Monday, April 23, 2007

Lost in translation


A friend of mine says she doesn't really enjoy translated poetry, she feels something is always lost, like the idiom or cadence of another language.

To an extent I think know what she means, but I'd still rather have a little bit of meaning from a Neruda or Cavafy poem than to live without them.

And if we applied this approach to every area of our lives think of all the things we'd forgo, basil, good red wine, cotton, silk, curry, music, dance .......

S's daughter has donated her poetry books to our group and I picked them up from L last week. I'm reading some poems by William McIvanney that S had, I've never read his poetry before but I find that I'm really enjoying it. It must be a west coast thing as it really resonates with me. I particularly like his poem Grandmother, which is about a teenage boy only appreciating how full her life was after her death, when everyone sits down and recounts their memories of her.

I think it shares some themes with this Russian poem, by German Plisetsky. (I've mentioned before how much I like Plisetsky's poems (The book of Russian poetry I have describes him as being less classical than Kushner, with a heavier touch... more expressionistic and romantic. But I think this is a pretty deft poem)

To the memory of my grandmother

Forgive me,Varvara Fyodorovna!
I am selling your sideboard -
cumbersome, decrepit
relic of bygone years.

In this oak cabinet
are the ashes of your little world.
You've been a long time dead,
in the German cemetery.

But I still remember well,
remember to this day,
your craftily pious face,
your city-dweller's lore.

Forgive me,Varvara Fyodorovna!
I am selling your sideboard -
like going to the funeral
fifteen years late.

Long dead pleasures,
sadness, an equal share -
all will be sold off cheap
as planks to the joiner.

The last thing to bear witness
to the fact that you ever lived
is now being carried downstairs,
like a coffin - a heavy load.

A worldwide anthology of grandmother poems, now that would be an interesting read.

Sorry if this seems gloomy - I don't mean it to be. For obvious reasons I'm just fascinated by memory and relationships.

The picture is of some lovely delicate wrought-iron benches seen at Dirleton Castle garden -I love the lines of them - in profile they seem to barely exist.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Jan said...

Just got to this poem and photograph properly and loved it!
And a poetry bk re " GRANDMOTHERS" excellent idea.
Like you, I think family memories are marvellous, superb to draw upon...even if we " create" them a bit!

10:00 am  
Blogger apprentice said...

Oh well I just need a publisher to like the idea and get me to collate it!

I just think there are so many matriachs in the world that it would be a great read.

Thanks on the photo, I seem to prefer B&W and duo/tritones for some reason.

11:28 am  
Blogger Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

"Craftily pious". I love that. I grew up among old ladies like that. Brilliant stuff.

As for translation, I think there are extraordinarily talented people who can immerse themselves so deeply in another poet's psyche or are of such a similar artistic flavour or sensibility that their rendition of the material into another language loses nothing to that language.

6:29 am  
Blogger apprentice said...

I agree

2:49 pm  
Blogger chiefbiscuit said...

i love that poem - esp 'your crafty, pious face'.

4:54 am  

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