is worth eulogies.

               

               I will eat, b…, write, laugh, lie, dread death, and pale at the idea of someone crushing my nails.


II


               I would like to hold onto the piercing image of myself, raising up my furrowed head and denying the smell of death.


               I would like to forget my subtle slide toward corruption.


               I am sick with the sky whose radiant softness arouses me like a young “girl” asleep.


               I imagine a pretty whore, elegant, nude and mournful in her piglet glee.


               A festival sun had bathed my room. I shaved naked before the mirror encircled by an ornately gilded frame. Standing, I turned my back on the solar disk, but the mirror, around my head, reproduced that solar image. Who am I? On the sunlit glass I could have traced my name, the date, in letters of soap: I could have stopped believing in them and would no longer have laughed. This ease with myself, this lie of the mirror, the immensity of the light—of these am I but the effect?


               I could have a sublime idea of myself: for that I have what I need. I could equate love (bodies indecently joined to bodies) to the limitlessness of being—to sickness, to the sun, to death. Obscenity gives sensuous delirium a momentary flow.


               That which, in my character, is the least pointed out (but in the end…): the gustave (or pig) side.


III


Letter from the author to Mme E…

               Received a telegram from the Monsignor:
               “Success. Hurry. Difficult situation.”
                looked at myself in the mirror for a long time and worried I might burst out laughing.
               I’m losing my mind over the doubling of the Monsignor.
               What is left to glimpse is the bottom of things and surely that game is rigged.


Letter from Mme E… to the author

               …finally I am choking. Your note left me nerve-wracked, more so than I’ve ever been. Every now and then I burst out laughing. And I imagine that, henceforth, this mad laugh will not cease. It ceases, and at this moment I have the painful yet luxuriant feeling of watching it all fall apart…


IV


               Met Mme E… in Paris. We leave tomorrow for Rome, where the Monsignor awaits us. Monsignor or rather…
               Opera. Grand music. Lots of booze.


               This morning, falling, a sharpened knife in my hand, I cut open my finger. Mme E… shrieked with laughter at seeing me fall, but the blood that brimmed forth and her having laughed so loud embarrassed her. I managed to embarrass her by laughing: I was easy, loose, lovable: she, sly, pale and willfully indecent.
               If intelligence is woman…
               …I should like that mine, in one resolute movement, resemble an impious woman.
               There is a fleshly conjugation of verbs, which decline to the rhythm of a comic song.
               I will sing to the banquet table to the point of shame:


                              Ravadja la moukère
                              Ravadja bono

and the violence of song, despite me, outside me, would echo:


                              Trempe ton cul dans la soupière
                                                            Tu verras si c’est chaud


               If she did not go up to ravadja, the impious woman would not be able to rot the light so resolutely, nor to be so resolutely beautiful: rot and sunray. But it’s my way to love Mme E…, to laugh and, finally, to reason.


               Visit from Alexandrette at two o’clock. I trembled (the hangover?). He had a hateful air like those tiny fly-cages I filled with repulsively living insects as a child. He left and we stayed, Mme E… and I, in a desert of f… Assaulted by stars, in a grandiloquent movement. In two hours’ time we’ll be taking to the train to Rome.


               Music last night to clear my head. Crying, vomiting gaily. Crapulent runoff. Politeness of Mme E… Plunging neckline, well-educated, but how scandalous!


V


               When I make love these days my joy is no longer obscured by the feeling that it will end—and that I’ll die without having seized it. It used to come to me in a joyous excess that burning pleasure would annul, like in a dream: I used to imagine a time when I would no longer be able to reproduce it. I lacked the feeling of the festival’s rich exuberance, the puerile malice and the laugh that equals God! Power itself is fleeting, that is true: its nature is the same as sadness. Should I abandon myself to this mood? Quickly, I give myself over to an impossible and I come like a dying monster.


               Rome, a taxi, Mme E… Violent electric lighting. Rains and moon in the white streets of opéra-comique: pines, delights and indolence.


               I accept life under one condition.
               Though the sublime, eternity, the lie, to sing my head off, carried by a theater choir.


               Bought a wolf for Mme E… Parched for insolence, I’m counting on the festivals of Monsignor.


               I will get drunk off strange allurements.
               What to sing to the crowd if not something to intoxicate it?


               Ten thousand eyes in the night are the starry sky.


               The most anxious, the happiest of men.
               Invoking death, he cries:
               —     Seize your knives of comedy, sharpen them on those teeth of yours!
               The woman with the plunging neckline (as I said, deeply indecent): her baring at the scale of death, death at the scale of her baring.


VI


               Village idiot!
               Before the cartonnage and fakery, the decision I made to unite all in the night, to speak no more about what worries us, is only commensurate with my design. It’s necessary to go farther… To be a star and so corrupt the firmament. To listen to nothing, to cry out or discourse in the solitudes of sky. I telephone Monsignor.


               And us, we come within the hour.
               Alpha, Beta (in this way we distinguish the look-alikes issuing from a split), Mme E… and me.


               Like me, Mme E…, in the open taxi, drunk without booze, and laughing dully:
               —     But who answered you? Alpha? Beta?
               The disorder gives her features a slow and sensual convulsion.


               The prelate comes down the stone stairs towards us, holding out his hands.
               Mme E…, uneasy, said to him with a girlish laugh:
               —     Hello, Beta!


               When Mme E… said to him: “Hello, Beta!” what struck me (I felt at that moment a kind of happiness not so much at the sunlit staircase but rather at the panels depicting goddesses hitching up their skirts and offering, like little spicy morsels, a sordid tribute to pleasure) was my lover’s coarseness. Bowing, she kissed the episcopal ring and this humble movement, like the moment before her coarse laugh, laid bare her nature, beneath that of the village tailor, letting it become animal. I remembered that normally one sees nothing in Mme E… save the “girl” so I was pleased that, through these rich flights of fancy, her true wretchedness matched my lust.


               Suddenly, the moment became serious.
               I knew at once that at the top of the stairs, in an obscene disorder, I would see the other side.


               I understood that these palaces of tragedy seem empty because their thresholds no longer drip with blood and because the dogs of Jezebel have fled them, I understood that despite their pleasant look, they remain favorable to the most debauched desires.
               What really strikes one in a palace—like a sudden plot twist—is men’s hatred for one another. The monumental top of the stairs toward which Monsignor and Mme E… ascended, laughing, did not attract me only as the threshold to a frightful realm. I could not prevent myself seeing in sharp relief—at Mme E…’s moment of triumph, her height and her audacious airs, a grande dame ennobled by this stone frame—the image of a woman executed by stoning. Not that I then saw anything more than a royal entry. I did not see my lover struck down to earth, caked in blood, in mud, in the foul noise of the crowd. (The roof does not hint at the broken body but brings on vertigo).


               In rare fashion, my friend’s desire took a bestial hold on me. A heat, icy in some sense, seized me. I felt like the crowd at a stoning, which hates as much as it sweats.
               Who cannot wait a moment.
               Mme E… quickly crossed the threshold.
               Alpha opened the door upon two knocks.

Cory Austin Knudson
on translating Georges Bataille

 

Georges Bataille’s “La Scissiparité” is a hybrid text written during the composition of, and likely at least at first in conjunction with, his novel L’Abbé C. Like L’Abbé C, “La Scissiparité” focuses on three characters: a male libertine (“the author”), a female libertine (“Mme E…”), and a priest (“Monsignor”). All three are curiously multiplex, however, with each seeming to undergo the very scissiparity announced in the title as the text unfolds. For example, early in the poem, the author questions the stability of his identity before a mirror flooded with dazzling sunlight. Then, Mme E… attests to “the painful and yet luxuriant feeling of watching it all fall apart,” referring as much to herself as to her circumstances. Finally, the mysterious Monsignor whom the pair are traveling to Rome in order to meet is referred to as “Alpha” and “Beta” by turns in order to “distinguish the look-alikes issuing from a split”—a split, that is, in the Monsignor’s very being, which mirrors the scissiparous identities of the other two characters. During the period in which he wrote “La Scissiparité,” Bataille was particularly preoccupied with the frightful symmetry of apparent opposites such as good and evil, taboo and transgression, attraction and disgust, and the sacred and the accursed. He attempted to both theorize and artistically represent phenomena in which these contrarieties seemed to coalesce and thus fracture distinctions so seemingly fundamental to traditional categories of thought, experience, and aesthetics. “Scissiparity” can be seen as an attempt to both portray and enact this process of scissiparity, as it were, rendering the experience of transgressing the parallel limits between self/non-self, arousal/repulsion, laughter/horror, and sense/nonsense in a frenzy of jagged imagery and at times deliberately incomprehensible language. Thus, though the multiplicity of possible meanings that permeate the text must be necessarily and sometimes violently narrowed through every act of translation, “La Scissiparité” challenges its translator to maintain at least some semblance of the radical indeterminacy of its expression. It is, like so much of Bataille’s work, an outgrowth of the thinker’s militancy against the “mathematical frock-coat” of idealism and rationalism—understood as the presumption of a one-to-one correspondence between thought and experience, or between language and reality—here rendered as a purposeful derangement of both semiotic and psychic identity, a cancerous multiplication of meaning beyond the bounds of any attempt to fully grasp it.

about the poet

Georges Bataille (1897–1962) was a French writer and intellectual who edited the journals Documents, Acéphale, and Critique. He was also an author of transgressive fiction and poetry such as the infamous Story of the Eye (1928) and The Hatred of Poetry (1947), as well as theoretical works, the most influential of which have proven to be “The Notion of Expenditure” (1933) and The Accursed Share (1949). Poststructuralist thinkers like Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida would come to adopt Bataille’s concepts of transgression, general economy, and the limit-experience, making much of his thought central to French intellectual life in the latter half of the twentieth century. By turns fascinated and exasperated with the Surrealist movement during the 1930s, Bataille would nonetheless be profoundly influenced by Surrealism’s potential for subverting normative categories of thought and experience, for unlocking the potential to escape the fetters of rationality and, as Bataille would write in Acéphale, allowing man to “escape his head like the condemned from his prison.”

about the translator

Cory Austin Knudson is a graduate student in the Comparative Literature and Literary Theory program at the University of Pennsylvania. My work focuses on reading modernist literature, and particularly transgressive modernism, in the context of climate change. Georges Bataille has been a central figure in both my current academic work and the evolution of my thought in general. I owe my profound thanks to Tomas Elliott for his immense effort, patience, and advice as I translated “La Scissiparité.” Tomas and I are currently translating Bataille’s preliminary work to The Accursed Share, including the author’s extensive, unfinished manuscript, The Limit of the Useful. Forest.

 

Dopo tutto anche tu
Alda Merini

Dopo tutto anche tu
che dovrei sentire nemico
e che perdono.
Sei soltanto un uomo
che cerca di capire
e di non capire nessuno.
La tua generosità 
è falsa come la mia.
Nessuno di noi
è talmente buono
da far sortir
miracoli dai versi.
Nessuno di noi
è talmente puro
da dimenticarli
per sempre.

After everything, still you
translated by Quinn Gruber

After everything, still you
who I should see as an enemy
and who I forgive.
You are only a man
who searches for understanding
and understands no one.
Your generosity
is false, like mine.
Neither of us
is good enough
to spin
miracles out of verses.
Neither of us
is honest enough
to abandon them
forever.

Quinn Gruber
on translating Alda Merini

Even after I finished this translation, I struggled to find words to describe what is so captivating about Merini’s poetry. Calling its language simple feels like an injustice to its intense emotional power, and yet the poem’s simplicity is its driving force. Balancing these traits proved itself the most difficult aspect of translating. For example, sentire possesses many meanings: to hear, smell, taste, and feel; multiple forms of sensory perception are implicitly tied to emotional feeling. Thus, “sentire nemico” not only implies the feeling that someone is your enemy, but also the inability to perceive them as anything else. I translated this phrase as “see as an enemy” to preserve the sense-emotion link as naturally as possible in English.


Far sortir was another difficult phrase; the use of fare (“to do, to make”) before an infinitive is a common construction in Italian but can sound jarring in English, so I only translated sortir. Sortir(e) means “to pull from, draw out,” but I chose to translate it as “spin,” in the sense of spinning yarn or thread, to evoke a physical connection, the weaving together of two people’s lives.


Overall, I wanted to capture the conversational sound of the poem—not in the sense of small talk, but of openness. The speaker recognizes the pain of the past that lies between them and the man, and yet they forgive him. They do not dismiss that pain, but reach out despite it, because we rely on our relationships with others to know who we are. In the context of Merini’s experiences with mental illness, this sentiment becomes even more moving. The book to which this poem belongs, Dopo tutto anche tu, is composed of poems that Merini read over the phone to a friend, the poet and psychiatrist Angelo Guarnieri. One would expect someone who spent painful years in a manicomio (a psychiatric hospital), especially before Franco Basaglia’s reformatory work, to distrust a psychiatrist, to feel resentment toward the entire profession. Yet, Merini forgives him and recognizes him as “soltanto un uomo” (“only a man”). Though neither she nor Guarnieri can change the past, poetry offers them a way to understand each other. Though this generosità/generosity is “false” in that we write and speak in order to reassure ourselves, Merini asks us: is there any other way to survive, to connect with each other, than through language and poetry?

about the poet

Alda Merini (Milan, 1931–2009) was one of Italy’s most famous twentieth-century poets; her poetry is renowned for its spirituality and emotional intensity. She published her first work when she was fifteen and soon gained the admiration of other notable Italian poets such as Eugenio Montale and Salvatore Quasimodo. Merini wrote over fifty books, some of the most well-known being La Terra Santa (Holy Land, 1984) and L’altra verità: diario di una diversa (The Other Truth: Diary of a Misfit, 1986). Much of her work reflects upon her experiences with mental illness, with which she struggled for her entire life. Her accolades include the Premio Librex Montale, the Premio Elsa Morante Ragazzi, and a nomination for the Nobel Prize in Literature, among others.

about the translator

Quinn Gruber is a sophomore who studies English and Italian literature at the University of Pennsylvania. They have always loved the intricacies and subtle nuances of language, and think that the most specific words say the most about a language. In their free time, they write poetry, play in a quartet, make zines, and go on long walks.

 

Sonnet I
Théophile Gautier

 

Aux vitraux diaprés des sombres basiliques, 
Les flammes du couchant s’éteignent tour à tour; 
D’un âge qui n’est plus précieuses reliques, 
Leurs dômes dans l’azur tracent un noir contour;
Et la lune paraît, de ses rayons obliques 
Argentant à demi l’aiguille de la tour, 
Et les derniers rameaux des pins mélancoliques 
Dont l’ombre se balance et s’étend alentour.
Alors les vibrements de la cloche qui tinte,
D’un monde aérien semblent la voix éteinte, 
Qui par le vent portée en ce monde parvient;
Et le poëte, assis près des flots, sur la grève, 
Écoute ces accents fugitifs comme un rêve, 
Lève les yeux au ciel, et triste se souvient. 

