Saturday, December 16, 2017

The mountains held up the sky like pillars,
releasing plumes of pebbles, streams and silt
as far as my girlish eyes could follow,
and water drummed along hidden boulders.

It was a game to leap over rivulets,
to teeter from stone to stone in the rush,
to stroke the grey velour of polished driftwood,
to thread my fingers through the slate-grey sands.

And when I shivered in the spring breezes,
I pulled on the sleeves and buttoned the top of
a cardigan hand-knitted by my grandmother,
the day I first met a braided river.

Does a river know when it is laughing?
Are the sky's secrets swallowed by a cave?
Do the mountains patiently bide their time,
while we discover our own molten hearts?

Friday, December 15, 2017

#BiteSizeBallet No.5

Kitty Phetla, Joburg Ballet

If I were the Indian Ocean or the Atlantic Ocean, I'd sneak bits of myself up onto the back of a cloud, and whisper sweet nothings to the wind, till it gave me a ride to this show.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

all is translation (and every bit of us is lost in it)

Rilke (Leonid Pasternak, 1900)
Image credit to Wikimedia Commons


Sound, no longer measurable
with the sense of hearing. As if that tone
Outstripping us on every side
were space ripening.

--Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Edward Snow from the German original)

Lately, I've been reading a collection of translations of the poetry of Rilke by Edward Snow.

Adam Zagajewski concludes his introduction to this collection with these enigmatic statements: "The Angel is timeless, and yet his timelessness is directed against the deficiencies of a certain epoch. So is Rilke: timeless and deeply immersed in his own historic time. Not innocent though; only silence is innocent, and he still speaks to us."

As a technical translator, I am perennially concerned with the question of whether meaning has been conveyed from one language to another. The answer is rarely exact, but one is eventually arrived at by whittling away; by shuffling pieces of the puzzle around; or, sometimes, through consensus.

While savoring the renewal of my acquaintance with the poet, I was surprised to come across the fact (or to be reminded) that Rilke also wrote poems in French: 400 of them, to be precise, during the four years of his life when he was living in a French-speaking area of Switzerland. Some of these have been recently translated by Susanne Petermann in the collection, Windows; below is an excerpt from one of them:

You ask me, strange window, to wait;
already your beige curtain almost stirs.
Should I accept, O window, your invitation?
Or resist, window? Who would I wait for?

Am I not intact, with this life that listens,
with this overflowing heart that loss completes?
With this road that leads on, and the doubt
that you’d share this excess whose dream makes me stop?

--Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Susanne Petermann from the French)

Muzot Tower, where Rilke lived rent-free

Just think: without Switzerland, we would not have the Duino Elegies, or Sonnets to Orpheus. Without the kind hospitality of a friend, literary fans round the world might have been deprived of these verses. This fact did not escape one 20th century writer who wrote, while contemplating it:

Tonight in China let me think of one

Who through ten years of silence worked and waited,
Until in Muzot all his powers spoke,
And everything was given once for all.

And with the gratitude of the Completed
He went out in the winter night to stroke
That little tower like a great old animal.

--W.H. Auden

I found, and appreciated the musings of another English-speaking poet, James Merrill (1926-1995), concerning this "French" period. Below, Merrill engages in his own eloquent and rhetorical speculation on the prospect of Rilke "translating" himself:

How much of the sun-ripe original
Felicity Rilke made himself forego
(Who loved French words – verger, mûr, parfumer)
In order to render its underlying sense.
Know already in that tongue of his
What Pains, what monolithic Truths
Shadow stanza to stanza's symmetrical
Rhyme-rutted pavement. Know that ground plan left
Sublime and barren, where the warm Romance
Stone by stone faded, cooled; the fluted nouns
Made taller, lonelier than life
By leaf-carved capitals in the afterglow.
The owlet umlaut peeps and hoots
Above the open vowel. And after rain
A deep reverberation fills with stars.

Lost, is it, buried? One more missing piece?

But nothing's lost. Or else: all is translation
And every bit of us is lost in it
(Or found – I wander through the ruin of S
Now and then, wondering at the peacefulness)
And in that loss a self-effacing tree,
Color of context, imperceptibly
Rustling with its angel, turns the waste
To shade and fiber, milk and memory.

--James Merrill

Vincent van Gogh - Strohdächer in Auvers

Indeed. I would vote for enjoying the process as much as possible; not without a little help from our friends.

the song of a shell sapphire melting inside jade a color unnamed Ofra Haza's version of this song defies categoriz...

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