Foreword

 

In this issue, we are introducing poems from Asia, South America, and Europe and dedicate it to sound. The most obvious implication of the theme is through a broad spectrum of perspectives. After putting the poems altogether, we realized that two common threads can be highlighted. First, sound gives life to poetry, evolves with it, and ultimately has the power to silence it. Second, sound’s permanent presence in poetry ultimately mirrors its constancy in life, playing a crucial part in the exploration of existence at its different stages.

Readers will encounter how sound in Portuguese is both corporeal and emotional, as a way to channel one’s concerns on pregnancy, motherhood, love, and fear. Whereas in Italian, sound represents the collective memory of people joined by traditions, landscapes, and a common history of memory and dialects. Similarly – yet from a completely different angle – sound in Peruvian Spanish also becomes a question of identity and a reiteration of an origin to be found through emotions. From an opposite starting point, sound in India paradoxically explores its own denial: the sound of the inanimate world; while sound in Colombian Spanish is also raised as the concern of its own destruction: what happens after silence?

On the other, some of the poems in this issue also explore the importance of sound as an inextricable formal aspect of poetry and, therefore, as an exploration of one’s own language. In Bulgarian, sound as the legacy of Symbolism becomes a synonym of repetition, memory, and meaning; while in Russian the tradition and evolution of an entire language is traced through the significance of rhyme.

Finally, this issue also proposes another interpretation of sound in poetry, with two homophonic translations from Catalan and Portuguese into Spanish and English as a way to explore the relationship between sound and meaning as well as the limits of a poem’s territory, that is, the paradox that a text’s own borders -it’s own words- are also the gaps which allow a never-ending process of rewriting.

As usual, we publish work in both the original language as well as the English translation. As we have done in previous issues, we have brought work from well-known classic writers as well as unpublished poetry from the new generations of writers across many languages. We believe that the fewer the editorial boundaries, the richer the exchange, and in order to truly become a space of pure poetry (that is, regardless of language, origin, or time), the work of young poets must be put in contact with that of classic or more traditional authors from other cultures.

Bulgaria

Nikolai Liliev
1918

Тихият пролетен дъжд

Тихият пролетен дъжд
звънна над моята стряха,
с тихия пролетен дъжд
колко надежди изгряха!

Тихият пролетен дъжд
слуша земята и тръпне,
тихият пролетен дъжд
пролетни приказки шъпне.

В тихия пролетен дъжд
сълзи, възторг и уплаха,
с тихия пролетен дъжд
колко искрици изтляха!

Retrieved from public domain


The Gentle Spring Rain

The gentle spring rain
Rang above my roof,
With the gentle spring rain,
Myriad dreams arose!

The gentle spring rain
Hears the earth and quivers,
The gentle spring rain
Whispers tales of renewal.

In the gentle spring rain
Tears, rapture and freight;
With the gentle spring rain,
Myriad sparks quietly died!


Perhaps one of the most notable aspects of Nikolai Liliev’s symbolist poetry is the musicality of his language and style, as well as the ways in which the poet effortlessly brings forth the most mellifluous aspects of Bulgarian itself. While symbolist poetry fundamentally subscribes to an aesthetic paradigm of musicality in its form and, frequently, content, Liliev’s euphonic oeuvre stands in a category of its own. Despite the fact that other poets’ pieces have been deemed manifestos of the Bulgarian symbolist movement, Liliev is acknowledged as one of the most prominent literary figures of the period. Liliev’s verse is concise and economic, yet it carries a dense amount of meaning, sound and elegance of form and expression. The combinations of consonants in Liliev’s tropes and the repetitions of key lines further emphasize the musicality of both his poetry and the Bulgarian language in general.

One of the most challenging aspects in translating any of Liliev’s poems is to preserve the balance between their musicality, rhythm, sound and the refined literary style the poet uses, while staying within the boundaries of five to seven syllables in each verse. Another challenging aspect of the translation is rendering into English the synecdoche of the roof/rooftop (stryaha), which is inextricably associated in Bulgarian tradition with one’s home. Liliev’s language is literary, elegant and compact; it remains firmly grounded in the concrete, material world and reality without metaphysical elements, but it still encapsulates more transcendental nuances in its sound qualities.