Sonnet I
translated by Shiven Sharma

 

Past the prismatic windows of the dark basilicas, 
The flames of the west are extinguished turn after turn; 
Of an age no longer that of precious relics, 
Their domes in the Azure trace a black outline;
And the moon appears, with its oblique rays 
Half silvering the needle of the tower, 
And the last branches of melancholic pines 
Whose shadow sways and spreads around.
Then the vibrations of the bell that chimes, 
Of an aerial world resembling the extinct voice, 
Which, by the wind carried to this world, comes;
And the poet, sitting by the waves, on the beach, 
Listens to these runaway accents like a dream, 
Looks up to heaven, and in sadness remembers. 

Shiven Sharma 
on translating Théophile Gautier

“Sonnet 1” was one of many in Gautier’s Poésies Complètes (Volume I), published in 1889 by the Charpentier Library. The sonnet is the first of seven in the volume and is quite possibly the most thematically profound. “Sonnet 1” is a nostalgic reflection of the past, filled with memories of the ornate and grandiose basilicas that Gautier encountered in his youth. Gautier describes various features of these basilicas, such as their multicolored stained glass windows, the beautiful silver coating on the church pinnacle, and the pleasant chimes of their church bells. This sonnet is rich with imagery as it activates an entwinement of senses (i.e. aural and visual), giving the reader an almost synaesthetic experience.


Gautier wrote the poem in a now archaic form of French, employing some words and phrases that are not used today, such as poëte (12) and Argentant à demi (6). As such, it took some time to translate the piece and understand the poem’s context and phrasing. The term poëte, whose modern French counterpart is poète, translates to “poet.” The expression argentant à demi refers to the literal act of coating half of an object with a reflective substance (e.g. silver) and is now an idiom that means to recover money.


I tried to be as true to the original as possible, but sometimes altered the wording for the sake of clarity. For instance, the literal translation of Line 1 is “Through the multicolored stain-glass windows of the gloomy basilica.” This is too complex, and actually draws focus away from the synaesthetic imagery that underlies the setting. The expression “prismatic windows,” though it does not fully capture the intended meaning, allows for the interpretation of stained glass windows within the context of the basilica setting. Furthermore, there are modern expressions in the French that sound awkward when translated into English. Literally, line 14 translates to “Looks up to heaven, and sad remembers.” Without the addition of “in” and replacement of “sad” with “sadness,” it seems that Gautier personifies sadness, which couldn’t be farther from the intended purpose. In fact, Gautier wanted to depict the melancholic internal reflection of a poet that was situated on a beach, gazing into the sky. 


The translation process was quite difficult, especially because I had to decide between translating literally or changing the phrasing of the original. With the former, I risked losing coherence and creating confusion, while with the latter, I risked losing Gautier’s intended meaning. I tried my best to find the most accurate translations of the diction and idioms employed in the original work. Thus, the actual translation of the work is not the source of difficulty, especially if one is familiar with French, but the real problem arises from efforts to capture the ideas and meanings originally conveyed by Gautier. In order to do so, one must be precise in one’s use of language and make sure that changes of phrasing do not result in an alternative interpretation of the text.

about the poet

Théophile Gautier (1811–1872) was a journalist, art critic, and novelist, but most importantly, he was a poet. Living in Paris for most of his life, he spent much of his time pondering the nuanced and free-flowing nature of the arts, especially paintings and architecture. However, after attending Collège Charlemagne, he became an early proponent of Romanticism and, accordingly, turned to poetry, publishing his first poetry collection, Poésies, in 1830.


Poésies is one of his most notable works, despite its being primarily an attempt to imitate other, more established Romantic poets such as Victor Hugo. In the forty-two–poem collection, which includes “Sonnet 1”, Gautier displays his artistic prowess through variation of verse forms, vivid imagery, and sound internal reflection. “Sonnet 1” in particular was written at the height of Romanticism, and therefore presents a synthesis of several themes present in the movement, such as supernaturalism, the sublime, and Hellenism. Interestingly, after the publication of Poésies, Gautier once more shifted his artistic stance. Rather than the utilitarian artistic philosophy of Romanticism, he came to prefer the more aesthetic artistic philosophy of art pour l’art, or “art for art’s sake.” Nevertheless, Gautier is one of the best poets of his time and his voice deserves to be heard by all, irrespective of language. 

about the translator

Shiven Sharma is a senior in the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania who is majoring in biology and minoring in French studies. He enjoys reading twentieth-century French literature from postmodern novelists, such as Albert Camus and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Sharma also appreciates nineteenth-century poetry from prominent French poets, such as François Coppée and Alfred de Musset. Furthermore, due to his long-standing interest in the culture of Quebec, a francophone province in Canada, he created an exploratory dissertation regarding the influence of the Roman Catholic Church on the Quebecois sociocultural climate.

 

תחרות לנסיון
Nathan Alterman

ארבע חירויות נודעות לתהילה 
החליטו, בנשוב רוח-סתו קלילה,
לערך תחרות בריצה, לשם שחוק
ואשר תנצח—זר יותן לה כחוק. 

אז נצבו בשורה ארבעתן, לאמור: 


החופש מפחד,
החופש ממחסור,
וחופש הדת,
וחופש הדיבור,
וסביבן—הקהל וראשי הציבור. 

אך בטרם התחילו 
ארח לרוץ,
נתגלה יצור פלא, צולע וגוץ,
איזה חופש מוזר, חמישי במספר,
שאפילו ברמז עליו לא דובר,
ויגש, מדדה על רגלו החיגרת, 
אל ארבע החופשות הבנויות לתפארת,
ויצחק ערמומי ויגד בקריצה: 
אתחרה גם אני עמכן בריצה. 

אז נשאו חריות את קולן כמו נבל 
ותשאלנה בבוז ורחמים: מי הנפל?

 

איזה חופש אתה?— 
ובמצמוץ ולפלוף 
סח הנפל: אני הוא חופש הסילוף!

 

צחוק ניתך מסביב 
כמפל המים: 
הלזה יתחרה עם קלות-הרגליים?
הוא יכרע! הוא יפול! הוא יהיה לקלס! 
הוא חיגר! הוא גמד! הוא משול כחרס!

אבל הס… התחרות מתחילה! הצחוק תם…
אט לאט מתאבן הקהל הנדהם— 
רחבו העיניים! אילמה כל לשון! 
הסילוף הפיסח 
מגיע ראשון!

 

עוד תחרות נערכת! עוד שתי תחרויות! 
שוב עובר הסילוף 
לפני החירויות! 
ובבואן אחריו למקום המסומן 
חדלות הן כמעט להכיר את עצמן! 

אזי פחד נפל על ארבע החופשות 
ונשמע רק צקצוק שינייהן הנוקשות.
ויותר מכולן 
כנקלע בקדחת,
רעד, כידוע,
החופש מפחד!

ובמרכז הזירה התייצב הסילוף 
ויקרא: לי הכתר! אני האלוף!

—הסילוף זה טיבו! הוא מצניע פנים 
הוא מתחיל בריצה 
למרחקים קטנים! 
הוא מתחיל בתחרות-נסיון, קו לקו, 
אבל בה מאמן הוא את כח רגליו…
ולכן, אם ירשה העולם לו לרוץ
הוא יכול, החיגר הלזה והגוץ,
לעבור כל תקוות לאומים, כל חלום,
ולהגיע ראשון
אל מטרות השלום!

הנותנים לו לגשת לשדה התחרות
מנחילים למפרע תבוסה לחירות!
 

A Trial Race
translated by Dan Ben-Amos

Once, in the autumn, on a breezy day,
the four freedoms decided to race.
Just for fun, just for play,
A wreath would be given to the one in first place.

All four lined up at the start:
the freedom from fear,
and the freedom from want,
the freedom of speech,
and the freedom of faith,    
and a crowd to cheer,
and VIPs on the dais.

They almost ran,
but before they began,
out of the blue, 
a strange creature showed up.
A limping short fellow,
a weird freedom five, 
one we’d never heard of in our lives.
On his lame leg he hobbled, approached
the famed four freedoms,
and chuckling slyly with a wink in his eye,
“I would like to race too,” said he with a smile.

The freedoms replied as loud as they could
and asked in contempt and some pity,
“Who is this dud? 
What freedom are you?”
With a blink and a snuff
the dud replied,
“I am the freedom to bluff.”

Their laughter roared like a waterfall,
“Will this one compete with those fleet-footed four?
“He will stumble and fall, be a ridicule to all!
He is a short lame fellow, nothing more.”

But, wait, keep quiet. The race has begun, 
the laughter subsiding, the crowd is stunned.
Their eyes open wide, their tongues stilled, no trace.
The freedom to bluff is in first place.

Another race, then two more,
the freedom to bluff is ahead of all four. 
And when behind him they finish the race, 
they hardly could each other face. 

Fear then seized the four freedoms.
Their teeth chattered so loud.
And more than the others, 
in a feverish frenzy
the freedom from fear 
trembled like crazy.

The freedom to bluff stood up in the ring, 
calling, “The crown’s mine, I am the king.”

The freedom to bluff has his way. He is humble at first,
beginning to run in short distance races.
In trials, start to finish,
he gains some strength, muscling up his legs.
And if the world lets him, 
this short fatty fellow will certainly
overtake nations’ hopes, nations’ dreams,
to come first and proclaim,
“Peace is my goal, peace is my aim.”

Those who let him into the racing field,
ensure it’s to him that freedom will yield.  
 

Dan Ben-Amos
on translating Nathan Alterman

“A Trial Race” was first published on October 15, 1943, in the daily newspaper Davar, in the column “Hatur hashevi’i” (The Seventh Column), so named because of its regular appearance on the seventh column of the newspaper’s second page of its Friday edition. It was reprinted in a volume of Alterman’s collected newspaper poems, Hatur hashevi’i (1948), and later in an annotated and chronical edition of these poems that appeared in 2009, edited by Devorah Gilulah. 
    

Through his mastery of poetic language, Alterman often conceals a poem’s subtle and profound meanings under the guise of colloquial idiom and political discourse, making translation challenging. In this poem two cases stand out: the title and the keyword “freedom.” In Hebrew the title refers seemingly to a “practice race,” but the Hebrew word nisayon also means “experience,” “ordeal,” and “trial.” Most importantly, the radical ns”h is the verb that occurs in Genesis 22:1 of the Hebrew Bible, which describes God’s intention and action in putting Abraham through a heartbreaking ordeal of sacrificing his son Isaac. In the present poem, the use of this verb transforms comedy into tragedy. The other keyword represents a different translation problem. In Hebrew there are two synonyms, ḥofesh and ḥeirut, that are cognates of the English words “freedom” and “liberty.” Ḥeirut is of a higher register and occurs in the Mishnah (Pesaḥim 10:5) and in the Haggadah that is read ritualistically on the evening of the first day of the Passover holiday. Ḥeirut is also a charged word in Hebrew because it occurs in an idiom expressing transition from slavery to liberty. Alterman uses both nouns, but in my translation only “freedom” appears, freeing the poem from traditional associations and positioning it in the modern-day political discourse of Roosevelt, and political situations of Alterman’s time and ours.

about the poet

Nathan Alterman (8.14.1910–3.28.1970) was born in Warsaw, Poland, and together with his family settled in Tel Aviv in 1925, where he attended the first Hebrew high school, Herzeliah. Upon graduation in 1929, he studied a year in Sorbonne, Paris, and in 1930 moved to Nancy University, in Lorraine, majoring in agriculture. While still a student, he published his first poem in Hebrew on March 12, 1931. Upon graduation, he returned home, worked briefly as an agronomist and then switched to journalism and poetry. His prolific literary creativity developed in six interrelated directions: 1) Poems for the satirical and musical stage and for film; 2) Influential political poetry; 3) Modern Hebrew lyrical and national poetry; 4) Poetic plays; 5) Original and translated children poems; 6) Translations of classical French and English plays. A number of his poems appeared in English translation. Israel recognized Alterman’s contributions to its literature and culture and bestowed upon him distinguished literary awards, including the Israel Prize for Literature (1968). In 2015, Israel monumentalized him by featuring his portrait on Israeli currency.

 

about the translator

Dan Ben-Amos teaches folklore at the University of Pennsylvania. He earned his BA in literature from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and his doctorate degree in folklore from Indiana University. Among his books are the edited volumes of Folktales of the Jews, Folklore Genre, Folklore, Performance and Communication (with Kenneth S. Goldstein), and The Diary: The Epic of Everyday Life (with Batsheva Ben-Amos). His translations of Alterman’s poems appeared in Jewish Review of Books and Moment.

 

清晨的噩耗,黄昏的捷报
Zhang Ergun (张二棍)

天下尚未大黑。初月如钩
悬挂着红彤彤的人间。 落日把湖水
沏成一杯普洱的时候
湖心那厢,有人打着唿哨归来
堤岸上的垂柳和人群啊
忍不住颤抖。他们从斑驳的小机船上
抬下一个湿淋淋的少女
是的,清晨的噩耗
是一个少女的溺亡
而黄昏的捷报
就是找到她的遗体

Grave News at Dawn, Great Tidings at Dusk
translated by Kejia Wang

 

the world is not fully dark yet. The waxing moon as if a hook
hangs the vermilion realm of men. When the falling sun 
has steeped the waters into a cup of the finest Pu'Er tea
one returns, with a deliberate whistle, from the heart of the lake
those weeping willows and spectating souls on the embarkment
cannot help but shake. They carry from the mottled mechanical boat
the form of a dripping wet young girl
yes, the grave news at dawn
was the drowning of a young girl
while the great tidings at dusk
are the discovery of her body

Kejia Wang
on translating Zhang Ergun

Zhang Ergun is not an erudite poet even in the Chinese language, and his poems run directly counter to several ideas, trends, and styles that are currently popular and celebrated in modern English-language poetry. To translate him too directly risks the translation likely not being considered a poem at all in English; yet to translate him in too cultivated a fashion risks losing the famed sincerity and grounded nature of his works. I ended up embellishing several of his more colorful images (“the vermilion realm of men,” “spectating souls on the embarkment”) while keeping some of his more starkly crude ones (the “dripping wet young girl”). I agonized over several words that do not have direct equivalents in English: 噩耗 (“grave news”) is typically used to refer to news of death, especially deaths in the family, while 捷报 (“great tidings”) is usually used to refer to news of victories, especially in the context of war or economic development. The original poem’s juxtaposition of these two terms in the title at the end draws attention to the false equivalence between “good” and “bad” news—the irony that the joy in the successful recovery can somehow offset the pain of a loss of life. In maintaining that juxtaposition and choosing terms that I hope have similar connotations in English, I hope I have conveyed some of the same sentiments in my translation.

about the poet

Zhang Ergun (lit. “Zhang second stick/rod”) is a Chinese poet from Shanxi province. Born in 1982 to a family of modest means, after graduating from middle school, Zhang attended vocational school for only a year. Working as a member of a provincial geologic surveying team, Zhang spent decades of his life traveling in remote areas and living among the poor. His poems are famed for their simplicity, sincerity, social criticism, and compassion for the powerless and the poor. He has published one collection of poems, 旷野 (literally “Open Wilderness”), and is now a contracted writer with the Shanxi Academy of Literature. 
    

