Sunday, 13 September 2009

He / she, dress / clothes

As a demonstration of how useful this blog space can be, a good friend writes from Hungary who having read yesterday's posting, suggests that the 'he' in the 'suit' is more likely to be 'she'.

And now, when I think it over, I am pretty sure he is right, because the other three poems I have just translated are all about the poet's late wife, the writer Judit Poór, whom Lator laments in the first of the poems (though the poems were written at different times and do not form a set, as such.)

Hungarian has no gendered pronouns, so any third person's gender remains to be guessed from the context, and the context of the poem itself can suggest either. 'Ruha'in Hungarian can mean either 'dress' or simply 'clothes'. If a suit specifically was meant, I suppose, the word 'öltöny, might have been used. Nevertheless, from the rather sinister circumstances I concluded that the figure at the tble was unlikely to be the poet's dead wife. Why would she appear in such a place, with such people?

But if it is her, if the circumstances are distressing (still within the dream / vision sphere) less through politics or society as through the mere alienation of death, then the poem takes on a darker meaning, the alienation deeper and more disturbing.

Here is the translation with altered gender:

What festival is this?

What festival is this? What is it to me,
this grey square with nothing to brighten it?
Why here precisely? Why choose the spot?
No house, no hill or valley, not a tree –
how could anyone take delight in it?

Long tables, some tents, a considerable crew
who’ve never met before, whom no-one knew.
I doubt they can hear or see me at all,
though some I faintly recognise while the rest
are strangers, each one playing a required role:
in both group I find something to detest.

My utter isolation makes me fret,
my failure to understand the place I’m in.
I don’t want to be here at all, and yet…

She’s there at the centre , her pale skin
contrasting with the dark, tight dress she's wearing.
Her gentle manner suggests a purpose of some kind.
She looks it me and I understand from her bearing
that I should go somewhere I’ve never gone before.

And I know that even if I ever did find
my way back there’d be no one here anymore.

Someone’s planning something, some cheap plot.

Maybe there’s time to stop it, maybe not.
Or should I leave now and just drop the lot?

It does make a considerable difference, doesn't it? Now we are meeting with ghosts and the strange otherness of death itself. The barren square takes on more significance.

1 comment:

Gwil W said...

Iota (85)
the George Szirtes interview
- the kettle singing