As far as I can go, for now (or half a spring).

I’ve written here before about the joys and challenges of translating poetry, and I’ve recently been having another attempt at a few pieces by Eugenio Montale.

I’m very pleased that one of my translations will be published in the spring edition of the excellent New Walk magazine, and others will appear in the on-line publication The High Window at some point, the editors having a strong interest in translation and in Montale in particular.

I am a novice at translation, and even Montale’s short poems are extremely rich in reference and offer several possible interpretations of the Italian. They present fascinating challenges, offering many possible directions. After working on some of his concise pieces
I’ve been looking at a slightly longer and more complex poems.

Saba-Bufera-400-x-595

La primavera hitleriana (The Hitler Spring)  was written, or at least begun in 1938 , but no published until 1946.  It is a very powerful and overtly political piece which references Dante Alighieri and Clizia, a character who appears in the fourth book of  Ovid’s  “Metamorphoses”, a young nymph hopelessly in love with the god Apollo, who turns into a sunflower.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The poem begins with a ‘thick white cloud of mad moths’ – or ‘crazy moths’ – you can read a translation by Jonathan Galassi here  – a different version to that published in his 2012 Collected-  and you can find the original Italian here)  that appeared over Florence on May 9th, 1938, the day of a meeting between Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

 The first two stanzas, although layered with many potential interpretations, are relatively straightforward to decipher, but in the third stanza the poem becomes even more intricate and layered as it incorporates references to the Old Testament as well as the aforementioned Greek myth.  

 I’ve decided to leave my translation for the moment and show you how far I’ve got. I need a lot more time in order to research the language and references further, but I was relatively pleased with my efforts thus far and as ever, am fascinated by aspects of translation such as word choice and interpretation. Beneath my half- completed version Montale’s poem is a piece I wrote following my recent efforts. It tries to express some of my feelings in regard to this work, in particular my realisation that my knowledge is currently limited.

The moment I touch your poem
I’m corrupted and corrupting.
Should your moths arrive as blizzard

or snowfall, are they corrosive
or benign? Even in a drive to animate,
I embellish, reduce, hallucinate.

How do I re-design a membrane
so osmotic, replace a windowpane
handblown; how dare I enter corridors

bustled by Dante, dictators, the Greek deities,
to stand and speak in babbling streams
of myth and mercury?

Maestro, I lean from your shoulders
to daub this crude fresco.

Montale.

Eugenio Montale.

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4 Comments

  1. how do you come to write translations? I suddenly want to. where does one start? I once drove through a snowstorm of moths/mayflies that haloed neon garages and drifted streets. I think .’blizzard’ is accurate and true.

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    1. I started because I noticed that some of the poem I’d seen translated into English seemed stilted or used archaic language. I was and am interested in ‘other’ poetries. As I am sure you know John, Ted Hughes was very influential in bringing poems in other languages into English. He set up nModern Poetry in Translatio which is still going strong and I think might be a good place to start. I know a bit of Italian and am interested in the period of history dealt within ‘The Hitler Spring’ (my mum was growing up in Italy under that regime and her father was trying to oppose it and stay alive) but you don’t have to know a language to have a go at translating. I try to get hold of a few translations and then use an Italian dictionary and on line translation facilities and go from there. A lot of the time I am learning a lot about cultural background and history. You can either approach the text in as a fairly literal translation or go as off-piste as you like. I did a version of a Lorca poem (I don’t speak Spanish) so used a translation and the original pasted into on line translation boxes. I’ve credited it as ‘After Lorca’ but is a mixture of an inspiration and a new poem and gives some of the flavour of the original while becoming perhaps more contemporary. It is a totally absorbing and fascinating discipline, with a myriad of decisions to be made about what you want to do with the original.

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      1. Wow….I feel inspired. I apologise for the social-media gush of that, but I am genuinely excited by the idea. Especially, I think, of Spanish. I could probably get by in French, but Spanish has more phonic edge. It would be nice to sit and talk about this, Happen that’ll happen when you’re up here doing a reading.

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