Critic and fellow poet Liu Nian (刘年) noted that Zhang’s poetry is representative of what he considers to be the “Chinese school” of contemporary Chinese poetry. According to Liu, the school—and Zhang’s works—follows the literary tradition of classical Chinese poetry while drawing inspiration from Western philosophy. Poems from the school feature simple prose, grounded realism, and compassion for all. 

about the translator

Kejia Wang graduated from Penn in 2016 with a BSE in bioengineering and a minor in English. She has since also received an MA degree in English literature and Science and Technology Studies from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Her poem “Disorientation” was published in the Penn Review in 2015, and she’s contributed Chinese-to-English translations to DoubleSpeak since 2014.

 

Haiku by Suzuki Masajo
translated by DoubleSpeak Staff

Inspired by translations that appeared in an earlier issue of DoubleSpeak, this year’s Staff translated a haiku by Suzuki Masajo into their respective language backgrounds (or languages they wanted to learn a bit about)

Italian

Quinn Gruber
and Zhiqiao (Kate) Jiang

«dovremo andare a morire insieme?»
mi hai sussurrato
la notte della lucciola

German

Robert Chen

„Sollen wir sterben?“
hast du geflüstert, an der
Nacht des Glühwürmchens.

Japanese
Suzuki Masajo

死なうかと
囁かれしは
蛍の夜

Mandarin

Elisa Xu, Sarah Zhang, and Stacy Shimanuki

同生共死
悄悄地说
萤火虫之夜

Dutch

Shuke Zeng and
Yingtong Guo

“zullen we samen sterven?”
Fluisterde je naar me
Op de nacht van glimwormpjes. 

English
Suzuki Masajo

“Let’s die together,”
Whispered to me on that
Night of fireflies

Korean

Subin Kim and Yuxin (Vivian) Wen

“같이 죽을까?”
너는 속삭였었지
반딧불의 밤에.

Spanish

Anika Prakash, Heta Patel, Mia Kim, and Zane Grenoble

“¿Moriremos juntos?”
Me susurraste 
La noche de candelilla

French

Ashley Sniffen, Rhosean Asmah, and Stephanie Diaz

«Allons-nous mourir?»
Il a été chuchoté
La nuit de luciole

DoubleSpeak Staff
on translating Suzuki Masajo

Masajo Suzuki’s haiku describes her impossible affair with a married man. As their love is forbidden, they contemplate death in pursuit of an authentic life while in the middle of a meadow lit by fireflies. Our translations, in turn, sought to capture the intense romanticism and desperation imbued in the poem. In the Korean version, for example, the suffix 였었지 was selected as it imparts a sense of strained remembrance, of one looking back at something that will never come back. Similarly, in choosing a word for “whisper,” the Spanish translation landed on susurrar due to its layered meaning of “whisper, murmur, or sigh”—all actions that invoke a sort of longing or want. The first line of the Chinese translation included a Chinese idiom or chengyu, lending a slightly more romantic tone to the poem.


Haiku are an aesthetic art form, one predicated on perfect rhythm and capturing moments of intense beauty and pain. It was hence important to translate Masajo’s haiku in a way that would appeal to readers’ senses but also convey the whispering and gentle nature of the night and lovers’ conversations. This led to decisions such as the selection of the word insieme (“together”) instead of con me (“with me”) in the Italian translation since the former has a nicer sound and echoes the preceding words andare and morire. Such questions of sonority particularly surfaced when translating the word for “firefly.” Both luciole (French) and candelilla (Spanish) were chosen due to their soft mouthfeel and ability to invoke a strong connotation of light. In the Dutch translation, the diminutive glimwormpjes was chosen over glimwormen to ensure that the reader was presented with an image of tiny, sparkling lights instead of a large firefly.


Haiku are distinguished by their 5-7-5 pattern: five syllables for the first line, seven for the second, and five for the third. Some languages were able to retain this form better than others. The French translation was able to retain the syllable counts by assuming the poem would be read in the traditional French style, where each syllable is enunciated. The English version also maintained the traditional haiku structure. On the other hand, other translations, such as the Spanish one, decided to forgo the 5-7-5 pattern in order to avoid enjambment and ensure that each line conveyed a separate thought. 

 

Furthermore, the poem is imbued with passiveness, further heightening the soft despair of the poetic voice. The first line “死なうかと” is an archaic version of the modern Japanese “shall we?” with the と at the end implying that it is being said to another person. Certain versions such as the Korean translation retained this passivity by recognizing that the “we” is implied by 같이 (“together”) in the first line. Other translations, however, decided to write in a more active tone to avoid an abundance of syllables and to emulate the directness of a conversation between two lovers. For example, the Italian version settled on dovremo (“should we”) over vorresti (“would you like to”) because the latter is too distant and polite. 

 

Through specific decisions related to diction and rhythm, we hope that our translations evoke the same painful longing that only forbidden love can bring. 

 

—Heta Patel

 

about the poet

Masajo Suzuki (1906–2003) was a renowned haiku poet hailing from Kamogawa, Japan. In addition to successfully running several business ventures, she formally studied haiku under the guidance of masters Hakusuiro, Mantaro Kubota, and Anju Atsushi. Suzuki’s work is renowned for its tenderness and swells with originality and depth. Often drawing from her personal experiences with divorce and the loss of loved ones, her poems wrestle with concepts related to love, nature, and human existence. Her work has received critical acclaim, garnering awards such as the Poet Association Award for her fourth book Yûboraru, the Yomiuri Literature Prize for her sixth book Miyakodori, and the Dakotsushou Prize for her seventh book Shimokuren. Although she passed away peacefully at the age of ninety-six, the universality and authenticity of her work still resonates with her readers who cannot help but become entranced by the evocative imagery of her poetry.

 

about the translators

DoubleSpeak is composed of a group of passionate language lovers from all over the world! Since word choice can tell you a lot about a person, we decided to provide you a list of all of our staff members and their favorite untranslatable words.*

Anika PrakeshDuende (Spanish): the awe someone feels when standing in nature.
Ashley SniffenHygge (Danish): when you’re comfortable and it brings you contentment; a lifestyle choice. 
Chardonnay NeedlerUbuntu (Shona): care and compassion for other human beings based solely upon the fact that they are human too. Ubuntu recognizes that a person’s humanity gives them merit to us, and tells us that we should give merit to all people through our own humanity.
Heta PatelTrasnochar (Spanish): to stay up all night. 
Julie FlandreauFernweh (German): the pain or sadness you feel when you long to be away; wanderlust. 
Kate Jiang—江湖 (Mandarin): a social environment where one is not bounded by the government’s rules and acts according to their own principles; tutear (Spanish): to address another with the informal second-person singular pronoun. 
Mia KimSobremesa (Spanish): the time you spend talking after a meal. 
Quinn GruberCommuovere (Italian): to be moved by something on a deep, emotional level; to provoke an emotional response to a story. 
Rhosean AsmahRickroll (English): to trick someone into watching Rick Astley’s music video for “Never Gonna Give You Up”; flâneur (French): a person who walks around to simply enjoy and experience where they are.
Robert ChenGäggele (German): extremely precise work; to put an unreasonable amount of effort into something.
Shuke Zeng—巴适 (Mandarin): homely comfort.
Stacy Shimanuki—木漏れ日 (Japanese): sunlight streaming through the trees.
Stephanie DiazFriolenta (Spanish): someone who is very sensitive to cold.
Subin Kim—몽글몽글 (Korean): An adverb that describes the way things lump together into round blobs. The word describes the fluffy lumping of white clouds in a blue sky and also the lumps of warm feeling that well up in one’s heart. The word itself feels warm, round, and blobby.
Vivian Wen—朵 (Mandarin): flower-shaped, looks like a flower.
Zane GrenobleLagaña (Spanish): the sleep in your eye.
 

*  Many would argue that no word is truly untranslatable. Translatability is often simply a matter of degree. For example, does it take one word to translate a word from another language, or a phrase? Additionally, many words “untranslatable” into English have equivalents in other languages which they are related to. For example, the Spanish friolenta has no direct equivalent in English, but it does in French, with the word frileuse. For those reasons, here, we use “untranslatable” to mean untranslatable into English, a language with which all of our staff members are familiar, or without a direct equivalent in other languages that we know.

 

musings

 

Two Poems by Yi Sang-hwa
translated by Emily Yoon

겨울 마음
물장수가 귓속으로 들어와 내 눈을 열었다.
보아라!
까치가 뼈만 남은 나뭇가지에서 울음을 운다.
왜 이래?
서리가 덩달아 추녀끝으로 눈물을 흘리는가.
내야 반가웁기만 하다. 오늘은 따스하겠구나.

시인에게
한 편의 시 그것으로
새로운 세계 하나를 낳아야 할 줄 깨칠 그 때라야
시인아, 너의 존재가
비로소 우주에게 없지 못할 너로 알려질것이다,
가뭄 든 논에게는 청개구리의 울음이 있어야 하듯.

새 세계란 속에서도
마음과 몸이 갈려 사는 줄 풍류만 나와 보아라.
시인아, 너의 목숨은
진저리나는 절룸발이 노릇을 아직도 하는 것이다.
언제든지 일식된 해가 돋으면 뭣하며 진들 어떠랴
시인아, 너의 영광은
미친 개 꼬리도 밟는 어린해의 짬 없는 그 마음이 되어
밤이라도 낮이라도
새 세계를 낳으려 손댄 자국이 시가 될 때에 있다.
촛불로 날아들어 죽어도 아름다운 나비를 보아라.

Winter Heart
The water-seller came through my ears and opened my eyes.
Look!
The magpie cries on the branch down to its bone.
Why?
The frost follows suit and drops tears through the eaves’ corners.
Of course I welcome this. It shall be warm today.

To the Poet
Only in that moment when you realize you must give birth
to a new world with that one poem,
Poet, your existence will be known
as one the universe cannot be without,
like how rice paddies in drought need the cry of the green frog.

Even in the new world
Only see the elegance of art, the line dividing mind and body.
Poet, your life means
you still live as one with that sickening limp.
What is there to do when the eclipsed sun rises, and when it sinks?
Poet, your glory exists in
the small heart of the child who dares step on the tail of a mad dog,
in that moment when stains from the hand
trying night or day to give birth to a new world
become a poem.
Look at the butterfly,
beautiful even when it dies flying into the candlelight.

Emily Yoon
on translating Yi Sang-hwa

I translated these poems a few years ago, in an attempt to “get to know” Yi, and thereby the literary atmosphere of the colonial period, better. I was initially attracted to the lyricism of his most famous poem, “Ppaeatkin Tŭredo Pomŭn Onŭn’ga” (1926; trans. Does Spring Come Even to Stolen Fields?), and wanted to read more of his work. Translating these poems and spending time with the language helped me ask further and more engaged questions about certain imagery and diction, knowing the historical context in which the poems were produced.

Yi Sang-hwa (1901–1943) was a colonial-era poet. His work is known for its proletarian and resistance spirit, despite censorship and pressure from the Japanese authorities.


His involvement in the liberation movement began when he was just a teenager. In 1919 in Daegu, the city of his birth, he and his friends started organizing a student uprising as part of the March First Independence Movement. It ultimately failed when the police found out their plans and Yi had to go into hiding for some time.

 

His literary debut was a few years later in 1922, when his first poetry publications appeared in Paekcho, a short-lived literary magazine known for publishing romanticist poetry with themes of despair, desperation, and death. In 1925, he became one of the first members of the arts organization KAPF (Korea Artista Proletara Federatio), which, as the name suggests, promoted proletarian ideals.


In 1937, he went to China for three months to visit his brother Yi Sang-chŏng, an independence fighter, and was arrested by the Japanese police upon return. He was released after eight months. 
    

Afterward, he worked as a teacher as well as an amateur boxer. He quit in 1940 to focus on reading and research. He translated a classic novel The Tale of Chunhyang into English, and began working on other French translation projects, but died before finishing them; he passed away in Daegu, in 1943, after suffering from stomach cancer.

Emily Jungmin Yoon is the author of A Cruelty Special to Our Species (Ecco, September 2018), winner of the Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award, and Ordinary Misfortunes (Tupelo Press, July 2017), winner of the Sunken Garden Chapbook Prize. Her poems and translations have appeared in the New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, Poetry, and elsewhere. She has accepted awards and fellowships from the Poetry Foundation, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Ploughshares’ Emerging Writer’s Contest, AWP’s WC&C Scholarship Competition, the Aspen Institute, and elsewhere. She is the Poetry Editor for The Margins, the literary magazine of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and a PhD candidate in Korean literature at the University of Chicago.
 

 

 

 

This interview was conducted by Rhosean Asmah and Yuxin (Vivian) Wen

DoubleSpeak: We’re really excited to have your translations of Yi Sang-hwa’s poems in this issue! Can you share with us when you first began translating from Korean into English, and specifically, how you came to translate Yi Sang-hwa?

Emily Yoon: So, first of all, Yi Sang-hwa’s name is generally well-known in Korea. If you went through the Korean education system, you’d know he was one of the writers fighting for independence during the colonial period under Japanese rule. But, most people only know him for one poem that he wrote, the title of which roughly translates to “Does Spring Come to Stolen Fields?” It’s a famous long lyric poem.
    When I was thinking of people that I could translate, frankly, there was the issue of copyright. So I wanted to start with people whose works were in the public domain. I began focusing on the colonial period. I looked up more of Yi Sang-hwa’s works, which was a way of engaging with him further and getting to know him more. Because, as translators translating someone else’s work, knowing the context is very important. It takes more than just yanking someone’s words into another language in order to produce a really good translation. Ideally, you need to have some kind of spiritual communication with the poet. And I think that often comes in the form of contextual research. So, the translation process was a way of getting to know the poet better. In the end, I learned a lot about Yi Sang-hwa. After that, I grew more interested in reading women’s poetry because I was thinking Where are the women poets in translation? Who are the women poets from the colonial period? Those questions were helpful for my personal development as a writer, researcher, and translator.

DS: Can you talk more about the experience of translating Yi Sang-hwa?

EY: It was a long time ago when I was translating Yi Sang-hwa. But, even then, first and foremost, I thought of myself as a poet. It was important for me to strike a balance between being true to what the poet had actually written and using elevated language to make the translations stand on their own in English. That’s probably what was running through my head. I’m not a big fan of embellishing or adding too much to the original text, to the point that it feels like rewriting, especially for authors whose language and whose works have not been translated much before. In this case, it is important to produce a more “direct” translation in my opinion. Then, afterwards, many different versions can come forth. I hate the word “faithful” when it comes to translation—it feels so gendered—so, I’ll say I wanted my translations to be “direct” or “unvarnished.” It’s a delicate balance, especially when you’re translating from a language that is so vastly different from the target language. It’s up to you to decide where a person’s work stands in the world, in the field of translation and literary studies, and in front of the Anglophone audience in this case.

DS: That’s a great answer and it raised a lot of questions about the politics of language, about the connection between the poet and the translator, and specifically, about translating a poet and language less known to the English world. Can you share more about your process of translating the women poets? What things do you tend to focus on or prioritize?

