I have been going through the cupboard of the translations file and have found some nice things that have appeared here or there but are unlikely to have been widely read. Over the next few days, in somewhat sporadic fashion, I will post some of them. Mostly from the Hungarian, but not all/
I first met Jacek Dehnel in Warsaw on a British Council visit. I was told he was a brilliant young prize-winning poet. A year later I was commissioned to translate two poems by him.
It was a great pleasure. Dehnel's poems have something of the dandy about them - virtuosic, formal, playful, very elegant, but with a sharp validating edge of experience without which all this would be talent waiting for material. The first poem is a kind of ironic-scary admonition, the second an incident with all kinds of resonance.
I had Jacek's help with these. There are far too many languages I don't speak. 'So how can you translate?' people ask. My answer is, I read what is written in gloss form and in notes then strain to catch the nature of the poem, the way it might speak, what the senses that animate it might have seen, heard or felt. I could be wrong. But in the best cases I do actually hear a poem. I hear it in English of course then carefully watch as the poem Englishes itself, or might English itself. That's all I can do, hoping the result is a poem that does some justice to the ghost of the original; that the original might recognise itself as it passes.That the poet might take a look at the translation and say, 'Yes, I trust you with that.'
Trust, trust. All is trust.
Beyond the window darkness pressed
Steep against glass, an importunate guest.
Behind come the animals, stalking and creaturely,
Their features not noted in anyone’s bestiary.
Death follows, white winged, each wing with an eye.
There are six such wings required to fly.
They hover outside, they watch and they wait.
An encounter with them brings a sharp turn of fate.
Inside crowd the books, the glasses, the chairs,
Glass, paper and tissue, small human affairs.
Both death and the creatures beam at the sight,
So much to observe, to serve up, to bite.
Through branches of gingko they peep and smirk:
Such innocent morsels, such delicate work.
If a moral is what you’re expecting, there’s none.
You don’t have much time left. Get up and move on.
Be good. Be loving. In old age be pure.
Those panes are quite thin, the locks insecure.
Dla A. hr J
All those unvisited cities, far off our usual routes:
metros, balconies, suns, stalls selling exotic fruits,
and that high house with garish colonnade where a strapping
young lieutenant draws on his white glove, about to ring
the bell as he does each time a ship goes down the maw
of the hungry ocean.
And nothing changes. The raw
Cities motionless, leaves that insist on hanging on
to boughs, the colonnade stock still, glued to the same sun.
A boy strolls home with his bike. A dog leads a blind man.
In the museum, the guide before Rubens repeats
the same glib phrases. ‘Those extraordinary feats
of craft, and colour, blah blah…’ The ‘gothic’ room below,
a metro carriage, an old woman, a Lazio
fan and a black guy, endlessly dashing from point A
to point B.
It’s fixed. It’s stuck. We will not pass that way
Together. We will never stand before the well-known
altar at point C or before the Vermeer on our own.
They’re doomed to mere potential, like the luminous eel
on the seabed, or the room behind a locked door: we’ll
not be at the table or by the lamp or the pictures
we were once told about. They will remain fixtures,
forever unfulfilled, like the plans we once had
for a London flat, the New York vacations, my pad
in Rome, your trip to Sweden, and how we would save
for the day in Venice when we’d share a common grave.
We’re adults now. The carriage half empty, I’m sitting
alone. The hand hovers at the bell, never to ring.