Nikolai Liliev (an artistic pseudonym of Nikolai Popivanov) was a Bulgarian Symbolist poet, playwright, teacher and a journalist. Born in 1885 in the town of Stara Zagora, Liliev became an orphan early on in his life. Liliev studied literature in Lausanne and trade in Paris before returning to Bulgaria and dedicating himself to a literary and teaching career. He authored several poetic collections and cycles, including Birds in the Night (1918) and Lunar Speckles (1922).

Prepared by Miroslava Nikolova

Colombia

Yulieth Mora
2017

Última palabra

Nunca había sentido tanto
tanto ruido
como antes de que dijeras
la última palabra.

Desde entonces, advierto como suena
el fuego antes que se encienda
la carne veloz a punto de golpear el agua
una palma en dirección a mi mejilla.

Aunque digan que el rayo
es más rápido que el trueno
desde esa vez
yo puedo sentir el ruido antes.

Ahora todo es un escándalo
una escalera deslizándose en el borde
un plato girando en el aire
el zapato listo para pisar las hojas secas.

Ayer por ejemplo todo se hizo antes
un cristal explotó sin que la bala lo cruzara
el aguacero desgranó con apenas ver la nube negra
brilló el fragor de lo que nunca te dije
y el chasquido del beso que estuvimos por darmos.

Nunca había sentido tanto
tanto ruido
dentro mío
como al presentir
tu última palabra.


Last Word

I had never felt this much
much noise
as I did before you said
the last word.

Since then, I notice the sound
of fire before it lights
the hasty flesh about to hit the water
a palm approaching my cheek.

Though they say that lightning
is faster than thunder
since it happened
I can feel the noise first.

Now everything is scandalous
a ladder sliding on the edge
a plate spinning in the air
the shoe willing to step on dry leaves.

For instance, yesterday everything came before
the crystal burst before the bullet hit
a look at the black cloud gushed the pouring rain
the roar of what I never told you shone
along with the snap of a soon-to-be kiss.

I had never felt this much
much noise
inside
as when I sensed
your last word.


Yulieth Mora is a journalist and writer born in Bogotá, Colombia in 1992. She belongs to one of the most recent generations of graduates from the program in Creative Writing of Universidad Central, in Bogotá, and her short story “Perro negro” (“Black Dog”) recently received an honorable mention by the Colombian Ministry of Culture. Her poem “Última palabra” (“Last Word”) proposes an imagery of sound, silence, time, and asynchrony: a last word that is said; the infinite words that, by definition, are not said after that last word; and the subsequent product of silence: the asynchrony between image, time, and sound that occurs thereafter.

One of the most conspicuous challenges in the translation of this poem is the repetition of words in the first stanza, which, itself, is a repeated stanza within the poem. The Spanish word “tanto” is a comparative adjective that does not have a single-word equivalent in English. In English, “tanto” must be translated as two words, either as an adjective or an adverb, depending on whether it refers to a time period or the quantity of something. The resonance of the first and last stanzas in the poem -one about sound, precisely- lies heavily on the repetition of this sole word, whose exact translation in English, in this case, would be “so much”. Given the difficulty of maintaining the original poem’s light sonorous effect (tanto / tanto ruido) with the repetition of a two-word clause in English (“so much / so much noise”), I opted for the adverbial sense of the word “this.” Though it adds a deictic nuance that is not originally found, this sense of the word is normally used in negative sentences, and so appropriately fits a stanza about the denial of words and future silence.

Prepared by Nicolás Barbosa López

Iberia

Fernando Pessoa (Alberto Caeiro)
“Poemas Inconjuntos”, Athena, n.º 5. Lisbon: 1925.

Se depois de eu morrer, quiserem escrever a minha biografia,
Não há nada mais simples
Tem só duas datas – a da minha nascença e a da minha morte.
Entre uma e outra coisa todos os dias são meus.

Sou fácil de definir.
Vi como um danado.
Amei as cousas sem sentimentalidade nenhuma.
Nunca tive um desejo que não pudesse realizar, porque nunca ceguei.
Mesmo ouvir nunca foi para mim senão um acompanhamento de ver.

Compreendi que as cousas são reais e todas diferentes umas das outras;
Compreendi isto com os olhos, nunca com o pensamento.
Compreender isto com o pensamento seria achá-las todas iguais.

Um dia deu-me o sono como a qualquer criança.
Fechei os olhos e dormi.
Além disso, fui o único poeta da Natureza.