EY: Let me first clarify that when I say “direct” translation, it still contains choice. I guess my general approach still is to translate as “directly” as possible, and then to smooth over the sounds through various revisions. I try to see if I can replicate a Korean literary device in the English language. It’s not always immediately possible, especially if I’m doing a direct translation instead of a loose, more emotion-based one. The translation has to come in various drafts: it helps to make several versions and then see what was lost and what was gained from each and try to somehow mediate between them. So, you come up with a more polished version that retains the inherent strangeness of translation and translated language, while still sounding like a poem that stands on its own in the target language. There isn’t really a formula for this. Really, all I can say is compare your different drafts. Get creative with certain things, as long as you can determine that they truly deliver a quality that’s important to the poem.
    For example, in a Korean poem, if I think repetition is important but it somehow doesn’t sound the same in the English translation, I try to see how I can bring up the repeated nature of the language using another literary device. Maybe the repetition of certain sounds and consonants, for instance. You can be a little expansive in your strategies, I think, as long as it doesn’t dilute something that you think is significant.

DS: Our next question is a slight shift from the general process of translation to your anthology, Against Healing. In the collection, you translated a variety of contemporary female poets and writers. Are there any of them you’d like to highlight?

EY: Firstly, personally, I liked all of those poems. And secondly, while translating them, I was thinking about how so many of the poets perished from the real world and also the literary world, and thinking about all the themes of illness and pain in their works as well. Reading these poets really prompted me to think about the literary history of Korea and how there have been multiple levels of silencing and erasure of women poets. What were the institutional and social conditions that made them turn to poetry, or use poetry as a medium to really express the kind of the suffering they were going through? So, there wasn’t really one person that sticks out to me as more important than the others. They and their poems all have different meanings to me. But as a collective, they did make me question how Korea and its literary sphere have treated women writers. I think their poems are all sort of mirrors to the restrictive situations that they were put in.
    I said all of that to mean that, when you’re translating someone, you’re not just translating the language. You’re really getting involved in knowing the paratextual elements that created these poems. You’re getting to know the history. You’re getting to know the politics. When you’re translating colonial period poetry, for example, you’re thinking about how censorship could have influenced the writing of the poems and what’s in between the lines. So, in a way, you’re becoming an analyst, as though a translation is a form of analysis.

DS: Yes, translation is never only about language. To translate is to think about literature and what literature encodes and reveals. Going back to Against Healing, did you get to work with any of the living authors and did you get to share your translation with any of them?

EY: I am in touch with Kim Hyesoon. Most recently, I translated a suite of poems that she wrote for the Busan Biennale. And I showed her my translations as well. Also, because I’m using some of her poems for my dissertation, I reached out to her about some interpretative decisions. I wanted to know what intentions she had when she wrote them in Korean, even though, of course, authorial intention only goes so far. You shouldn’t solely rely on what the author meant in your own analysis and translation. Other than that, I haven’t really been in touch with the women that I translated. There’s also Kim Yideum, another poet in Against Healing. We follow each other on social media, but we’ve never spoken to each other (laugh).

DS: In your translator’s note to Against Healing, you mentioned that although not all of the women identify themselves as feminist, in your reading of their works, you see them as feminist. Also, the word “feminist” has gained so much resonance and baggage over the years. Considering all of this, how would you describe your relationship with feminism? Do you call yourself a feminist?

EY: Yes, I definitely identify as feminist. I think in order to be a decent human being everyone should. But, I think in Korea there has been hesitancy about the term in the popular imaginary because a lot of people have misconceptions about its meaning, thinking it refers to “woman-centrism.” That’s not to say that there isn’t any feminist criticism in Korea. The word is being used widely. I just think that the general public has to have more self-education on what it really means. Because of that, I think women writers have been more hesitant in embracing that word to describe themselves. It’s a little different now that Me Too and a feminist boom in Korea have happened in the past few years. Now, I think younger people and writers are more aware of feminist criticism and what feminism means.
    However, I also think that we have to dismantle our notions of Western feminism when we look at conversations happening in Korea. If we use the Western thought as something to strive toward, then every other country not in the West is seen as lagging behind. But everyone’s timeline is different. The issues at hand are different. This isn’t to say that I think it’s okay Koreans are not talking as much about trans rights, for instance, but Korean feminism is going through a different phase right now. It’s incorrect to use the Western angle to critique it as being belated or somehow less advanced.

DS: We agree. That is an important clarification to make. Going back more directly to the subject of translation, we’re also interested in how it relates to liminality. How does your experience as a translator mediate your relationships between different cultures and places?

EY: When I’m thinking about something as a bilingual person, there are, of course, things that only exist in Korean or in English. Or, when I react to something in Korean then think about how I’d react to it in English, I feel like I have different personalities. When I realize these differences, I want to exercise them through poetry. So, I might notice that there are a lot of onomatopoeias in Korean, and it makes me more sensitive to the sounds that I use in my English poetry. Or, maybe there are idioms in English that don’t exist in Korean, and then I try to find something with the same meaning. But then the imagery is totally different. All of this, I think, sharpens my observational skills, which feed into my writing.
    Even when I’m writing my original poetry, I sometimes I feel that I have to translate my culture or do a cultural translation of something, or that I just need to translate myself. So then, what does it feel like to translate the emotional information? And what can I do with it on the level of language? These are all just challenges that you and I have to face as writers and translators.

DS: What advice would you offer to young translators who are just beginning to translate poems?

EY: I think that it is important to have at least one trusted reader of your work. When you’re revising and revising and revising, it’s really easy to get lost in your own thoughts. You’re so close to the work that you can’t really see it. So, you need someone who will look at it from a distance and be genuine with you about what’s working and what’s not. I have one friend that I send all my drafts to, and I know they’re going to be honest. I know they’re going to help me with edits or make suggestions. Even if I don’t take any, it still helps me think. For example, say my friend told me to change something, but I find I don’t want to. Maybe it means that the line is really important to me, that it’s somehow key to the emotional chord of the poem, but that it’s not coming across in the right way. So, perhaps I need to revisit the line and do something different around it. This applies for translation, too. Maybe you have a friend who speaks the same languages you do. And maybe they can tell you if you stray too far from what the author said or that the translation is not lyrical enough, all of those things. So, really, just try to keep that community of the two people going. That takes work, though—I don’t take that friend for granted.

DS: We’d like to end the interview by addressing the situation we’re all in now. Specifically, this interview is taking place virtually because we are in the midst of a pandemic and self-isolating in our respective locations. Could you speak about this experience and whether you have witnessed or felt questions of translation because of this sense of isolation?

EY: It’s interesting because for people in the literary world, our careers are often described as solitary or lonely. But, translation is inherently a conversation with somebody else, who might be in conversation with somebody else. There is a whole community contained in the process of translation. So, I feel that translation is an ultimately un-lonely enterprise.
    I’ve translated a bit during quarantine, and sometimes I just had to say Kim Hyesoon, what are you talking about? I looked up her words, and her other words, and really tried to get in her mind. I didn’t feel alone at all. In a way, it actually felt like I had too many engagements in my head at that moment. Of course, I understand when people say that writing or reading is kind of an isolating practice. But I never feel that way because I’ve always seen both practices as being a very rigorous communication with and analysis of other people who came before you, who wrote this before you could even imagine it.
 

Interview with Emily Yoon

a conversation on translation, history, and feminism

photo by Limin Jiang

 

Two Poems by Alejandra Pizarnik

translated by Maria Lourdes Riillo

Sombra de Los Dias al Venir

             a Ivonne A. Bordelois

Mañana

me vestirán con cenizas al alba,

me llenarán la boca de flores.

Aprenderé a dormir

en la memoria de un muro,

en la respiración de un animal que sueña.

Shadow of the Coming Days

Tomorrow

they will dress me with ashes at daybreak,

they will stuff my face with flowers.

I will learn to sleep

with the memory of a mural,

in the steady breath

of a dreaming beast.

El Deseo de La Palabra

La noche, de nuevo la noche, la magistral sapiencia de lo oscuro, el cálido roce de la muerte, un
instante de éxtasis para mí, heredera de todo jardín prohibido.

Pasos y voces del lado sombrío del jardín. Risas en el interior de las paredes. No vayas a creer
que están vivos. No vayas a creer que no están vivos. En cualquier momento la fisura en la pared
y el súbito desbandarse de las niñas que fui.

Caen niñas de papel de variados colores. ¿Hablan los colores? ¿Hablan las imágenes de papel?
Solamente hablan las doradas y de ésas no hay ninguna por aquí.

Voy entre muros que se acercan, que se juntan. Toda la noche hasta la aurora salmodiaba: Si no
vino es porque no vino
. Pregunto. ¿A quién? Dice que pregunta, quiere saber a quién pregunta.
Tú ya no hablas con nadie. Extranjera a muerte está muriéndose. Otro es el lenguaje de los agonizantes.

He malgastado el don de transfigurar a los prohibidos (los siento respirar adentro de las paredes).
Imposible narrar mi día, mi vía. Pero contempla absolutamente sola la desnudes de estos muros.
Ninguna flor crece ni crecerá del milagro. A pan y agua toda la vida.

photo by Maria Lourdes Riillo

A Word’s Wish

Night, again the night, the ruling wisdom of darkness, the kindled caress of death, an instant of
ecstasy for me, heir of all forbidden garden. 

Footsteps and voices from the somber side of the garden. Giggles inside the walls. 

Don’t you dare believe they live. Don’t you dare believe that they do not live. At any moment, a
fissure in the wall and the sudden release of the little girls that I was. 

Paper girls of different colors fall. Do colors speak? Do paper images speak? Only the gold ones
do and there are none of those around here.

I go between walls that come together, that join. All night long chanting: If she didn’t come it’s
because she didn’t come
. I ask. Whom? Say she asks, wanting to know who she’s asking. You
don’t talk with anyone anymore. Death’s stranger is dying. The dying speak a different
language. 

I’ve wasted my gift for transforming the forbidden (I sense them breathing in the walls). It’s
impossible to narrate my life, my way. But I contemplate absolutely, solely the undressing of
these walls. No future here for miracle flowers. Only a life on bread and water.

Maria Lourdes Riillo
on translating Alejandra Pizarnik

Shadow of the Coming Days

This poem is dedicated to Ivonne A. Bordelois, an Argentine poet, essayist, and friend of Pizarnik. The two frequently exchanged correspondence. The poem reflects not a resignation, but an acceptance of the transfiguration of the body and mind, a reflection of days to come. To translate this poem, I began with a literal translation, then meditated on specific words. The word at the end of the first line, alba, means “sunrise,” or “dawn.” I translated it as “daybreak,” however, because “daybreak” reminds me of the Spanish word parto, which means both “break” and “labor (birth).” I enjoyed the juxtaposition “daybreak” contributes to in “they will dress me with ashes at daybreak.” Also, instead of using the literal translation of muro, which is “wall,” I settled on “mural.” I think that a memory of a mural is still a wall, but a wall with a vivid painting on it is potentially a haunting memory. I had trouble with the second to last line, specifically, because I wanted to preserve its stops and silences. Its literal translation is “in the respiration.” I preserved the “in,” and changed “respiration” to “steady breath.” As for the last line, “beast” is more mystical and threatening than “animal,” which I thought would mesh better with the word “dreaming” and the dreamlike quality of the poem.

A Word’s Wish

This poem is incredibly disorienting in the original Spanish, and unlike anything I have ever read. As with “Shadow of Days to Come,” I wanted to preserve the unsettling feeling in the English translation. Pizarnik wrote many poems about the night. She often stayed up late, writing endlessly. This poem is a journey back into the night, where she contemplates who she was as a little girl and whether that girl ever even existed. The second and fourth stanzas were the most challenging for me to translate. The Spanish is not grammatically correct in the second stanza of the original poem, so it was difficult to translate while preserving the uniqueness of the original. Further, the last line of the second stanza is particularly interesting because it is not a straightforward sentence. A literal translation is “at any moment, the fissure in the wall and the sudden undoing of the girls I was.” In order to retain the broken and unclear nature of the sentence, I kept the first half of the sentence and left “girls” plural. Regarding the fourth stanza, it is not gendered in the original poem, but as I was translating, I began to use “she” and it resonated with me. It seems, to me, that the narrator in the fourth stanza yearns for the little girl that she once was. The little girl is long gone, but her imprint remains. She is so distant, in fact, that she even speaks a different language. Finally, I spent some time on the last sentence because it didn’t have a verb. Literally, the line translates as “to bread and water all life.” I think that at the end, the narrator accepts there will be no miracle, and that she must continue to live satisfied by the simple things, such as bread and water. It’s not defeat, but an acceptance of reality. 

about the poet

Alejandra Pizarnik (1936–1972) was an Argentine poet, born in Buenos Aires to Jewish-Russian immigrants. Inspired by the works of Arthur Rimbaud and other surrealists, her work has often been described as enigmatic, complex, intimate, and haunting. Pizarnik studied Philosophy and Letters at the University of Buenos Aires. After graduating, she moved to Paris, France, where she lived between 1960 and 1964, her most productive time as a poet. In Paris, she translated the works of French poets, connected with other prominent writers of the time, and wrote Arbol de Diana, a collection of poetry. When she moved back to Buenos Aires, she continued to write and published some of her most famous work. Although her life was cut short—she died at thirty-six—she made a tremendous impact on the world of modern poetry.  

about the translator

Maria Lourdes Riillo is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania studying comparative literature and minoring in creative writing. She was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and moved to the United States with her family when she was six. When she is not at theater rehearsal or in class, she enjoys reading, baking, and spending time with her friends. Maria enjoys the musicality and rhythm of poetry most of all, and the unique challenge that translation poses in that regard.

photo by Maria Lourdes Riillo

 

Vous qui avez pleuré deux mille ans

Charlotte Delbo

Vous qui avez pleuré deux mille ans

un qui a agonisé trois jours et trois nuits

quelles larmes aurez-vous

pour ceux qui ont agonisé

beaucoup plus de trois cents nuits et beaucoup

             plus de trois cents journées

combien

pleurerez-vous

ceux-là qui ont agonisé tant d’agonies

et ils étaient innombrables

Ils ne croyaient pas à résurrection dans l’éternité

Et ils savaient que vous ne pleureriez pas.

You who cried two thousand years

translated by Rhosean Asmah

You who cried two thousand years

for one who died for three days and three nights

what tears will you have

for those who died

for much longer than three hundred nights and much 

             longer than three hundred days

how much

will you cry

for those who died so many deaths

and they were countless

They did not believe in resurrection and eternal life

and they knew you would not cry. 

 

Dialogue

Charlotte Delbo

« Tu es française ?

— Oui.

— Moi aussi. »

      Elle n’a pas d’F sur la poitrine. Une étoile.

« D’où ?

— Paris.

— Il y a longtemps que tu es ici ?

— Cinq semaines.

— Moi, seize jours.

— C’est beaucoup déjà, je sais.

— Cinq semaines… Comment est-ce possible ?

— Tu vois.

— Et tu crois qu’on peut tenir ? »

      Elle mendie. 

« Il faut essayer.

— Vous, vous pouvez espérer mais nous… »

      Elle montre ma jaquette rayée et elle 

montre son manteau, un manteau trop grand

tellement, trop sale tellement, trop en loques

tellement.

« Oh, nos chances sont égales, va… 

— Pour nous, il n’y a pas d’espoir. »

      Et sa main fait un geste et son geste évoque

la fumée qui monte.

« Il faut lutter de tout son courage.

— Pourquoi… Pourquoi lutter puisque nous de-

vons toutes… »

      Le geste de sa main achève. La fumée qui

monte. 

