Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Cloud Talk 5: Cloud Crossing


Photograph by kind permission of Mark Granier, of his own parish, but a welcome visitor to this one. A perfect picture for the occasion. The cloud moves over two walls, a language behind each. Let us say. For the sake of argument.


...So, in the spirit of disordering, let me finish with two examples of what is possible, the first only briefly, as a mere glimpse

Judging last year’s Stephen Spender Prize, along with three other judges, I came across two fascinating examples of translation as the disordering of specific disciplines by, in effect, reordering – substituting one form for another. One of these translations won, the other was highly commended. I should say that this was due as much to the enthusiasm of the other judges as to my own.

The highly commended one by A.C. Clarke took a prose poem by Baudelaire, La Chambre Double, the beginning of which looks like this:

La Chambre Double

Une chambre qui ressemble à une rêverie, une chambre véritablement spirituelle, où l’atmosphère stagnante est légèrement teintée de rose et de bleu.

L’âme y prend un bain de paresse, aromatisé par le regret et le désir. – C’est quelque chose de crépusculaire, de bleuâtre et de rosâtre; un rêve de volupté pendant une éclipse.

Les meubles ont des formes allongées, prostrées, alanguies. Les meubles ont l’air de rêver; on les dirait doués d’une vie somnambulique, comme le végétal et le minéral. Les étoffes parlent une langue muette, comme les fleurs, comme les ciels, comme les soleils couchants.

Sur les murs nulle abomination artistique. Relativement au rêve pur, à l’impression non analysée, l’art défini, l’art positif est un blasphème. Ici, tout a la suffisante clarté et la délicieuse obscurité de l’harmonie….

And rendered it in Burns stanza, like this:

Room Wi’Twa Nebs

Ah’m in a room, a sonsie room,
nae breith o’ wind: saft colours soom
afair ma een – a blae-pink gloam
that’s ful o’ pace.
Ah lit ma idle fancy roam
oot o’ this place.

Ah’m in a dwam, nae wull at all
nae mair than thon saft cheers that sprawl
kivvered wi’ claiths that min’ th’ sawl
of flooers an’ sky,
an’ nae a paintin oan the wall
tae turn ma ee.

Fur airt oan canvas is tae drame
nae better than a scunnerin’ sham.
Sic parfumes cowdle roon th’ room
as blumes exhale.
Afair ma een th’ windies teem
wi’ billowin’ swell

o’ muslin hingers. Roon th’ bed
they fa’ like snae – an’ wha has spreed
hir ferlie shap a’ unperceived
upo’ th’ pillaes?
Hir een ur deip as pools o’ dreid
an’ fu’ o’ malice –…

Clearly, item A is not item B. For whale read camel. And yet it does something very interesting. It offers the reader a strict, local form in which the form is to a great extent the determiner of the meaning and tone of the poem, and applies it to a piece of prose in which the blend of idea and texture are of great importance. It is not just that this camel is not much like that whale, it is that this cloud, surely, cannot be very much like that cloud. The question must be: what do they share? And whether this camel is worth reading in terms of that whale? How far is the new cloud an entirely new cloud?

The jury could not agree on that. I, like the others, pushed it about gingerly on my plate, fascinated and charmed by it. I remembered how Edwin Morgan had rendered Mayakovsky into broad literary Scots, and how Ted Hughes had rendered the modernist-classicist Hungarian poet, János Pilinszky into a modernised form of Old English. We look at such things and ponder about their place in the world, chiefly because our sense of balance requires clear and distinct places. It is like opening the door on a room and finding strange furniture inside. It isn’t reproduction: it’s something else that would not, however, exist without its original referent and pattern. This cloud depends on that cloud. It is, at any rate, picking up something vital in the original.

* more piece to come.


Vita Brevis said...

Wow. ça me parle.

James said...

What beautiful Scots there, and what a contrast to the realer-than-yous!-Jimmy percussive slang dialect it is normally.