Thursday, 20 August 2015

BCLT / Writers Centre Summer School:
Translating Poetry 7: Postscript Lesley Lawn

Lesley Lawn was the only one to attempt the short poem by Zsuzsa Rakovszky I handed out at the beginning as a potential extra task. The text I gave them was in Hungarian with a word for word glossary and a few notes on what they might ask if they had a chance. It was a poem I myself translated for my book of selected poems by Zsuzsa Rakovszky, New Life (OUP 1994).

Much might have been asked but there was no time and yet it is amazing on what slender evidence we begin to construct the possible poem in the unfamiliar words. Here is the Hungarian text:

Avart égettek…
Avart égettek. Dőlt a must saga,
buzgott a kátrány.
Bogáncson ellenfény holdudvara,
tépett szivárvány.

Az utca erdő – mélyebb ősz fele
lejtett az este.
A szélső ház – a hánytorgó zene
majd szétvetette.

Még egyszer ezt, csak ezt, és mást sosem
többé: leszállnék
az őszi alvilágba, jobb kezem
kezedben, árnyék –

Lesley's version ran like this.

Dead Leaves Burning

Dead leaves burning. Smell of must rising
crackling in the brazier. 
Halo lighting a thistle burr –
a jagged rainbow
The road a forest – night dipped
toward darker autumn
The furthest house 
bursting with music 
Yet, just this, once more, and 
never again would I to go down
into the autumnal underworld 
my right hand in your hand, shadow -
This is what I did back in 1994:

They Were Burning Dead Leaves
They were burning dead leaves. Must oozed with scent
tar bubbled and blew.
The moonlight glow behind the thistle bent
like a torn rainbow. 
The street was a forest, night slid into the heart
of deepest autumn.
A guilty music blew the house apart
with its fife and drum. 
To have this again, just this, just the once more:
I would sink below
autumnal earth and place my right hand in your
hand like a shadow.

Each new version could add more, subtract more, seek its own priorities, take its own risks. But we would all be on the trail of something we ourselves felt as the words worked through us and returned in our own receiving language.

Lesley also brought a poem about translation. We read it at the last session as a kind of grace before the meal of the workshop. I like it very much so will end this series on it. Some modifications on earlier posts might follow. I know Chiara wanted to say something about her own work. But this is by Lesley.

Thoughts on Translating Poetry

Playing Bach can be faithful to the note
it can be looser Loussier or variations of the Variations
early Glenn Gould frantic youthful
or not – say the purists
Is a poem lost
if you can hear the translator hum
or is the music still the same?
So many airs on a G string none wrong nor right
Miles Davis’ riff on Porgy’s song
another version though
not Willard White’s deep tones.
So many poets have sung Achilles’ rage
as implacable ruinous or baneful wrath
transposing Homer through the ages
And Baudelaire whose Spleen results in many forms
Moore’s roi d’un pays pluvieux an ancient king a too-old king
ruling a rainy hell or a flooded empire
Each voice unique springs from the same source
sings the same song in jazz or blues
Mood Indigo has many shades from Ellington to Monk
No mood no blues the same
Playing Bach faithful or way off beat
Playful remix of a familiar tune
New harmonies new voices
in a different time

It's in that looser Loussier.

1 comment:

Taranjeet Singh said...

A great piece of article. :)

Even I also write poems. Kindly check them on