« Non. Il faut lutter.

— Comment espérer sortir d’ici. Comment quel-

qu’un sortira-t-il jamais d’ici. Il vaudrait mieux 

se jeter dans les barbelés tout de suite. »

      Que lui dire ? Elle est petite, chétive. Et je

n’ai pas le pouvoir de me persuader moi-même.

Tous les arguments sont insensés. Je lutte contre

ma raison. On lutte contre toute raison. 

      La cheminée fume. Le ciel est bas. La fumée

traîne sur le camp et pèse et nous enveloppe et

c’est l’odeur de la chair qui brûle.

Conversation

translated by Rhosean Asmah

Are you French?

      Yes.

Me too.

            She doesn’t have an F on her chest. A star.

     

      Where from?

Paris. 

      You’ve been here a long time?

Five weeks.

      Sixteen days for me. 

That’s already a long time, I know.

      Five weeks… How is that possible?

Well, you know. 

      And you think we can make it?

            She pleads.

We have to try. 

      You can hope, but us…

            She points to my striped jacket and then to her

            own coat, a coat much too big, much too dirty,

            much too worn.

Oh, our chances are equal, don’t worry…

      There’s no hope for us.

            And she makes a gesture, a gesture of rising smoke. 

 

We have to fight with all our courage. 

      Why… Why fight when we we’re all bound to…

            The gesture finishes the sentence. The rising smoke.

No. We have to fight.

      How can you hope to leave here. How will anyone

      ever leave here. It’d be better to just throw ourselves

      at the barbed wire right now.

            What do I tell her? She’s small, puny. And I

            can’t even convince myself. Every argument is

            senseless. I fight against my own reason. We fight

            against all reason. 

            The chimney smokes. The sky is low. The smoke,

            heavy, hangs over the camp and envelops us and

            it’s the smell of burning flesh. 

Rhosean Asmah
on translating Charlotte Delbo

You who cried ten thousand years

My primary goal in translating this poem was to stick as closely as possible to Delbo’s original, as I found the poem particularly striking. My greatest difficulty was in deciding how to translate the past tense of agoniser, which appears throughout the poem. Literally, agoniser means “to be dying” or “to be about to die.” Literally translating the past tense of agoniser would have led to particularly wordy English phrases in the poem, such as “for one who was dying for three days and three nights” or “for those who were dying so many deaths.” Therefore, to retain the poem’s simplicity, I translated the past tense of agoniser as “died.” As “died” often appeared next to time phrases (e.g. “for three days and three nights”), I hoped it would retain some sense of the continuous action that agoniser inherently implies.

Additionally, I decided to translate the forms of pleurer that appear in the poem as “cry” rather than “weep,” which other translations have used. Though the use of “weep” would have deepened the Biblical allusions already present in the poem, I chose to use “cry” because it rhymes with “die,” which introduces a nice cadence to the translation.

Dialogue

Charlotte Delbo’s “Dialogue” presents a conversation between two people, a woman and the poem’s narrator, and the narrator’s inner thoughts. Given that “Dialogue” appeared in Aucun de nous ne reviendra (None of Us Will Return), a collection of poetry greatly informed by Delbo’s time imprisoned at Auschwitz, it is likely that the poem presents a conversation that Delbo actually took part in and her thoughts during it. The poem, in a way that is both stunning and simple, presents the difficulty that comes with trying to instill hope in others while not truly having hope oneself—a phenomenon truly representative of Delbo’s experiences.

In translating “Dialogue,” I had two primary goals. First, I wanted to maintain the conversational nature of the poem, ensuring that the bits of conversation sounded like actual words that could have been exchanged between two women in a prison camp. As a result, various contractions such as “you’ve,” “that’s,” and “there’s” occur throughout my translation. Additionally, I tried to use simple language throughout the parts of the poem that are conversation, often choosing more colloquial forms of words that have multiple translations. For example, I translated tenir as “make it” rather than “hold out” or “resist,” faut as “have to” rather than “must,” and lutter as “fight” rather than “resist” or “struggle.”

In my translation, I also wanted to emphasize and distinguish the different narratives within the poem. For that reason, I introduced space between the bits of conversation and the narrator’s inner thoughts.        Additionally, in an effort to distinguish between the two speakers and the intervening inner thoughts, I indented the three components to varying degrees. Finally, because I thought the different indentations clarified who was speaking during the conversation, I removed the quotation marks from the poem to avoid redundancy.

about the poet

Charlotte Delbo (1913–1985) was a French author known primarily for her memoirs about her time as a prisoner in Auschwitz, where she was sent for her participation in the French Resistance. Though she was not in France at the beginning of the collaborationist Vichy regime, Delbo returned in 1941 when a friend of hers was sentenced to death for his activities as a member of the Resistance. Upon her return to Paris, Delbo joined the Resistance herself, but was arrested four months later in March of 1942. She spent almost eleven months in various French prison camps, and in January 1943 was deported to Auschwitz, where she was for about a year. In the years after the war, Delbo wrote Auschwitz et après (Auschwitz and after), a memoir comprised of three works: Aucun de nous ne reviendra (None of Us Will Return), Une connaissance inutile (Useless Knowledge), and Mesure de nos jours (The Measure of Our Days). Though Delbo struggled greatly with what she experienced during the war, she remained politically active after it ended and believed she had lived a beautiful life.

about the translator

Rhosean Asmah is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania. She studies linguistics and has minors in both fine arts and French and Francophone studies. She loves hot weather, anything to do with books, and Katsushika Hokusai’s The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, among other things. You can probably find her in her room. Interestingly, she didn’t know she liked poetry until she took a class about translating it.

 

Four Poems by Ruwan Bandujeewa

translated by Chamini Kulathunga

ගැඩවිල්ලු

“පියතුමනි

කිමද අප නොයන්නේ 

වප් මගුල් උළෙලට 

රජතුමාත් ඒවි අද කුඹුරට 

හැරපියා මේ මුනිවත 

කියා පෑ යුතු නොවෙද ඔබ ඔවුනට

අප විසින් 

සාරවත් කල බැව් මේ පස 

පොළෝ කුහරය තුල සැඟව හිඳ”

“කුඩා ගැඩවිල් පුත

උදලු තලයකට පුරුද්දක් නැත 

හඳුනගෙන

පස සරු කල සහ නොකල උන්ගේ වත 

තව තවත් හාරගෙන

අඳුරු මඩ තුළ ගිලී යනු මිස 

 ඉහල එළිමහන වෙත 

යෑම නුසුදුසුය පුත.”

සැපකි—සතුටකි 

තවත් එක් පඹයෙක් හදන්නට

ගිහින් එක්කහු වෙනව වෙනුවට 

උපන් කමතට පොහොර වෙන එක 

සැපකි—සතුටකි පිදුරු ගසකට

ඇළ

ඇළ හොඳින් හැඳ පැළඳ 

ඇවිද යයි කුඹුරු මැද 

 

වැව අරෙහෙ නිදි නැතිව 

මේ ඇඳුම මහපු බව 

කිසිම වී කරලකට 

ඇළ කියා නැත තවම

ගසක් තම මල් අමතා කී කවිය 

ගණන් කර බැලූ විට 

තවත් මල් කීපයක් 

පිපෙන්නට නියමිතව 

ඉතිරි වී ඇති බැවින් 

කැමැත්තෙන් පර වෙන්න 

කැමති මල් සිටී නම් 

සුළඟ එන්නට කලින් 

වරක් අත් ඔසවන්න

Earthworms

“Dear father,

why don’t we attend

the Ploughing Festival?

Even the king is coming

to the field today.

Shouldn’t we break this silence

and announce

it is us

who manured this soil

from within the bowels of the earth?”   

“Little earthworm son,

a hoe’s blade knows not

those who manured the soil

and those who did not.

Therefore, rising into the open air

is unadvised.

Drill your way deeper

to the dark depths of mud.

Doing otherwise, my son,

is not wiser.”

 

A Joy—A Bliss

Rather than joining in creating

yet another scarecrow

decaying into the homefield

is a joy—a bliss to a stick of straw

Canal

The canal, dressed all fine and dandy

glides across the paddies

how the lake sewed its garb

over sleepless nights

the canal hasn’t breathed a word

to a single grain of rice

A Tree to its Flowers

Upon counting

the remaining buds 

awaiting to blossom,

a tree said

to its flowers

if there be flowers

volunteering to wilt

raise your hand just once

before the wind comes

photo by Chamini Kulathunga

Chamini Kulathunga
on translating Ruwan Bandujeewa

The four poems hand-picked for this submission are from a collection I am currently translating from my native language of Sinhalese, one of the official languages in Sri Lanka. The selection of poems weaves together metaphors from a pastoral, agricultural Sri Lankan setting unique to Bandujeewa’s poetry. In my English translations of these poems, I wanted to preserve the simple, pastoral elegance in Bandujeewa’s choice of language. I also attempted to preserve in English the melody produced through the simple, colloquial language Bandujeewa uses, which contrasts the conventional literary high variety of the diglossic Sinhalese.

 

One of the main strategies I adopted to bring the aforementioned qualities into English was the use of internal rhymes. I tried to produce music in English in places where the original poem flowed melodiously. End rhymes were also used when and where necessary, although I did not consciously try to employ them. I attempted to remain as close to the original word order as possible without, of course, distorting the meaning and language of the poem in English; I used anastrophe where applicable. I believe that this selection of poems is capable of evoking, in its raw and pastoral essence, a sense of nostalgia, pain, and loneliness that blends with a feeling of comradery. Therefore, the poems highlight the existential bond between humans and nature, a controversial idea today among lovers of both.

about the poet

Ruwan Bandujeewa is a contemporary poet loved by many Sri Lankan readers of poetry. One can argue that his subject matter has communist undertones, but in fact, his perspective on the often neglected masses is very much intrinsic to the fabric of Sri Lankan politics, and in a sense, to the world at large. While he draws most of his imagery from nature and local agricultural settings, simple, beautiful, honest, and melodic motifs are characteristic of Bandujeewa’s poetic diction.

about the translator

Chamini Kulathunga is a translator from Sri Lanka, working with contemporary Sri Lankan Sinhalese literature. She is a second-year MFA candidate in literary translation at University of Iowa’s Translation Workshop. She was a visiting fellow at Cornell University’s South Asia Program in the summer of 2019, and is the blog editor and a member of the editorial board of Exchanges: Journal of Literary Translation.

 

La Terra Santa

Alda Merini

 

Ho conosciuto Gerico,

ho avuto anch’io la mia Palestina,
le mura del manicomio

erano le mura di Gerico

e una pozza di acqua infettata
ci ha battezzati tutti.

Lì dentro eravamo ebrei
e i Farisei erano in alto
e c’era anche il Messia

confuso tra la folla:

un pazzo che urlava al Cielo
tutto il suo amore in Dio.

Noi tutti, branco di asceti
eravamo come gli uccelli
e ogni tanto una rete oscura
ci imprigionava

ma andavamo verso le messe,
le messe di nostro Signore

e Cristo il Salvatore.
Fummo lavati e sepolti,

odoravamo di incenso.

E dopo, quando amavamo,
ci facevano gli elettrochoc
perché, dicevano, un pazzo
non può amare nessuno.

Ma un giorno da dentro l’avello
anch’io mi sono ridestata

e anch’io come Gesù

ho avuto la mia resurrezione,
ma non sono salita nei cieli
sono discesa all’inferno

da dove riguardo stupita
le mura di Gerico antica.

The Holy Land

translated by Carla Rossi

I got to know Jericho,

I too had my Palestine,
the walls of the asylum

were the walls of Jericho

and a puddle of infected water
baptized all of us.

We were Jews there

and the Pharisees were above us
and the Messiah was also there,
lost in the crowd:

a madman crying to Heaven
all his love for God.

All of us, a pack of ascetics,
we were all like birds

and every now and then

a dark net would trap us,

but we would go towards the masses,
the masses of our Lord

and Jesus Christ the Savior.
We were washed and buried,
we smelt like incense.

And then, when we loved,
they would electroshock us,
because, they said, a madman
can love no one.

But one day from my grave
I too have awakened,

and like Jesus

I too had my own resurrection,
but I did not rise to heaven

I went all the way down to hell

from where, astonished, I watch again
the walls of the ancient Jericho.

Carla Rossi
on translating Alda Merini

Throughout the poem “La Terra Santa,” Alda Merini speaks out against the unspeakable abominations of mental institutions. She compares asylums to the Christian Holy Land: both are torn apart by suffering, horror, and loneliness. I think the biggest challenge when translating this poem was conveying in English the emotions triggered by the original. Apart from avello (a fancy word for “grave”), the words used in the Italian version are very straightforward, yet particularly evocative. Punctuation is used parsimoniously, making the words of the poem flow almost as if it were stream of consciousness. I chose to keep my translation like the original, using punctuation only when strictly necessary.
    

I found the line where Merini defines herself and the other people at the asylum very interesting. She calls them branco di asceti (literally, “a pack of ascetics”), but compares them to birds. I wonder why Merini chose the word branco instead of stormo (“flock”), which better suits the bird analogy. Nevertheless, I chose to be loyal to the poet, keeping “pack of ascetics” instead of “flock.”
    

I love the lines where Merini writes “un pazzo / non può amare nessuno.” These words are so powerful, especially when taking into account the double negation normally used in Italian. Trying to render it literally in the translation process would completely break the rules of English grammar. Therefore, I had to choose between translating the line as “a madman / cannot love anyone” and “a madman / can love no one.” To me, the latter is more evocative than the former: it’s firm and sharp, and gives a clear-cut nuance to the idea conveyed by the poet.
    

“La Terra Santa” is a poem about those who have been forgotten, as well as the physical and psychological pain they suffered in psychiatric hospitals. As Merini writes, even after her resurrection, she still bears the marks of all the evil she experienced.

about the poet

Alda Merini was one of the most appreciated female Italian poets of the twentieth century. She experienced the horrors of World War II in fleeing Milan, her hometown, to seek shelter in the countryside. She wrote that during the bombings she would hide in paddy fields because bombs would not explode in the water. However, WWII was not the worst she had to face in life. Her existence was torn apart by her mental illness—or more specifically, by the way mental illness was perceived during her time. In 1965, at the age of thirty-four, she was committed to a psychiatric hospital for the first time.

about the translator

Carla Rossi graduated with a degree in conference interpreting from the University of Bologna in Italy in 2017 after spending a semester at the University of Pennsylvania as an exchange student. She is still trying to find her place in the world. The only thing she knows is that she wants to keep learning English and possibly work in it. That’s why she recently completed her CELTA course, which enables her to teach English worldwide.

 

Violon D’Adieu

Émile Nelligan

 

Vous jouiez Mendelssohn ce soir-là; les flammèches

Valsaient dans l’âtre clair, cependant qu’au salon

Un abat-jour mêlait en ondulement long

Ses rêves de lumière au châtain de vos mèches.

 

Et tristes, comme un bruit frissonnant de fleurs sèches

Éparses dans le vent vespéral du vallon,

Les notes sanglotaient sur votre violon

Et chaque coup d’archet trouait mon cœur de brèches.

 

Or, devant qu’il se fût fait tard, je vous quittai.