If, once I die, they want to write my biography,
There is nothing more simple
There are only two dates: my birth and my death.
Between one and the other every day is mine.

It is easy to define me.
I saw like a damned man.
I loved things with no sentimentality.
I never had hopes that I could not accomplish, because I was never dazzled.
To me even listening was but a complement of seeing.
I realized that things are real and all different from one another;
I realized this with my eyes, never with my thought.
Realizing this with my thought would have meant finding them all the same.

One day I felt sleepy like any child would.
I shut my eyes and slept.
Besides this, I was Nature’s only poet.

Prepared by Nicolás Barbosa López


Si después de morir, quisieran escribir mi biografía
nula, nada me hará simple.
Tengo su dúo de datos: dominios densos y dominios muertos.
Entre una y otra cosa, todos los días son míos.

Son fáciles de definir.
Vi como un condenado.
Amé mis cosas sin sentimentalismo ninguno.
Nunca tengo un deseo que nunca pueda realizar porque nunca fui ciego.
Mas mover nunca fue para mí un acompañamiento de ver.
Comprendí qué cosas son reales y todas diferentes unas de otras.
Comprendí tus consejos, nunca con pensamientos.
Comprendí que con pensamientos, sería todo igual.

Un día de los sanos como cualquier creencia:
un fuerte ojo a dormir.
Alguien dice que fui el único poeta de la naturaleza.


If after dying, they would want to write my biography
void, nothing would make me simple.
I have its duo of data: dense knowledge and dead knowledge.
Between one and the other, all the days are mine.

They are easy to define.
I see like a condemned man.
I loved my things without any sentimentality.
I never have a desire I could not achieve because I was never blind.
But moving was never for me an accompaniment of seeing.
I understood what things are real and all different from one another.
I understood I understood your advice, never with thoughts.
I understood that with thoughts, everything would be the same.

One day of sanity like any belief:
a strong eye to sleep.
Someone says that I was Nature’s only poet.

Prepared by Mai Hunt


Alberto Caeiro is one of Fernando Pessoa’s three main heteronyms (fictional authors with literary styles, influences, and even biographies of their own), along with Ricardo Reis and Álvaro de Campos. In fact, the Portuguese poet acknowledged Caeiro as the master of them all, even of Pessoa himself, in a make-belief literary universe that he called drama em gente (a “drama in people”, instead of one “in acts”). In a 1935 letter written shortly before he passed away, Pessoa mentioned that Caeiro appeared as a full character and author in a “triumphal day” of March 1914, when over 30 poems, perfectly written and finished, spontaneously emerged in a writing frenzy. Although recent philological work proved this to be just another in Pessoa’s fictitious universe (Pessoa, in fact, rewrote many of the poems long after 1914, even after Caeiro’s death in 1915), this myth of poetic creation shows how Caeiro was, paradoxically, regarded as a god-like figure by his creator-disciple. This poem presents one of the most representative themes in Caeiro’s poetry: the intercession of senses between men and reality, as opposed to any interpretation mediated by rational thought.

Prepared by Nicolás Barbosa López


It is often believed that homophonic translations are successfully achieved only between languages belonging to the same linguistic family. With Pessoa, we have attempted a homophonic translation from Portuguese to Spanish, both romance languages. The Spanish translation was done blindly, that is to say, based entirely off a reading of the Portuguese with no prior knowledge of the poem. The likeness of the two versions speaks to the etymological relationship between the two languages. With the dual English translations, we hope to provide readers with a side-by-side comparison of the translations to show how they line up both phonetically and semantically. Notable differences in the two versions that open up room for discussion and interpretation include, first, the movement from ceguei to ciego, suggestive of the blinding effect of dazzlement: mesmerization that consumes and corrupts. Ouvir changes to mover, begging the question, is sight born from sound or from action? Lastly, is the sleepy sensation of a child the true sign of a sane man? These questions challenge us to read and reread —to understand but also to doubt— how we approach foreign language poetry, and more importantly, to see the value in cross-cultural and multilingual dialogues.

Prepared by Mai Hunt

India

Harivansh Rai Bachchan
आज मुझसे बोल, बादल! ,~1930

आज मुझसे बोल, बादल!

