Over lockdown, Dr Parolin introduced me to the Stephen Spender Trust’s competition for poetry in translation. I couldn’t wait to get started, as it brought together two of my favourite things: poems and foreign languages. This year, the competition had more than 1300 entries. I submitted 3 poems translated from Italian, Latin and Polish. The Trust had a separate category called the Polish Spotlight; the spotlight is a strand of the competition for the UK’s community languages. Next year, for example, they are holding an Urdu Spotlight! I was extremely happy to find out that I had been commended in the U18 Polish Spotlight for my translation of Adam Zagajewski’s ‘I dlatego’! As a result, I was given the opportunity to attend a brilliant poetry workshop, with award winning poet Kate Clanchy. I also got be a part of an online awards’ evening on the 18th November. It was such a great experience, and I would urge anyone with an interest in MFL to enter next year.
|I dlatego – Adam Zagajewski||And that’s why – translation by Skye Slatcher|
| I dlatego chodziłem korytarzami|
Tych wielkich muzeów
Patrząc na obrazy świata
Na których Dawid jest niewinny jak harcerz
Goliat zasługuje na nikczemną śmierć
A na płótnach Rembrandta panuje wieczny
Półmrok niepokoju i skupienia
I przechodziłem od sali do sali
Podziwiając portrety cynicznych
W rzymskiej purpurze
Ekstatyczne chłopskie wesela
Namiętnych graczy w karty albo w kości
Oglądając żaglowce bitwy i chwile
I dlatego chodziłem korytarzami
Tych sławnych muzeów tych nieziemskich
Próbując zrozumieć ofiarę Izaaka
Smutek Marii i pogodne niebo nad
I zawsze wracałem na wielkomiejską
Gdzie wciąż trwały szaleństwo cierpienie i
Jeszcze nie namalowane.
And that’s why I walked the corridors
Of these big museums
Looking at paintings of the world
On which David is as innocent as a boy scout
And Goliath deserves fate worse than death
Or on Rembrandt’s canvases an eternal dusk reigns
A dusk of anxiety and focus
And I walked hall to hall
Admiring the portraits of cynical
In Roman purple
Joyous peasant weddings
Passionate players of cards or dice
Looking at sailing battles and moments of reconciliation
And that’s why I walked the corridors
Of these famous museums of these unearthly palaces
Trying to understand Isaac’s sacrifice
Mary’s sorrow and the serene skies over the Seine
And I always returned to the metropolitan streets
Where the chaos suffering and laughter continued –
Not yet painted.
In these peculiar times of isolation and social-distancing, one form of entertainment I have found particularly comforting is a virtual museum or art gallery tour. So, when I was browsing the curated selection of poetry for the Polish Spotlight, and came across ‘I dlatego’ by Adam Zagajewski, I knew I had to choose it. It reflects on the beauty of paintings, concluding with a memorable statement about our lives, ‘not yet painted’.
One challenge I faced, while translating, was retaining the tone that Zagajewski introduces. The poem has a sort of reminiscent, contemplative mood; keeping this was very important. Therefore, I tried to stay as close as possible to the exact imagery in the original, as this plays a key part in setting the atmosphere.
I found that ‘panuje’ was a difficult word to translate, on line 6. ‘Panuje’ can mean ‘there is’, however I didn’t think that this was the best translation – I wanted to ensure the line was as poetic in English as in Polish. I chose to use the verb ‘reigns’ instead, as this maintains prominence of the dusk in the Rembrandt painting.
Often, we see Zagajewski using alliteration, for example /p/ on line 6. I decided that I would not keep this in my version, because I couldn’t find the appropriate words to fit both the tone of the poem and the repetition of a letter.
I think that the poem in its entirety poses a challenge to the translator as well as the reader. Zagajewski leaves the reason for the speaker’s journey through the museum to the imagination. He/she could be looking for inspiration, an escape from reality. To me, however, it speaks of searching for something in a painting that he is missing in his own life, a sense of peace and tranquillity.
|Auschwitz – Salvatore Quasimodo||Auschwitz – translation by Skye Slatcher|
|Laggiù, ad Auschwitz, lontano dalla Vistola,|
amore, lungo la pianura nordica,
in un campo di morte: fredda, funebre,
la pioggia sulla ruggine dei pali
e i grovigli di ferro dei recinti:
e non albero o uccelli nell’aria grigia
o su dal nostro pensiero, ma inerzia
e dolore che la memoria lascia
al suo silenzio senza ironia o ira.
|There, at Auschwitz, far from the Vistula,|
My love, on the northern plain,
In a field of death: frore, funereal,
The rain on the rusted posts
And the tangled iron of the fences:
And not a tree, not a bird in the grey air,
Or above our thoughts, but passivity
And pain, which memory abandons
To its silence, without irony, without anger.
| Tu non vuoi elegie, idilli: solo|
ragioni della nostra sorte, qui,
tu, tenera ai contrasti della mente,
incerta a una presenza
chiara della vita. E la vita è qui,
in ogni no che pare una certezza:
qui udremo piangere l’angelo il mostro
le nostre ore future
battere l’al di là, che è qui, in eterno
e in movimento, non in un’immagine
di sogni, di possibile pietà.