Mais jusqu’à l’aube errant, seul, morose, attristé,

Contant ma jeune peine au lunaire mystère,

 

Je sentais remonter comme d’amers parfums

Ces musiques d’adieu qui scellaient sous la terre

Et mon rêve d’amour et mes espoirs défunts.

Farewell Violin

translated by Aylin Malcolm

You played Mendelssohn that evening; ashes

Waltzed in the radiant hearth and filled the air;

The lampshade shed its dappled dreams; flashes

Flooded the room and limned your chestnut hair.

Those mournful melodies wept from your violin,

Trembling like withered flowers torn apart

And scattered on the evening valley wind;

Each stroke of the bow carved cracks in my heart.

And then, as it grew late, I took my leave.

But until dawn—errant, morose, and grieved,

Lamenting my foolish pain to the cryptic moon—

I felt those notes drift back like bitter perfumes:

That farewell music which left me bereaved

And sealed my dream of love inside its tomb.

Aylin Malcolm
on translating Émile Nelligan

To preserve this poem’s liveliness in the quicker rhythms of the English language, I have altered the rhyme scheme and translated Nelligan’s alexandrine lines into a more familiar pentameter. Where possible, I have retained or introduced alliteration and assonance, devices that were common in Symbolist poetry. Overall, I have strived to convey the original poem’s combination of formal regularity with irrepressible emotion, as well as the enjambment throughout the poem that highlights this tension. Formally and thematically, “Violon D’Adieu” expresses youthful energy and feelings exceeding the bounds of propriety, making it an apt introduction to Émile Nelligan’s poetry.

about the poet

Émile Nelligan (1879–1941). Although his work is rarely translated or read outside the province, Nelligan is a major figure in Québécois literature and a representative example of the Symbolist tradition. This late nineteenth-century art movement, a reaction to the Realist movement’s emphasis on the mundane details of everyday life, privileged imaginative flights of fancy and vivid imagery. Symbolist poets were keenly interested in synaesthetic experiences, exemplified by Nelligan’s conflation of sound and scent in the final lines of “Violon D’Adieu,” and in expressions of extreme emotion (often verging on melodrama), such as Paul Verlaine’s “Il pleure dans mon cœur / Comme il pleut sur la ville” (“It rains in my heart / Like it rains on the city”). 
  

Like the French Symbolist Arthur Rimbaud, Nelligan was a precocious poet whose career both began and ended early. After publishing his first poems at the age of sixteen, he dropped out of school and joined a group of bohemian writers (the École littéraire de Montréal), often giving recitations at their meetings. His poetry was well-received during this period, but in 1899 he began to exhibit erratic behavior, including hallucinations and suicide attempts. His parents—who had never supported his writing pursuits—arranged for him to be institutionalized at the age of nineteen, bringing a halt to his poetic output. This unfortunate turn of events may clarify some of the distinctive features of Nelligan’s poetry, which stands out as particularly gloomy and pessimistic compared to that of other Symbolists. Yet there are moments of transcendence amid the darkness: strains of music, flashes of gold, and—unsurprisingly for a Montréal poet—the peaceful silence of snow.

about the translator

Aylin Malcolm is a PhD candidate studying medieval poetry and the environmental humanities at the University of Pennsylvania. Having lived in Montréal for twenty-two years, Aylin is also interested in French dialects and multilingualism in both premodern and modern literature. Aylin’s favorite place in Montréal is the Carré Saint-Louis (Saint Louis Square), where a bust of Émile Nelligan stands near his former house on Avenue Laval.

 

Domna, tant vos ai prejada

Raimbaut de Vaqueiras

 

Domna, tant vos ai prejada,

sius plaz, q’amar me voillaz,

qu’eu sui vostr’endomenjaz,

car es pros et enseignada,

e toz bos prez autrejaz;

per qem plai vostr’amistaz.

car es en toz faiz cortesa,

s’es mos cors en vos fermaz

plus q’en nulla genoesa:

per q’er merces, si m’amaz;

e pois serai meilz pagaz

qe s’era miaill ciutaz,

ab l’aver, q’es ajostaz,

      dels Genoes.

Jujar, voi no s’e corteso,

qe me chaidejai de cho,

qe niente no farò.

ance fasse voi apeso:

vostr’ami non serò. 

certo ja ve scannarò.

provenzal malagurado,

tal enojo ve dirò:

sozo, mozo, escalvado!

ni ja voi no amarò,

q’e’chu bello mari ò,

qe voi no se’, ben lo so.

andai via, frar’, en tempo

      millorado.

Domna gent’ et essernida,

gai’ e pros e conoissenz,

vallam vostre chausimenz.

car jois e jovenz vos gida,

cortesi’ e prez e senz,

e toz bos ensegnamenz;

per qeus sui fidels amaire,

senes toz retenemenz,

francs, humils e mercejaire,

tant fort me destreing em venz

vostr’amors qe m’es plasenz;

per qe sera chausimenz,

s’eu sui vostre benvolenz

      e vostr’amics.

Jujar, voi semellai mato,

qe cotal razon tegnei.

mal vignai e mal andei!

non ave’ sen per un gato,

per qe trop me deschasei,

qe mala chosa parei;

nè no faria tal cosa,

si sia’ fillo del rei.

credi voi q’e sia mosa?

mia fe, no m’averei!

si per m’amor ve cevei,

oguano morre’ de frei:

tropo son de mala lei

      li Provenzal.

Domna, no siaz tant fera,

qe nos cove ni s’eschai;

anz taing ben, si a vos plai,

qe de mo sen vos enqera,

e qeus am ab cor verai,

e vos qem gitez d’esmai,

q’eu vos sui hom e servire,

car vei e conosc e sai

qant vostra beutat remire,

fresca cum rosa en mai,

q’el mont plus bella non sai;

per q’eus am et amarai,

e si bona fes mi trai,

      sera pechaz.

Jujar, to proenzalesco,

s’eu ja gauz aja de mi,

non prezo un genoi;

no t’entend plui d’un toesco,

o sardo o barbari,

ni non o cura de ti.

voi t’acavilar co mego?

si lo sa lo meu mari

mal plait averai con sego.

bel messer, ver e’ ve di’:

no vollo questo lati.

fradello, ço voja fi:

proenzal, va, mal vesti,

      largaime star.

Domna, en estraing cossire

m’avez mes et en esmai,

mas enqeraus prejarai,

qe voillaz q’eu vos essai,

si cum provenzals o fai,

      qant es pojaz.

Jujar, no serò con tego

pos asi te cal de mi:

meill vara per sant Martì

s’andai a ser Opetì,

qe dar v’a fors’un rocì,

      car si jujar.

A French Minstrel and Italian Lady

translated by Samantha Pious

Domina, I’ve begged so long

that you should love me, if you want,

since I’m your slave, your serving-man,

for you are noble and well-bred,

and you provide all noble goods—

therefore I crave your amity.

You are, in all things, courteous.

My heart is far more fixed on you

than any other lady here,

wherefore I cry you mercy, sweet!

and then I shall be better pleased

than if the city keys were mine

with all the wealth they have, in fine,

      the Genovese.

—Player, you are insolent.

How dare you talk to me like that!

Before I come to it, I hope

they’ll hang you from the gallows tree!

Your sweet is what I’ll never be.

I’ll geld you, pervert, Provençal!

I tell you, nasty serving-boy,

I have a husband, handsome, too,

and more than you, I know, is he.

Off, little fellow, I have got

      a better man than thee. 

 

—Domina, discreet and noble,

light of heart, upstanding, wise,

instruct me, lady, in your ways,

for you are led by youth and joy,

and courtesy, esteem, good sense,

and every worthy excellence.

Therefore I am your devotee.

I could hold nothing back from you,

upright, modest, merciful,

so ardently I’m torn apart

by love for you, in pleasing pain …

thus it would be compassionate

to choose me as your acolyte

      and your ami.

—Player, now it’s clear: you’re mad

to stick it out so stubbornly.

You’re not welcome—go to hell!

You must be dumber than a cat,

you’re so unpleasant, talking of

such ugliness! I wouldn’t do a thing like that

were I the daughter of a king. 

Do you think I’m a fool like you?

By my faith, you’ll never take me!

If you were bound to have my love,

you’d freeze to death, yourself and all

those infidels, those heretics, 

      the Provençals!

—Domina, don’t be so fierce,

it isn’t right, it’s not your style!

Don’t take it badly, if you please,

that, in my way, I should inquire

and court you with a loyal heart

and beg you’ll end my suffering,

since I’m your serving-man, your slave,

for I do see, and feel, and know

when you, my lady, shine as bright

and timeless as the rose in May,

the world could hold no greater gift.

Therefore I love, will always love,

and if I loved you in bad faith,

      it would be sin.

—Player, all your Provençalish …

by my hopes of happiness,

it isn’t worth a single cent!

You might as well be talking German,

Sardinian, or Barbarian

(and anyway, it’s Greek to me).

Are you harassing me or not?

If my husband finds you out,

you’ll have to answer to him, see!

Player, it’s true what I’m telling you—

I don’t like your Latin lingo,

I assure you, little fellow.

Beat it, dirty Provençal, 

      and let me be!

—Domina, in such estrangement

you have placed me, such dismay!

Still, I’ll beg for one thing more:

that, if you please, I might display

how well a Provençal performs

      in the saddle.

—Player, I won’t be with you,

since this is what you think of me!

By Saint Martin, you should go

to Sir Orsino, who will know

to mount you on a nag or ass,

      since you’re an actor.

Samantha Pious
on translating Raimbaut de Vaqueiras

In the original poem by Raimbaut de Vaqueiras, the Player (jujar) speaks in Old Occitan, in the elevated style of courtly love (fin’amors), while the Domina (domna) responds in a Genovese dialect, in a much lower register. Is the Player a sophisticated seducer or a bumbling ingenue? How much, or how little, does the Domina know about the language of courtly love? Who is the butt of whose joke? The poem seems to be deliberately ambiguous on parchment, allowing for a multiplicity of theatrical interpretations depending on the performers and the demands of their audience. 
    

I tried to preserve some of that ambiguity in translation by melding archaisms (in the style of  Geoffrey Chaucer and Sir Thomas Malory) and more contemporary idioms. For example, a “player” can be an artistic performer or a sexually promiscuous man, just as “domina” can refer to its etymology as the lady of a medieval household or to the dominant woman in a BDSM scenario. 
    

This edition of the source text is from Vincenzo Crescini, «Il contrasto bilingue di Rambaldo di Vaqueiras», Atti e memorie della reale accademia di Padova, n.s., 7 (1890–1891), pp. 187–202.

about the poet

Raimbaut de Vaqueiras (fl. 1180–1207) was an Occitan troubadour who served as the court poet and confidant of Boniface I of Montferrat, from whom he claimed to have earned a knighthood during Emperor Henry VI’s invasion of Sicily. Legend says that he died together with his patron in Thessalonica a few years after their participation in the capture and plundering of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade.

about the translator

Samantha Pious is the translator of A Crown of Violets: Selected Poems of Renée Vivien (Headmistress Press, 2017). She holds a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Pennsylvania and is currently working as managing editor for Indolent Books.

photo by Samantha Pious

 

والله ما طلعت شمسٌ 
Al-Hallaj

والله ما طلعت شمسٌ ولا غربت
إلا وحبّـك مقـرون بأنفاسـي
ولا خلوتُ إلى قوم أحدّثهــم
إلا وأنت حديثي بين جلاســي
ولا ذكرتك محزوناً ولا فَرِحًا
إلا وأنت بقلبي بين وسواســـي
ولا هممت بشرب الماء من عطش
إلا رَأَيْتُ خيالاً منك في الكـــأس
ولو قدرتُ على الإتيان جئتـُكم
سعياً على الوجه أو مشياً على الرأس
ويا فتى الحيّ إن غّنيت لي طربا
فغّنـني وأسفا من قلبك القاســـي
ما لي وللناس كم يلحونني سفها
ديني لنفسي ودين الناس للنـــاس

a sun did not rise
translated by Michael Karam

I swear to god, a sun did not rise or set 
            unless your love was woven into my breath 
and I could not be myself fully 
            unless I brought you up between each sentence 
and I did not mention you, gladly or sadly 
            unless you were in my heart among my demons 
and I did not care to quench my thirst 
            unless I saw your reflection in the glass 
and if I could come to you I would 
            seeking you headfirst or walking upside down 
and oh! Boy in the street, if you sing a ballad for me 
            sing it softly and sorrily from your stone heart 
People call me an abomination—what do I care? 
           
 My beliefs are my beliefs and theirs are theirs.

Michael Karam

on translating Al-Hallaj

At a time when Iraqis are dying in the streets as they protest for a better life, I wanted to choose a poem that reminds readers of a different Iraq we rarely hear about in the news.


The verses of the poem are written in pairs, which I tried to mimic in English. While al-Hallaj uses a combination of the past tense and nonverbal sentences to indicate an element of timelessness and permanence in his poem, I resort to writing entirely in the past. English lacks nonverbal sentence structures, so I settled for the past’s intransient nature.  

In more than one way, the translation strips the poem of the connotations that defy religion. While the original starts with “and Allah” and ends with a statement about how “my religion” is different than “the people’s religion,” I have liberally written the poem about an obsessive love, one that defies the people’s beliefs. In the poem’s final verse, the poet uses “دين” which literally means “religion,” but I have interpreted it not as a reference to structured schools of faith but to the purest form of a religion: beliefs.
    

Where the translation reads “boy in the street,” the original actually says “boy of the neighborhood.” I wanted to translate that as “boy next door,” a type of character that is young, nosy, and watches over the neighborhood or naturally knows all that’s going on. I felt, however, that it carried a connotation of some type of love affair, and I did not want to overtly imply that the poem is about a man or boy. Simply, the verse addresses the boy in a call for sympathy as he sings the speaker’s ballad. 
    

This brings me to the topic of gender. Arabic is a gendered language, and the original poem is addressed to a male “you.” Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean the speaker is addressing a man. This is simply a feature of traditional Ghazali poetry. I wanted to maintain this gendered ambiguity in English, giving the listener the chance to imagine who the subject of this obsessive, controversial love is. 

about the poet

Al-Hallaj (Abu el-Mughith al-Husayn bin Mansur al-Hallaj, 858 CE–922 CE) was born in modern-day Iran and executed in modern-day Iraq. A Sufi mystic from the Abbasid era, al-Hallaj’s widely followed preaching inspired a movement of political reform in Baghdad. His poems often decried a different interpretation of Islam and a personal and internalized search for Allah. He is most famously known for stating “I am the Truth,” the Truth being one of the Ninety-Nine Names of Allah. As a controversial figure with radical views, he was imprisoned for nine years in Baghdad until he was executed by the Abbasid court. His poems are widely known and many are sung in Iraqi maqam today, a particular musical scale. To hear this poem sung in Maqam Nahawand, go to this link.

about the translator

Michael Karam (Penn, College of Arts and Sciences, class of 2017) is a translator, writer, and poet living and working in Boston, MA. Michael grew up in Lebanon, between a small apple-growing village and a Beirut suburb. He is fluent in Arabic and French, knows some Spanish, and is learning Farsi so he can read Rumi in his original language. He currently works in marketing and fundraising for a nonprofit news organization, The GroundTruth Project, which supports emerging journalists to tell under-covered stories around the world.