तम भरा तू, तम भरा मैं,
ग़म भरा तू, ग़म भरा मैं,
आज तू अपने हृदय से हृदय मेरा तोल, बादल
आज मुझसे बोल, बादल!

आग तुझमें, आग मुझमें,
राग तुझमें, राग मुझमें,
आ मिलें हम आज अपने द्वार उर के खोल, बादल
आज मुझसे बोल, बादल!

भेद यह मत देख दो पल-
क्षार जल मैं, तू मधुर जल,
व्यर्थ मेरे अश्रु, तेरी बूंद है अनमोल, बादल
आज मुझसे बोल, बादल!

Harivansh Rai Bachchan, कविताएँ बच्चन कीं चयन अमिताभ बच्चन का, Bhartiya Jnanpith, Delhi, 2012, p. 23


Talk to me today, clouds!

Filled with darkness are you, filled with darkness am I,
Filled with sorrow are you, filled with sorrow am I,
Today weigh out your heart against my heart, cloud
Today you with your heart weigh it against mine
Talk to me today, clouds!

Fire inside you, fire inside me,
Melody inside you, melody inside me,
Come let’s meet today with our doors open, cloud
Talk to me today, clouds!

Don’t see these differences for a moment-
I am salty water, you are sweet water,
Worthless is my tear, precious is your drop,
Talk to me today, clouds!

Translated by Mehak Burza


The poem is written by Harivansh Rai Bachchan, father of the famous Bollywood celebrity Amitabh Bachchan. When it comes to introduction, Harivansh Rai Bachchan (1907-2003) needs none. Writing majorly as a rebellious poet of the Nayi Kavita literary movement in the early decades of the twentieth century, his writings are considered a landmark in the domain of Hindi literature as they explore a myriad of themes.

Sound is often the most powerful device for expressing emotions. It however is accompanied with different emotional connotations. Some are in the habit of blurting out their emotional feelings, which manifests in ways such as singing or expressing themselves aloud. Others prefer to be surrounded by silence, which surprisingly holds meaning for them. Yet others try and find an objective correlative, which for them is the formula for their silence. Such is the thematic concern of the above poem.

The poet here is in the epitome of his silence. His gloomy and sullen mood finds sudden a parallel in an inanimate object – the clouds. The poet pleads to the clouds to speak to him, which will lift up his mood. Highlighting the objective correlativeness of their situation, the poet speaks of the similarities between them reflecting in darkness, sorrow, fire and melody. He further requests the clouds not to see the differences between them and sees himself as salty water with worthless tears. The poet wants an emotional unison between him and the clouds; a unison triggered by their silences. The poet therefore beseeches the clouds to speak to him (in any form), a sign,
which will ease him from his present state of awkward silence. This thus becomes the poet’s only way of expressing his emotion, which here is silence.

Prepared by Mehak Burza

Italy

Giuseppe Masini
1999

INVERNI

A la matina, verzendo la porta
te vedei na roba quasi de incanto,
che e faséa desmentegar fredo
e pensieri: sui rami calinverna
come se fate e maghi ne la note
avesse doparà fili d’argento
par ricamar i disegni piu béi
e darghe vita nova ai rami sechi
di àlbari che gh’era dapartuto.
Dai copi de le case candeloti
tondi de giazzo, che paréa cane
d’organo pronte a sonar na musica
de quele de Nadal o de carneval.
Sui fianchi de le strade o ni fossi,
soto seràie querte de lustrini,
l’acqua giazzà paréa invitarne
a metar da na parte le cartéle
con i so libri par far sbrissiaròle
dove le sgiàvare con le so sole
de legno piene de broche volava
come le fusse patini d’argento:
el fià se giazzava su boche e nasi,
un rugolòn ogni tanto, ma l’era
un gran divertimento, che qualche olta
ne faséa passar de mente scola
e maestri e anca la paura
de qualche scopazzòn tra copa e col.
Rivà la sera, intorno al fogolàr,
paràimo via el fredo del giorno,
con le buganze che le ne sfogàva
ni diéi gonfi, magnandone tochi
de fogazzìn che la mama avéa coto
nel tèsto soto la ҫénar, scoltando
le bele fole che la ne contava
con la so voҫe tranquila la nona
fin che la ne giustava braghe e calze.

