Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Grey Sweater / About Time
Poems by Sonata Paliulyte

The Grey Sweater

As the rain ruptures
         the grey sky
a man leans on his hands
         against the windowpane
and consoles the wind
         with ice-cold eyes -
On the quiet, I am looking
         at his back.

The sweater is grey, one sleeve
A rain of icy needles drizzles
         down behind the collar.
Step by step I'm slinking
         up to the heart -
stealthily along the sweater
         like a frozen cat.

About Time

High amid the birches
the branch-beribboned moon
pours a rill of silver light
into my room.

Lying back on the bedspread
splashed with the night's mosaic,
I touch the slough of time
slithering between the minutes.

So calm, just the hammer
hammering in the clock's forge,
nailing one more nail
into the passing of time.

         both poems translated by Kerry Shawn Keys

As with Keijiro Suga I am fully aware that this is a translation of Sonata Paliulyte's poems so it is worth asking - yet again - what is lost, what is gained, and what remains in a translated poem. Or, since space here is limited, just sticking to what remains and venturing a little further.

Ideas and images remain. The man leaning against the windowpane, the speaker looking at his back, the unravelling sweater, the cold rain, the idea of slinking like a frozen cat along the sweater up to the heart are all there irrespective of modifiers. This series of events would remain whatever the other adjustments of language. The skeleton of the poem is in place.

The modifiers - their precision, their pitch, register, their subtle associations - must naturally undergo metamorphosis in translation but we might be able to gauge them by how they work to flesh out the skeleton. No skeleton: no poem.

The flesh may be distributed slightly differently but it moves with the skeleton and we may be persuaded to take it on trust. Reading any poem, responding to any work of art, is partly a matter of trust. It is no different with a translation.

But it's the poem, the poem as I read it above, that I am truly concerned with, and here are some marvellous things. In The Grey Sweater there is the way the man with the ice-cold eyes consoles the wind, the way the icy needles of rain drizzle down behind his collar, the way the speaker slinks along the sweater like a frozen cat. I trust the translation because I trust precisely these images and am convinced they correspond to the cumulative effect of the original.

The skeleton in About Time involves the moon, the figure lying on a bed mottled by moonlight, the way the figure becomes aware of time as something between minutes, then the idea of the clock beating nails into time.  The two original fresh thoughts here concern time between minutes and the clock as a kind of blacksmith with his nails. Everything hinges on these two elements.

Here, I am persuaded, the language of the translation is charged to the extent the original is charged. That branch-beribboned moon and that rill of silver light correspond to an excitement in the original. Splashed, mosaic, slough, slithering, hammer hammering are all part of the excitement.

Most poetry is concerned with the fresh registering of customary things: a particular angle of the moon, a particular sense of time, the movement of a body, the way its clothes hang. At best it is as if we were living for the first time. That is essentially the lyric project. These are two fine lyric poems.


I have put two poems of Paliulyte here because they are so short. Here is another link to her biog. The poems are taken from her chapbook, Still Life, published by Colin Will's Calder Wood Press I am aware these posts are becoming longer and fuller. I don't want to shortchange my first poets it's just that one loosens up and gets into the swing of things. 


Nick Hilditch said...

Can you read Lithuanian (in which I assume the original was written) or does the trust you refer to extend to the assumption that the original is as good as the poems presented here? Or, looked at another way, if I dislike a poem in translation, how do I know where the fault lies?

George S said...

No, I can't, Nick - and that is the point of trusting. I have to be persuaded to trust a translation. That trust has to be earned.

But what is it a trust 'in'? That is a deeper question that needs more expolration but it may be something like this. The trust involves the reader believing that the original poem had the form of life and the complexity of emotion as that produced in him/her by the translation

We can never know quite what that complexity is, but then neither would the readers of the original have a comopletely clear idea. The fact reamins we all agree to trust something.

There is much more to be said about this some time and I hope to say it.

Nick Hilditch said...

It seems to me as though the act of translation says something profound about the act of communication itself. The translator must fully embrace both roles, that of the writer and the reader. If only I had sufficient mastery of another language, it's work I believe I would love. My respect to you.

George S said...

I think that's right, Nick, and have written a fair amount about this before. It is about the gaps in communication, the gaps that in some way define communication. We hear the gaps as well as the words. And yes, a translator is both reader and writer. But maybe that is just a specialised form of being listener and speaker which we all are.

Gwil W said...

Hello George,
Thomas Bernhard famously said; There is no such thing as a translation.
I've been asked to review a book of holocaust poems written by Hungarian poets and translated into English.
I hope the originals are superior to translations. Doubtless they are in this case. I'm halfway through. And now I sense the review will probably be middling or OK.
The problem is that the poems are not memorable. They deserve better. Someone like Dylan Thomas would take them and make them speak.
Translation is not translation. Bernhard is right. First must come the translator. And then the poet.
The result may bear no similarity to the Hungarian but is that important in poetics?

Nick Hilditch said...

Gwil. I think you've written your review. Any review with the line "I'm halfway through. And now I sense the review will probably be middling or OK." says it all. Unless, of course, the book has a startling climax..

Gwil W said...

Thank you Nick. I sense you may well be right,

George S said...

I think I know which book, Gwilym.