 

Ein Leseast
Paul Celan

EIN LESEAST, einer,
die Stirnhaut versorgend,


eine Lichtquelle, von dir
schläfrig geschluckt,
passiert das hungrige
Wirtsgewebe,


Sehhilfe, streifig,
über mondbefahrene
Rückstreu-Sonden. Im großen: im kleinen.


Erden, immer noch, Erden.
Hornhautüber-
zogner Basalt,
raketengeküßt:
kosmisches 
Umlauf-Geschau, und doch:
Binnenland-Horizonte.


Terrestrisch, terrestrisch.


Ein Leseast, einer,
die Stirnhaut versorgend – als schriebst du
Gedichte –,
er trifft auf den Kartengruß auf,
damals, vorm
Blutklumpenort, auf der Lungen-
schwelle, jahrhin, aus Pilsen,
jahrüber,
zeitwild von soviel
Leisegepreßtem:


Bon vent, bonne mer,


ein flackernder
Hirnlappen, ein
Meerstück,
hißt, wo du lebst,
seine Hauptstadt, die
unbesetzbare.

A bookworm
translated by David  Ting

A BOOKWORM, one,
feeds into your forehead,


an illuminant, which you
drowsily gulped,
bypasses the ravenous
host tissue,


a visual implant, streaking
over moon rovers, dash of
backscattered light. In macro: in micro.


Earths, ever still, earths.
Cornea-over-
domed basalt,
irises kissed by rockets:
cosmic    
roundabout, and still:
only landlocked horizons.


Terrestrial…terrestrial.


A bookworm, one,
feeds into your forehead—but as you write
poems—
stricken by a postcard,
from those days, former
blood-clump site, on the lungs’
threshold, a year shut, from Pilsen,
a year down,
haywire with so much
quietly smothered:


Bon vent, bonne mer,


a flickering of
brainprobes, a
slice of sea,
hoisted, where you are living,
its capital, the
unemptiable.

David Ting

on translating Paul Celan

 

As a translator and a learned polyglot, Paul Celan’s boggling German title, “Ein Leseast,” combines two unlikely words: Lese + Ast. Lese-: related to reading. Leser: reader. Lesen: to read. Lese: selection; grape harvest. Ast: a branch, a bough; a branch of nerves in the brain. Together, these resonances evoke the way a text branches, grows into your mental space, although in English this portmanteau appears ungainly: “a reading-branch,” or “a reading-bough.” To pun on the idea of a Leseast, of consuming a poet who eats into you, I retitled this: “A bookworm.”
    

For those approaching his deep psychological pain, Celan makes an astonishing confession. In 1967, he attempted to end his life, stabbing his lung with a letter opener, narrowly missing his heart. His wound is a thick, three-worded Blutklumpenort, a “bloodclumpsite.” Yet, transforming German into English is a healing process: those words need not remain coagulated to keep their meaning. They separate—“blood-clump site”—in the same way a large, healing scab breaks into smaller pieces over time.
    

Other important references are technical and autobiographical. To explore what one’s eyes truly “see” as one reads, Celan couples the motifs of space travel and eye. As the socket of the eye is an “orbit,” the reader’s eyes are where the cosmic journey occurs. Our irises, their pocks and craters under the cornea, become the basalt surface of the moon. To dwell in the act of reading, that mental in-between space, is to colonize it. But like programmed rovers, one’s attentiveness can become rote. A metaphor for the Holocaust is concealed here: the moon’s silent, ashen surface is the dwelling for a people whose bodies were turned to ash. As their diaspora did not jettison them beyond Earth’s gravity, they inhabit not the earth (T, Terrestrial), but are still earthly (t, terrestrial). Leaving this sterile lunar environment, Celan voyages inward, finding his people not by reading but through the act of writing, inspired by a postcard from the operator of a now silenced political radio station.
    

But he must cross through death. The adverb hinüber (“over across”) is an idiom for both “to pass away” and “beyond repair.” Celan parts hin and über, joining them with Jahr (“year”), for jahrhin and jahrüber, to suggest the torturous duration that such crossing takes. I pair “year” with “shutdown.”

about the poet

Paul Celan made it his lifelong task to bear witness to the unspeakable. He desperately sought a new poetic vocabulary uncontaminated by Nazi appropriation. In his quest to confront the tainted spirit of the German language after the Second World War, his voracious reading habits spanned virtually every discipline. Born Paul Antschel in Romania to Jewish parents, both of his parents were murdered during the Holocaust. Reinventing himself as Paul Celan in May 1947, through a play on the syllables of his family name (Antschel … Ancel … Celan), he launched to international fame with the memorial poem, “Todesfuge” (“Death Fugue”). He also gained renown as a German translator of Emily Dickinson, Osip Mandelstam, Shakespeare, and nearly two dozen other authors from over six languages. After suffering unfounded accusations of plagiarism, he distanced himself from his previous poetic achievements, refining a radically abstract new form of poetry in his final years. Chosen from the posthumously published volume Schneepart (1971), the poem “Ein Leseast” features a neologism about the act of reading. As it has no direct correlate in English, my translation puns on the German title: “A bookworm.”

about the translator

David F. Ting recently completed his pre-medical post-bacc program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is currently working as a medical scribe and applying to medical school. In his free time, David enjoys cooking, playing the piano, and doing pull-ups. His languages are Chinese, German, and Spanish. This translation is a part of his genre-spanning bio-critical fiction on the later poetry of Paul Celan, entitled Antschel … Ancel … Celan. Five Acts. David also posts his cinema musings on Letterboxd, where you can find him under the name Lichtzwang.

 

Preaching to Women

translated by Peeriya Pongsarigun and John Viano

            Ladies, your eyes can humiliate you.
They broadcast your interest too.
True or not—people care not a bit.
If you’re abused, they’ll think you want it.
            You’re like a young tree.
When the wind blows, you’ll see.
You can be moved but not unrooted.
Don’t show interest if he knows it.
            You are a blooming lotus—
Revealing your beauty to all of us.
Your sweet scent is everywhere,
And bees want you to be theirs.
            If the bees should taste a flower,
They may then leave forever
To fly and taste others and go.
Men are like that, too—you know?
            If a man falls in love with you
All he will say and do
A means to capture you—that’s his aim.
But you should know, men cannot ever be tame.
            Choose your man carefully.
Do not rush, go slowly.
Men are like puzzles.
You think you know them, yet so little.

สุภาษิตสอนหญิง

Sunthorn Phu

    อันนัยน์ตาพาตัวให้มัวหมอง
จริงมิจริงเขาเอาไปเล่าแช                             
    ดังพฤกษาต้องวายุพัดโบก
จงยับยั้งช่างใจเสียให้ดี
    อันตัวนางเปรียบอย่างปทุเมศ
หอมผกาเกสรขจรขจาย     
    ครั้นได้ชมสมจิตพิศวาส
ไม่อยู่เฝ้าเคล้ารสเที่ยวจดลอง 
    แม้นชายใดหมายประสงค์มาหลงรัก
อันความรักของชายนี้หลายชั้น
    จงพินิจพิศดูให้รู้แน่
เปรียบเหมือนคิดปริศนาอย่าไว้ใจ

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Peeriya Pongsarigun and John Viano

on translating Sunthorn Phu

 

Originally, “Preaching to Women” (composed between 1837–1840) was written as an epic poem that used the popular Thai rhyme scheme, klon suphap. In the klon suphap rhyme scheme, each line consists of seven to nine syllables. Further, each stanza has two lines, each line is divided into two clauses, and the last syllable of the first stanza must rhyme with the last syllable of the second line of the next stanza (see the diagram below). Also, there is a complex set of additional rhymes:


    • The last syllable of the first clause must rhyme with the third syllable of the second clause
    • The last syllable of the second clause must rhyme with the last syllable of the third clause and the third syllable of the fourth clause.


    Sunthorn Phu’s signature scheme of internal rhyming (indicated in bold in the diagram below) is complicated, though not compulsory to the klon suphap rhyme scheme, and achieved by rhyming the syllables within each clause as opposed to just rhyming across clauses, as discussed earlier. We faced the issue of helping the English-speaking ear properly perceive the rhyme, as the radically different and complex rhyme scheme present in Thai is difficult for non-native speakers to pick up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


    We solved this problem by making the English version parallel wherever we could, using if-clauses and imperatives so that the translation read smoothly and beautifully. In doing so, we also managed to preserve the literary comparisons used in the original—i.e. comparing women to flowers and men to bees.

about the poet

Sunthorn Phu (1786–1855), often called “Thailand’s Shakespeare,” lived during the Rattanakosin Period between the reigns of King Rama I and King Rama IV. He was famous for his epic poetry and memoirs. He was the first to use internal rhymes in Thai poetry, and the device became his signature. In 1986, he was honored by UNESCO as a world poet and Thai children study his poems to this day. 

Sunthorn Phu flourished during the reign of King Rama II because Rama II loved literature and poetry. However, King Rama III, who emphasized trade and the economy, was uninterested in Phu’s work and offended by his pride and arrogance. Rama III’s reign, then, corresponds to Phu’s dark period. Phu returned to popularity during the reign of King Rama IV, who was also a poet. 
    We decided to translate “Preaching to Women” because it discusses traditional relationships between gender and power, and also to increase awareness and access to the works of one of Thailand’s most talented authors (Amazon has only one listing for Phu’s work).

about the translators

Peeriya Pongsarigun and John Viano are award-winning authors and translators who excel in creating English language rhyme schemes which echo those of their sources, while also accurately communicating the author’s message. In 2019, their passion for literature and language led to their co-founding InterThaiMedia LLC to create media that bring people together across languages and cultures. InterThaiMedia’s first project will be a picture book called Can You Carry Me?, which is slated to be published in English, Spanish, and dual-language formats. Altogether, Peeriya and John have translated song lyrics, poetry, and more than 140 children’s books. They last published with DoubleSpeak in the spring of 2019.

 

photo by Shengyi Liu

Shu Ting (舒婷)

暗蓝之夜
旧创一起迸发
床再煎烤这些往事时
是极有耐心的情人
台钟滴滴嗒嗒
将梦蹂躏得体无完肤
沿墙摸索
沿墙摸索一根拉线开关
却无意缠住了
一绺月色
鳞鳞银鱼闻味而来缘根而上
你终于
柔软一池
在一个缓慢的转身里
你看着你
你看着你
穿衣镜故作无辜一厢纯情
暧昧的贴墙纸将花纹模糊着
被坚硬地框住
眼看你自己一瓣一瓣地凋落


你无从逃脱无从逃脱
即使能倒纵过一堵堵墙
仍有一个个纵不过的日子堵在身后


女人不需要哲理
女人可以摔落月的色斑,如
狗抖去水
拉上厚窗帘
黎明湿漉漉的舌头搭上窗玻璃
回到枕头的凹痕去
像一卷曝过光的胶卷
将你自己散放着
窗下的核桃树很响地瑟缩了一下
似乎被一只冰凉的手摸过

Mirror

translated by Shuke Zeng

Midnight blue
Indigo hidden wounds 
burst— 
The bed, simmering the past,
became an extremely patient lover.
The clock sat; its arms tick-tocked,
bullying the dreams until they crumbled.
Along the wall— 
Along the wall I groped
for the light cord, but tangled with a wisp
the color of the moon
like tiny shimmering silver fishes
nibbling their way up to trace the source, and finally— 


You— 
softness overflows a pool


               In the turning of a body:
    
           You watching           you
    
           You           watching you


The dressing mirror feigns a lovesick child.
Wallpaper smears the printed flora, flirtingly,
and solidly framed.
You watch yourself wither, a petal, another…
You don’t get to get out.
You get lucky, break free from several walls,
but you cannot break free from the days and years
that pile up behind you.


You women need no philosophy.
You women can shake off the shadows of the moon like
how dogs shake off water.


Draw close the thick curtain
The tongue of the dawn dampens the window
Head placed back to the sunken spot of the pillow
You scatter yourself
like exposed film.
Outside the window, the shivering walnut tree shrieks
disturbed by an ice-cold hand.

Shuke Zeng

on translating Shu Ting

 

I took a more experimental approach while working with this poem, and I am aware that some of the literal meanings in the Chinese poem do not exactly match up with the translation. I took this approach because this poem contains a lot of ambiguities, and I wanted to preserve a certain amount of this ambiguity without completely disassociating from my own interpretation of the poem. For example, in my translation,  I formatted “你看着你/你看着你” with a series of extra spaces, though they were not intended in the original poem. In Chinese, the circularity of the line comes not only from the repetition of “you,” but also the similarity of form between the characters “看” and “着.” Therefore, I emphasize such formal circularity by rendering the spaces in those two lines. Another example of a place where I was more experimental in my translation is the line “like tiny shimmering silver fishes / nibbling their way up to trace the source.” The notion of “nibbling” was not present in the original poem, but the poet’s use of “闻味” signified the blindly primal nature of the fish’s movements, and I considered “nibbling” to be a good alternative to signifying such primal nature.

about the poet

Shu Ting is from Fujian, China. She is usually associated with the Misty Poets. She was born in 1952, and during the Cultural Revolution, was sent to the Chinese countryside because of her family’s political ideology. She returned to Fujian in 1972 and spent time working in factories for her livelihood. Her poems gained popularity in the 1980s, and around that time, she did a joint collection of poetry with Gu Cheng, another prominent Misty poet. Shu is well known in China and the rest of the world for her poems “To the Oak” and “Dear Motherland,” in which conflict and pain are present but positivity blooms. “Mirror” is one of her less well-known poems, and it gives us a glimpse into the poet’s private life. 

about the translator

Shuke Zeng is an undergraduate student at Penn. She majors in English and statistics. Chinese is her native language, and she remembers being forced to memorize Chinese poems when she was a child. She only gained the tools to decode those poems deeply engraved in her memory after taking poetry classes in the English department at Penn. Shu Ting has been one of her favorite Chinese poets since childhood, and working on the translation of this poem has allowed her to revisit some qualities of Shu Ting’s poems and the Chinese language that she has always been drawn to.