L’Approdo, 1999, p. 118


WINTERS

In the morning, opening the door,
you could see something enchanting,
that made you forget the cold
and your troubles: rime on the boughs
as if fairies and wizards, over night
had used silver strings
to embellish the most beautiful paintings
and give new life to the dry branches
of all the trees one could see.
From the roofs, crystals of ice
like candles and
organ-pipes ready to play carols
or carnival songs.
Along the road and in the canals,
under shining covers
the frozen water seemed to welcome you
to put aside schoolbags
and all the books to slide on the ice
where our shoes
made with wood slippered
as if they were silver ice skates:
our breath froze on our mouths and noses,
a sudden fall, but it was
great joy, and sometimes
it made us completely forget about school
and teachers and even of the fear
of being in trouble.
At night, sitting close to the fire,
we fought the cold of the day,
and frostbites
on our hands, by eating good pieces
of the cake mum had cooked
in the ashes, while listening
to those nice tales that grandma
with her tranquil voice
while mending socks and pants told us.


Giuseppe Masini was born in Bovolone, in the region of Veneto, northeast of Italy. He spent his entire life in that place, the area of the Po river valley, that he loved very much. He was a high school professor of Italian for several years and mayor of Bovolone. During his life, he published two poetry collections, L’attesa (1983) and L’approdo (1984). The poem here presented is from his first collection. Giuseppe Masini wrote part of his poems in Italian and part in the dialect that people who live in Bovolone and surroundings speak.

There are numerous dialects in Italy. They follow different phonetic rules and have diverse vocabulary. Each region of Italy has its own dialects; they are many and vary from place to place. Like traditional meals, dialects are part of the collective memory of communities. Strings of memories keep together dialects and food tradition, landscape and history of the places where they are spoken.

In the poem Inverni, there are two words that exemplify this bound. Years ago, winters were rigid in the North East of Italy, humid and cold. The “calinverna” is the frost that covers everything during the night and shines in the sunlight. The standard Italian (non dialect) word for it is “galaverna.” The number of syllables does not vary from the first word to the second, but there are variations in the consonants and in their phonetics. Another word that specifically belong to the dialect spoken in the area of Bovolone is “fogazzìn.” A “fogazzìn” is similar to a doughnut in the shape but it is not fried. Fogazzìn comes from the Italian word “focaccia,” which, unlike the “fogazzìn,” can generally be either salty or sweet. Further examples of words in dialect that completely differ from Italian language are: seràie and sgiàvare. In Italian, these words respectively correspond to: lastre (sheets) and zoccoli (clogs).

Like a picture, this poem captures images of collective memory. It creates a string of remembrances that the inhabitants of Bovolone and surroundings can follow back and forth, connecting the past and the present of Italian cultural traits. Each dialect is the shared memory of a community. Because they convey memory and sense of belonging, dialects survive among Italian communities abroad as well.

Prepared by Leonora Masini

Portugal

Sandra Santos
2017

as mães movimentam os maiores medos
como quem domestica vulcões
que se adensam pela vida
dos filhos adentro,
ressoando labaredas
torpedos titânicos;
agarrando o coração
pela corda inquietada da mulher
os filhos esgravatam rochedos
arquitectam chegar-lhe perto
em vão a vida voa
parece fugir-lhes do peito
o vagar a vontade
esgotam-se-lhes as palavras
os gestos calados
trovejando no ventre
a maravilhosa possibilidade
do amor ser um éter
amniótico caótico
habitando, maternal, a eternidade.


mothers agitate their biggest fears
as if taming volcanoes
that stiffen deep inside
the life of their children,
resonating flares
titanic torpedoes
holding the heart
by the woman’s distressed cord
the children scrape rocks
they plot an approach
and life flies in vain
like escaping from their chest
wandering at will
with words exhausted
quiet gestures
that thunder in the womb
the wonderful possibility
that love be an ether
amniotic chaotic
inhabiting, maternally, eternity.


Sandra Santos is a poet, writer, and translator from Portugal born in 1994. She holds a B.A. in Languages and International Relations from Universidade do Porto and is currently getting her Master’s degree in Editorial Studies at the Universidade de Aveiro. As a translator, she has published her work in Portugal, Spain, and Latin America, working back and forth in Portuguese, Spanish, and English. Her own poetic work can be found online at: http://sandrasantos-ss.blogspot.pt/.

