Saturday, 1 August 2009

Comments Sometimes Need Special Answers

I've never felt it satisfactory to reply to comments left on napple notes, by leaving a comeback in the same place! Who has time to read a post and comments for the second time, to see whether the Blog Owner has answered a question?

Many of my readers, who have supplied an alternative email address, will know I carry on conversations with them 'behind the scenes'. But occasionally, the urge to 'answer back' to a follower who remains a little incognito, is too strong to ignore.

Yesterday gave a good example. Friko said, and here I quote:-

"Poetry is so very hard to translate; who said "poetry is what gets lost in translation"? I am no poet, don't even consider myself a writer; I have, however, tried to read translations of foreign poetry to members of poetry groups who do not know the original language and it's always fallen flat. Words that can move me to tears leave them cold.
I hate that that should be so, I hate that I can't "make" others see and feel and taste and smell the poets who mean the most to me.
Oh dear, Jinksy, you have hit a nerve."

This so exactly captured the reason why I wrote out the translations as near as possible in the order of the original. And why, after Kathy B! had said:-

"This is so beautiful and the literal translation is wonderful to read.
It's interesting to read something exactly as it was intended to be
read, albeit minus some of the cadence that might have been in the
foreign, original words. Hopefully that made sense."

I emailed her this reply:-

"I could give you the gist of the rhythm of the first verse of Pastel:-

dah di di dah di di dah dah di dah
dah dah di dah di dah di dah dah
dah dah di dah di dah di di dah
dah di dah dah di di dah di dah dah

Hopefully, that makes sense, too!"

I think Friko will understand this, maybe better than anybody.

Moving from French to German for a moment, there's a verse by Goethe which etched itself in my memory, too, in some long ago German lesson. Once I'd got to Art College and discovered the delights of brush lettering, the first two lines are the ones which gave me a phrase to use in a project to practise the new skill. But that's another story. Here's the poem:-

Über allen Gipfeln
Ist Ruh',
In allen Wipfeln
Spürest Du
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur! Balde
Ruhest du auch.

I did a literal translation of this too, for somebody else, but it was less than satisfactory, as the difference in syntax between English and German destroyed the 'soul' of the poem. That's why I finally settled for this rendition:-

Peace lies over the mountains.
No movement is discernible
in the tall treetops.
Woodland birds call, then roost.
Wait patiently!
Soon peace will claim you.

And the conclusion from all of today's mitherings? I guess Weaver's prompt to explain what inspired me to write poetry, has highlighted the exact reason. It's not the beauty of any one language, but its inherent lilt and flow that captured my heart from the earliest years, when, with bombs still forming a background to life, a very special Auntie would read me the poems of Marion St John Webb and A A Milne.


  1. I'm not a huge poetry fan. I know what I like and what I don't. It's not what draws me here. I am in tremendous awe with how language can be so incredibly colourful. Playing with words is delicious. And you always play so well.

  2. I like "mitherings" although it's not in the online dictionary that I checked.

  3. Hello Jinksy,

    Thanks for the second translation of the German. There are, of course, three ways to translate a poem;
    translate the words literally, as they appear in the original and as you did for us;
    put them into more colloquial speech;
    or rewrite the poem completely using words that rhyme in the way the original does - but this could lose the subtlety and perhaps the sense of the original.
    It is a great art.

    For Anvilcloud: mither (my-ther) is a northern English verb, which means to pester or make a fuss. Children do it a lot!!

  4. I loved the last took me away, Ms P ....

  5. I have a horrible habit of not commenting back anywhere other than my own blog - Although I do try. But you are amazing with your comments and so generous with your time. Thank you

  6. Like Hilary, I know what I like and what I don't. But I get on quite well with yours Jinksy.
    Like AnvilCloud, I too love the word mitherings, an old word often used by family members.
    I never return to read responses, Jinksy, if I feel curious enough I subscribe by email.

  7. Loved this post my friend, love your honesty and loyalty....I am one of those who return to read comments...I know, I know I need to get a life....Luv ya....:-) Hugs

  8. We've carried on more than a few conversations by email. I prefer that method to checking back. I have no experience in this area of reading poetry in other languages, translating, and such; but I find the discussion fascinating.

  9. First, thanks for the lovely translation of Pastel's. And second, thanks for the discussion above. I come here to discuss poetry; and you provide such fecund ground.

  10. The whole translation thing is very interesting. I remember when I did my primary degree in philosophy having to read at least three different translations of foreign philosophers (i.e. most of them!) if I was to make any sense of their work at all.

    Don Patterson writes very interestingly on poetry in translation, he calls the translations he does 'versions'.

  11. It is very difficult to translate languages, much more difficult than anyone believes. Words can be used in so many ways and in poems of all things, the music of the words is as important, the sound, the length, the cadence, like a song. I have an old French poem from school that I always liked and I looked for a translation and did not like it at all. You may know the poem, it is by Victor Hugo called Oceano Nox and it starts:
    Oh ! combien de marins, combien de capitaines
    Qui sont partis joyeux pour des courses lointaines,
    Dans ce morne horizon se sont évanouis ?
    Combien ont disparu, dure et triste fortune ?
    Dans une mer sans fond, par une nuit sans lune,
    Sous l'aveugle océan à jamais enfoui
    The poem needs the “capitaine and lointaine” to sound good as well as the “fortune and lune”. In English it would be captain and distant courses, then fortune and moon. It just does not sound good to my ear. The rhythm to me is part of the poetry, it’s like if someone would read a page of Chopin music instead of listening to the pianist playing it. If you can read music you can maybe hear the melody in your head, but there is no comparison with the real thing.

  12. Vagabonde - I've left a reply on your blog...That way, you're fairly certain to read it! Curious people can go there to read it too. :)

  13. 'lost in translation' you said it all when you wrote it's in the 'inherent lilt and flow' of a language...

  14. I just found a new blog and thought you might like to have a look there. It is called “Poetic Shutterbug”. I enjoyed her post on the Pindaric Ode and her poem there. Go and take a look, here is the site of the post: Thanks for your visit to my blog.


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