 

عبور

 Mohammad Ali Bahmani

بعد از عبور فاصله ها را شناختم‬
بی را شناختم من و با را شناختم‬


جغرافیای شهر تو چندان شگفت نیست‬
این بام این دوگانه هوا را شناختم‬


آخر اگرچه دیر ولی زیرکانه تر‬
فرق میان ما و شما را شناختم‬


گفتی عبث مکوش که یک دست بی صداست
من در سکوت نیز صدا را شناختم‬


خود را شناختم من و شادا که عاقبت‬
این سخت جان آبله پا را شناختم‬

Crossing

translated by Ali Noori

After crossing, I learned what distances are
I learned “without” and “with,” what these words really are


The geography of your town is not all that strange
I learned about this rooftop and what its two climates are


At the end, though all too late, but all too well
I learned what the differences between “you” and “I” are


You said “don’t try in vain, a single hand cannot make a sound”
In silence too, I learned what sounds truly are


I learned all about myself at the end, how wonderful!
I am persistent in death and I know how worn out my feet are

Ali Noori

on translating Mohammad Ali Bahmani

“Crossing” is a translation of an untitled ghazal in Persian. The ghazal is a poetic form central to many languages and poetic traditions, including, but not limited to Persian, Urdu, Turkish, and Arabic, since at least the ninth century. The past few decades have seen a surge in English ghazals. The ghazal is defined by two sets of characteristics. First, the form: the “aa-ba-ca” rhyme scheme is the most recognizable formal feature of the ghazal; there are also rules governing meter. Second, the content: the ghazal tradition comes with a cluster of themes, images, devices, and conventions.
    “Crossing” places separation, a typical ghazal theme, in an urban setting. Using a curious combination of contemporary and archaic Persian, it invokes the expected characters of a ghazal, namely the beloved and the lover, through several less-expected juxtapositions, like the “with” and “without” prefixes. It culminates in a moment of self-reflection. Bahmani’s phrasing and style that result in a dense poem, riddled with allusions to elements from the ghazal tradition as well as his playful use of different registers of Persian, are not transportable into English. Nonetheless, this translation has attempted to draw out and highlight dynamic characteristics of the poem—the aforementioned juxtapositions for instance—that do lend themselves to translation into English.

about the poet

Mohammad Ali Bahmani (b. 1942) is an Iranian poet and songwriter. Beyond that, his biography is irrelevant to this particular translation. It might be worth mentioning that Bahmani is known, among other things, as a proponent of the postmodern ghazal movement in Persian poetry.

about the translator

Ali Noori is a doctoral student in religious studies at Penn. He likes ghazals.

photo by Ali Noori

 

Two Poems by Tuvya Ruebner

translated by Yehudith Dashevsky

… הֱיוּ שָׁלוֹם, תּוֹדָה
הֱיוּ שָׁלוֹם, תּוֹדָה 
כִּי בָּאתֶם. מַה 
חַיֵּי אָדָם לְבַדָּם 
עִם לִבּוֹ הָרַע 
עִם לִבּוֹ הַמַּךְ, עִם עֵינָיו הַסְּתוּרוֹת 
נְשׂוֹחֵחַ קִמְעָה, נִחְיֶה 
כְּמוֹ בָּאַגָּדָה, נַחֲלִיף 
מִלִּים סְפוּרוֹת, נֹאמַר 
שָׁלוֹם, שָׁלוֹם 
.הַמַּיִם הַפּוֹרְחִים. הַלֶּחֶם הַשָּׁלֵם 
כֵּן. הָיִיתִי. כָּאן. כֻּלָּנוּ. כֵּן 

.תּוֹדָה

...לְפָנֶיךָ הַגֶּשֶׁם הָעַתִּיק
לְפָנֶיךָ הַגֶּשֶׁם הָעַתִּיק
הַחֹם בְּגַבְּךָ, אַתָּה עוֹמֵד וְחוֹשֵׁב
מַה מְעַטוֹת הַמִּלִּים
שֶׁאָדָם צָרִיךְ בְּחַיָּיו
וְחוֹשֵׁב עַל מִי שֶׁרוֹאֶה כָּל אֵלֶּה וְעַל מִי
שֶׁפָּנָיו רוּחַ, וּבַשַּׁלֶּכֶת, וְגֶשֶׁם
.זֶה הַמַּכֶּה בַּחַלּוֹן

 

Be well, thanks...
Be well, thanks
for coming. What
are people on their own
with their evil hearts,
with their spent hearts, with their sidelong glances.
Let’s talk a bit and live
like in a story, exchange
a few words; we’ll say, 
hey, hello
blooming water, hey, a whole loaf of bread.
Yes. I was. Here. We all were. Yes,
thanks.

In front of you is this ancient rain…
In front of you is this ancient rain,
behind you, this warmth; you stand and think 
how few are those words
people need in their lives
you think about the one who sees all this and about the one
whose face is wind, and falling leaves, 
                                and pattering on the window,
this rain.

Yehudith Dashevsky

on translating Tuvya Ruebner

 

Be well, thanks...
I found this poem can be read either with a bite of sarcasm or with sincerity. If we take the latter approach, this poem is about genuinely putting in effort to “exchange a few words” even if it’s a little forced at first and follows a script, “like in a story.” It is about valuing those exchanges, even if they’re mundane, like “hey, the water’s growing things in it” or “look, we have enough bread.” There is an acceptance of loneliness too. “We all were” here, in this lonely place, where we craved a few words from another human being. If instead, we read the poem with the former, there is a hint of bitterness, which can be felt in the staccato of the periods in “Yes. I was. Here. We all were.” The narrator is stuck in this ridiculous situation of small talk, in which roles have to be assumed and conversations playacted, “like in a story.” The “Yes, thanks,” is not the sincere gratitude of the lonely, but the acerbic retort of someone who finds these minute exchanges unsatisfactory and not real enough. 
    Although the words in this poem are simple, there were a few translation difficulties. One was the problem of the pronoun. The original poem is in the singular third person, reading “what is a person / with his evil heart....” I chose to use plural to avoid having to use the masculine pronoun, even though I feel something is lost when the singular is not emphasized: the feeling of loneliness is dispelled and instead there is a generalization about a “they.” The emphasis is more on a shared experience of loneliness than loneliness itself. This is a particular example of when translating with an intention (attempting to avoid a gendered pronoun), even if that intention is well-meaning, creates a new, although perhaps not quite as insidious, complication.

In front of you is this ancient rain...
The loneliness in this poem is muted by the comforting ache of memory: a person is standing alone by a window inside, being warmed by a source of heat inside, and his mind gives way to thoughts of others. What I found surprising about this poem is the adjective it uses for rain. It describes the way water recycles itself as “ancient,” a term that is also colloquially used for human things: physical structures built by people that fell to ruin, challenges that humans have been dealing with for eons. This adjective, “ancient,” might be the piece that ties the poem together. The cyclical, long-lasting nature of the environmental process leads the muser to think about a longtime human issue in the second part of the poem: how people need just a few words in their lives. 
    That phrase actually posed a difficulty in interpretation. Literally it reads “how few are the words / a person needs in his life.” The question is: what is emphasized, “few” or “need”? Is the speaker surprised at how few words are needed, or is the speaker emphasizing that while the words are few, they are much needed? This led to a translation question. Is it “the” words or “those” words? “The” words would be more straightforwardly faithful to the grammar of the poem. But “those” words emphasized the second interpretation—that despite being small in number, those words exist, and they are specific ones, and they are needed. Although I have the sense that the author meant the former, I chose to play with the latter interpretation to see if the poem could contain it while retaining its original meaning and beauty. In addition, I chose to change “the” rain to “this” rain to convey the focus on the rain and highlight its presence in the poem.
 

about the poet

Tuvya Ruebner (1924–2019) was an Israeli poet, translator, and photographer, originally from the former Czechoslovakia. He emigrated to Mandate Palestine without his parents and siblings, who were murdered in the Holocaust. He lived on a kibbutz in Northern Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and a schoolteacher before becoming a professor of comparative literature at Haifa University. His notable translations include the work of S. Y. Agnon and the poetry of Leah Goldberg. A professor at Haifa University suggested that the literary merit of Ruebner’s translations of Agnon into German were the reason the latter won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1966. Ruebner himself received a number of awards for his poetry and translations, including the Israel Prize for poetry in 2008. Reubner’s poetry is thought to be daring in the head-on way it addresses themes of modern Jewish history (an example of this is the poem “Lishlo’ach Yad” with its memorable phrase “not so, yes, no / no more war”). His poetry also expands beyond these themes and converses with Western literary culture.

about the translator

Yehudith Dashevsky graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2019 with a bachelors in English literature. She is currently living and working in Washington, D.C., and enjoys the curiosity about language and exchanges of meaning occasioned by the act of translation.

 

Solo un detalle

Karina García Albadiz

Sépanlo bien: no se aprende ni se enseña a escribir. No se enseña
nada. Se aprende y se enseña a vivir, por eso, escribir es solo un
detalle de un vivir anécdota de lo escrito. Solo hicimios lo que había
que hacer. Subimos buscando el bosque porque la vida es fruta y el
mañana es agua ante la lengua ojo que en-calla en los silencios bien
guardados. Sí tal cual con todos los títulos que tengo, me sigo
muriendo de hambre, ¿iremos realmente a barrer calles?, ¿será eso lo
hay que hacer?, ¿esto era la vida: buscar algo que no nos aburriera,
soportar miles de tonteras o perder el tiempo hasta el cansancio?, ¿eso
era? Seguimos siendo felices con lo mismo: imágenes mientras la
realidad nos sigue matando. ¿Ahora es peor o antes? No sé. Crecimos,
escribo. Me muero aquí. Cambié Derecho por las Letras. Sin tener
conciencia todavía, cambié el dinero por ser pobre y una clase social
por otra. No soy eficiente, no pongo límites a mis conversaciones,
llego tarde a todos lados, tengo la casa revuelta de tanto papel, hago
clases entremedio para sobrevivir, sobre todo, anímicamente. Mi
pasado está lleno y en calma ante un presente y un futuro fuertemente
condicionado, precario y tumultuoso. ¿Es culpa o no es culpa mía? Sé
que nos muelen a palos. Solo hice que algunas cosas pasaran.

Just one detail

translated by Ella Konefal

Know this: you do not learn nor do you teach writing. You don’t teach
anything. You learn and you teach living, and as such, writing is just
one detail within a living anecdotal to the written. We only did what
had to be done. We climbed in search of the forest because life is fruit
and tomorrow is water at the tip of the tongue, look out, it drowns
in well-kept silence. If even with all the degrees I have, I’m still dying
of hunger: Will we really go and sweep the streets? Is that what has to
be done? Is this life: searching for something that will not bore us,
with-standing boundless bullshit or wasting time until exhaustion? Is
that what it was? We stay happy with the same: images, while reality
kills. Is now worse or before? I don’t know. We grow, I write. I’ll die
here. I traded Law for Letters. Without yet knowing it, I traded money
for poverty and one class for another. I’m not efficient, I don’t put
limits on my conversations, I’m always late, my home is a whirlwind
of paper, I teach classes here and there to survive, above all,
energetically. My past is full and calm against a present and a future
acutely conditional, precarious and tumultuous. Is it my fault or is it
not? I know they’ll grind us down to sticks. All I did was make a few
things happen.

Ella Konefal

on translating Karina García Albadiz


Karina García Albadiz writes with an urgency that does not waste time. Her prose is beautiful in that it has force. It is not decorative. In Spanish, this passage reads like a quick-moving stream: wide enough to make you nervous, consistently turbulent, emphatically directional. There are several efficient and elegant moments of parallel meaning. One, in the fifth sentence, is a dense knot: “el mañana es agua ante la lengua ojo que en-calla en los silencios bien guardados.” Ojo, as a command, means “look out!” And ojo de agua is a “spring,” or a “watering hole,” the focal point of oasis. For me, agua and ojo reach towards each other across the phrase and vibrate between those two gestures: towards alarm and towards paradise. Encallar means “to run aground” or “to crash-land,” the verbal aftermath of a shipwreck. Callar means “to shut up.” The hyphenation of en-callar conjures silence that is wreckage. A silencing that demolishes form, that doesn’t even have an aftermath. That destruction of narrative or meaning is caused by silencios bien guardados, “well-kept silences.” After the interpretive whirlpool of this winding sentence, Albadiz’s language is more direct. Towards the end of the passage, I focused on conveying pace and existential urgency. Right now, Chile is in the midst of popular uprising and retaliatory crackdown over issues of extreme economic inequality and state repression. I read and write with this in mind. These words were published seven years ago. To my ears, in this moment, they call out a steady, pulsing beat towards insurrection.
 

about the poet

Karina García Albadiz was born in Valparaíso, Chile, in 1969. She holds degrees in Spanish and interdisciplinary humanities. Albadiz cofounded and now directs the Centro de Investigaciones Poéticas Grupo Casa Azul, the Blue House Center for Poetic Research, in Valparaíso, Chile. She also edits two magazines: Anáfora (Anaphora) and Botella del Náufrago, which literally translates to “shipwreck bottle,” the bottle that carries a note to shore. “Solo un detalle” can be found on page 32 of a slim book of prose called ¿Dónde está la nuez para la Ardilla? (Where is the nut for the squirrel?) published in 2013.

about the translator

Ella Konefal is an artist who takes translation as conceptual grounding for her interdisciplinary practice. She was born and partially raised on unceded Lenape land along the mid-Atlantic seaboard of present-day USA. She asserts that like the labor or attunement of drawing and the labor or attunement of reading something for the second time, translation is a form of prayer. It moves something. Where that movement leads is as of yet unknown.

copyright

We at DoubleSpeak are constantly striving to improve our copyright regulation system. We would like to extend our appreciation to the organisations and individuals who have responded to our copyright requests and granted us the rights to publish various poems. Please contact us at staff@doublespeakmagazine.org if you identify any copyright issues or would like to share helpful resources.

Albadiz, Karina García. “Solo un detalle” [Just One Detail] (Spanish). Copyright © 2020. Used with permission of Karina García Albadiz.

Alterman, Nathan. “תחרות לנסיון” [A Trial Race] (Hebrew). Copyright © 2020. Used with permission of Kneller Artists Agency Ltd.

Bandujeewa, Ruwan. “ගැඩවිල්ලු” [Earthworms], “සැපකි—සතුටකි” [A Joy—A Bliss], “ඇළ” [Canal], and “ගසක් තම මල් අමතා කී කවිය” [A Tree to its Flowers] (Sinhalese). Copyright © 2020. Used with permission of Ruwan Bandujeewa. 

Burgos, Julia de. “Canción Amarga” [Bitter Song] (Spanish). Obra Poetica I. [Poetic Works 1]. Madrid, Ediciones de la Discreta, 2008. Copyright © 2020. Used with permission of Ediciones de La Discreta. 

Celan, Paul. “Ein Leseast” [A Bookworm] (German). Die Gedichte [The Poems] Neue kommentierte Gesamtausgabe. Mit 25 Radierungen von Gisèle Celan-Lestrange. Herausgegeben von Barbara Wiedemann. © Suhrkamp Verlag Berlin 2018. Copyright © 2020. Used with permission of Suhrkamp Verlag.

Haizi. “日记” [Diary] (Chinese). 海子抒情诗全集. [The Complete Collection of Lyric Poems by Haizi]. Sichuan People’s Publishing House, 2019. Copyright © 2020. Used with permission of the Copyright Agency of China. 

Merini, Alda. “Dopo tutto anche tu” [After everything, still you] (Italian). Dopo tutto anche tu. [After everything, still you]. Genova, San Marco dei Giustiniani, 2003. Copyright © 2020. Used with permission of Edizioni San Marco dei Giustiniani.

Ruebner, Tuvya. “הֱיוּ שָׁלוֹם, תּוֹדָה…” [Be well, thanks…] and “...לְפָנֶיךָ הַגֶּשֶׁם הָעַתִּיק” [In front of you is this ancient rain...] (Hebrew). Copyright © 2020. Used with permission of the copyright owner Galila Ruebner.

Zhang, Shuguang. “一首诗” [A Poem] and “纳博科夫的蝴蝶” [Nabokov’s Butterfly] (Chinese). Copyright © 2020. Used with permission of Shuguang Zhang.

© doublespeak magazine 2020

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