In this poem, Santos explores the relationship between sound, motherhood, and the body. Her writing is constantly marked by the inclusion of violent interruption, both phonetic and semantically. Her verses are composed of images rather than syntactically complete sentences, thus meaning is at times more ambiguous than precise, and most verses are made up of no more than three or four words. Despite the difficulty of attaining the same level of accuracy when a word-by-word translation is not possible in most cases, the poem’s tendency toward interruption -overall- also made an English translation smoother than usual, given that the English language (more than Portuguese) allows for shorter words and beats. In other words, it was possible to maintain a similar rhythm and acoustic of briefness, sometimes even managing to replicate a word accent or syllable count (as in the last verse “habitando, maternal, a eternidade.” that becomes, also leveraged on an etymological proximity, an acoustically close “inhabiting, maternally, eternity.”).

Prepared by Nicolás Barbosa López

Peru

Mateo Díaz Choza
Libro de la enfermedad, 2015

Monólogo de Saúl

¿Quién pulsa y tañe el río
que nace de una cuerda yerta, el dulce
almíbar derramado sobre el cuenco
de mis oídos, y la pena oculta
de mi frente? ¿Quién pasma
la lágrima en su umbral, y da reposo
al negro día y a la blanca noche?
¿Quién hace tanta bulla, tan sublime,
que el bálsamo regala del olvido
y a la madera sabe enamorar
para que diga lo que fue vedado
desde siempre a los hombres?
¿Quién es el que me engaña y no suelta
las amarras que todavía atan
la barca a la ribera,
el agua a su orilla? ¿Cuáles manos
aprehenden el silencio,
mientras trinan sobre el rumor extraño
las voces ignorantes del sosiego?
¿Quién eres que si callas
en piedra y polvo truecas la floresta,
hiel el vino, cadalso la alborada,
ahora que mi dios me ha abandonado?

Libro de la enfermedad. Paracaídas Editores, 2015, pp. 23.


Monologue of Saul

Who plucks and strums the river
that is born from a stiff cord, the sweet
syrup spilled over the hollow
of my ears, and hides sorrow
from my face? Who suprizes
the tear in its threshold and gives repose
to the day black and the night white?
Who makes such a noise, so sublime,
that gifts the balm of oblivion
and enamors the wood
so that it says what was sealed
forever to men?
Who is he that deceives me and does not
release the ties that still bind
the rowboat to the shore,
to water to its bank? What hands
seize the silence,
while trilling over the strange murmur
the ignorant voices of the serene?
Who are you that if silent
into stone and dust you change the forest,
bile the wine, gallows the dawn,
now that my God has abandoned me?


Mateo Díaz Choza (1989), is a Peruvian poet from Lima. The poem “Monólogo de Saúl” comes from his collection, Libro de Enfermedad. Díaz has been recognized for his writing with the Juegos Florales de Barranco prize in 2013. His opus also includes his collection Av. Palomo (2013). He is currently a PhD student in the Department of Hispanic Studies at Brown University, having previously received a B.A. in Peru studying Latin American Literature. His current interests include the relationship between religious discourse, utopia and fundamentalism within the Latin American narrative throughout the 20th and 21st century.

Díaz’s poem draws into the spotlight the biblical conflict between Saul and David. David, having killed Goliath is brought to King Saul, who rewards David by making him chief of his army and inviting him to stay in the royal palace. David, a skilled musician, falls into danger when Saul grows jealous if his ability to play the lire, and subsequently attempts, and fails, to kill David. The narrative voice, understood as Saul himself, speaks to David, entranced and intrigued by the sound of his music, which plays upon a series of paradoxes that demonstrate the power of music over the soul and over nature. Music can free us like a boat cast off to the sea, bring about calm, while still holding the ability to provoke sorrow or unease. Sound itself is power, the ultimate prize David holds, but Saul covets.

Prepared by Mai Hunt

Russia

Osip Mandelstam
~1909

Muzyka tvoikh shagov

Музыка твоих шагов
В тишине лесных снегов,

И, как медленная тень,
Ты сошла в морозный день.

Глубока, как ночь, зима,
Снег висит как бахрома.

Ворон на своем суку
Много видел на веку.

А встающая волна
Набегающего сна

Вдохновенно разобьет
Молодой и тонкий лед,

Тонкий лед моей души —
Созревающий в тиши.