E qui le metamorfosi, qui i miti.
Senza nome di simboli o d’un dio,
sono cronaca, luoghi della terra,
sono Auschwitz, amore. Come subito
si mutò in fumo d’ombra
il caro corpo d’Alfeo e d’Aretusa!
|You do not want elegies, nor idylls: only|
A reason for our fate, here,
You, sensitive to the conflicts of the mind,
Unsure of a clear presence
Of life. And life is here,
In every ‘no’ that appears a certainty:
Here, we can hear the crying of an angel, the monster,
The hours of our future
Beating at the beyond, which is here, in the eternity,
And in motion, not in a vision
Of dreams of possible pity.
And here are the metamorphoses, here are the myths.
Without the names of symbols or gods,
These are chronicles, places on earth,
These are Auschwitz, my love. Just as suddenly
The dear bodies of Alpheus and Arethusa
Were changed into the smoke of shades!
| Da quell’inferno aperto da una scritta|
bianca: ” Il lavoro vi renderà liberi ”
uscì continuo il fumo
di migliaia di donne spinte fuori
all’alba dai canili contro il muro
del tiro a segno o soffocate urlando
misericordia all’acqua con la bocca
di scheletro sotto le doccie a gas.
Le troverai tu, soldato, nella tua
storia in forme di fiumi, d’animali,
o sei tu pure cenere d’Auschwitz,
medaglia di silenzio?
|From that hell, opened by a white|
Inscription: ‘Arbeit macht frei’
The continuous smoke spewed out,
That of thousands of women pushed out
At dawn from the kennels, into the wall
Of execution, or suffocated, screaming
For mercy in the water with mouths
Like skeletons under the showers of gas.
You will discover them, soldier, in your
History, in the shape of rivers, creatures,
Or are you, too, ashes of Auschwitz,
Medal of silence?
| Restano lunghe trecce chiuse in urne|
di vetro ancora strette da amuleti
e ombre infinite di piccole scarpe
e di sciarpe d’ebrei: sono reliquie
d’un tempo di saggezza, di sapienza
dell’uomo che si fa misura d’armi,
sono i miti, le nostre metamorfosi.
|Long tresses rest enclosed in urns|
Of glass, still bound by amulets,
And the endless shadows of little shoes,
And Jewish shawls; they are relics
Of a time of wisdom, of knowledge
Of a man measured by arms
They are the myths, they are our metamorphoses.
| Sulle distese dove amore e pianto|
marcirono e pietà, sotto la pioggia,
laggiù, batteva un no dentro di noi,
un no alla morte, morta ad Auschwitz,
per non ripetere, da quella buca
di cenere, la morte.
|On the expanses, where love and tears|
And pity rot in the rain,
There, a ‘No’ pounding within us,
A ‘No’ to death, dead at Auschwitz,
Not to repeat, from that pit
Of ashes, death.
Auschwitz by Quasimodo tells the reader of the horrors of the Holocaust. I decided to translate this poem, because, having visited Auschwitz myself, it was one I felt the most connection to. While I cannot imagine the terrible things he went through, I walked the same path as he would have, and I saw the same watchtowers and ‘tangled iron of the fences’. The poem is filled with metaphors, for example Alpheus and Arethusa, which is a reference to classical mythology, not surprising considering Quasimodo’s background in Latin and Greek translation, and creates an extremely moving atmosphere.
During the process of translation, I did face some challenges, for example the translation of ‘un campo’. In Italian, this can be interpreted as both a field and a concentration camp. While in the context of Auschwitz, concentration camp may have been the most obvious choice, I chose field, because, in the Italian, Quasimodo creates the assonance of f (‘fredda, funebre’) and I wanted to keep this. It also continues the image of the ‘plain’. Similarly, I chose ‘frore’ rather than ‘cold’ for ‘fredda’, as it used the f and sounded more poetic.
Lines 25-26 were also a challenge, due to the difference of word order in Italian and English. I chose therefore to switch the lines to ensure that my translation didn’t sound like an originally English poem.
Another difficult decision I had to make was the translation of ‘muro del tiro a segno’, which is literally ‘wall of target practice’, though this is not poetic and ‘practice’ sounded like the Nazis could miss or let people live, and this was not the case. I chose ‘the wall of execution’, because, although I lose Quasimodo’s metaphor, it is brutally direct, which was my intention, and it doesn’t take away from the meaning.