Retrieved from public domain


The refrain of your steps

The refrain of your steps
Through the silence of the forest snows

Like a gentle shadow makes its way,
You descended on a frosty day.

The wintertime as deep as night,
Like a crown, the snow hangs tight.

While perched upon its shoot, the crow
Has watched the ages come and go

But now a rising wave will come
And bring with it imminent sleep

And with exhilaration breach
the fragile, undeveloped ice

The tender ice that shrouds my soul —
Maturing in the silent whole.

Translated by Alexander Dumanis and Natalia Vygovskaia


Osip Mandelstam’s poetic language is famous for multiple alliterations, original rhythmic patterns and delicate embroidery of images – shadows of the palimpsestic past where Greek and Roman poetic tradition would converge with the Golden age of the Russian verse. His tragic fate as of many independent thinkers perished in the labor camp under Stalin’s regime adds a tragic connotation to his personality (His short epigram about Stalin is generally considered the one to blame for his exile and camp imprisonment).

Mandelstam wrote the poem when he was 18. He took some classes in poetry at that time and had been exploring the possibilities of the poetic meter. ‘’The refrain of your steps’’ renders the lightness of being of a young man falling in love, mastering new poetic tools to express himself, searching for landmarks of his uniqueness. Music, in other words, rhythm of the poem is accompanied by the choree metric foot – the poet describes life of his soul by sounding a winter day in the snow forest. Natural landscape becomes the setting to find the way to speak about maturing and love. What is spectacular about it is that the meter literally renders the steps of the poet’s love strolling in the winter forest. This physicality creates a mesmerizing effect when the reader can hear not only the music of the steps but also the poet’s spiritual change.

The translation of the poem required much attention to its rhythm and rhyming so that it was as close to the original one as possible and was able to render its acoustic enchantment.

Prepared by Natalia Vygovskaia

Spain

Maria Mercè Marçal
Desglaç, 1984-1988

La mort t’ha fet escac i mat sense retop.
I de retop a mi, des del fons del mirall
que se m’encara, clos: no hi val amagatall.
Em sé arrapats al coll els tentacles del pop.

Sento l’udol del ca i el plany del llop.
El galop desbocat de l’hora i el cavall
del record que ens calciga, ja ni cassigall
del que fórem, i el glaç que ens colga cóp a cóp.

No sé sortir d’aquest carrer tallat
a sang pel mur on les ombres m’endolen
i on estrafaig només ganyotes de penjat.

I on et veig, cec als dies que s’escolen
sense donar-nos treva, en el tauler marcat
de la Mort, que ens ha fet escac i mat.

LLengua Abolida: Poesía Compelta. Editorial Planeta, S.A.U., 2017.


Amor that fakes an escape taps sincere atop
the re-tapping at me that affronts a mirror.
My encampment closes, evil amalgamates.
Insincere parts call the tentacles of the Pope.

Sent to move delicately the planned job.
The gallop dislocates the hour availed
that records this calcite, cast
into the forum, the glass that ends coldly: cop-a-cop.

Nonsense sorts, or acts on retaliation,
a sound demurs someday undulating
and on extra facts a mess, damage of penchant.

On the verge, sickles steers second
a sense donates a tremble, in the tall market
of Amor that fakes an escape image.


Maria Mercè Marçal (1952 -1998) was a Catalan poet, professor, writer and translator. Born under the Franco regime, Marçal grew up in a time of political and social unrest. Her work is particularly interesting given this context because the language of Catalan was banned under Franco, who advocated a pure and singular definition of Spanish national identity. Her most iconic verses played a vital role as mantras supporting the leftist feminist movement in Catalonia. Aside from her poetry, Marçal also translated many texts into Catalan. She died of cancer at the age of 45.

Homophonic translations —translations that aim to transmit sound rather than meaning only— can be found most notably in Louis Zukofsky’s translations of the poetry of Catullus, which when read in English, mimic the reading of the original Latin. Marçal presents a curious case for homophonic translation given that within the poem itself, she plays with assonance, alliteration and repetition in a way that makes relaying the play on sound an exciting game for both translator and reader. For that reason, I have only attempted to convey sound, though homophonic translations would ideally translate both sound and meaning. Even more intriguing is the way that the Catalan mort (death) becomes Amor (love) in the translation, inviting readers to question their understanding of finality and birth.

Prepared by Mai Hunt