I’m pleased to have two translations of poems by Eugenio Montale
published in the new issue of online poetry journal, The High Window. As well as their usual section of fine contemporary poetry, the editors are keen to publish translated work, and knowing I have an interest in this area, asked if some time ago if I’d like to contribute.
The poems are in a section featuring translations of Italian poetry, which you can access by clicking this link. I have another translation of Montale in the current edition of New Walk magazine. All three poems are short, and all three took me a long time to translate. I’ve revised and revised them, wanting to capture the rhythm and flow and ‘feel’ or spirit of the originals whilst not making literal translations. Every word and phrase of the Italian offers so many alternatives. I’m not sure I’ll ever stop tinkering with any of these translations – Even though I have deliberately chosen short poems to work with, I must have a hundred versions of each. But I’m happy enough to have them published. I had to let go sometime if I wanted to share them. I found the poem , ‘Syria’, in Johnathan Galassi’s bilingual ‘Collected poems, 1920-1954.’
Galassi’s translation is a near to literal version of Montale’s original . Although Galassi is a great scholar and acknowledged authority on Montale, I feel some of his translations are a little staid and stuffy and don’t flow with the ease of the originals. I wanted to see if I could bring something else to the poem- perhaps a little more vitally and vigor, a little heat and glare and dust. You don’t need to speak Italian to have a go at translating the poem. If you don’t have a good English/ Italian dictionary there are plenty of resources on- line. Below, for you to compare and contrast and appraise my choices if you are interested, are the original, the Galassi version and mine. The poem is from Montale’s ‘La Bufera e altro’ – ‘The Storm and others’ , 1940-1954
Dicevano gli antichi che le poesia
e` scala a Dio. Forse non e`cosi
se mi leggi. Ma il giorno io lo seppi
che ritrovai per te la voce, sciolto
in un gregge di nuvoli e di capre
dirompenti da un greppo a brucar bave
di pruno e di falasco, e i volti scarni
della luna e del sole si fondeveno,
il sangue su un macigno segnalava
la via di Aleppo.
Syria -trans. J. Galassi
The ancients said that poetry
is a stairway to God. Perhaps not
when you read me. But I knew it to be true
the day I found my voice again because of you,
freed among a herd of clouds and goats
stampeding out of a ravine to browse
the spume of thorns and marsh grass,
and the guant faces of the sun
and moon were one, the car broke
and an arrow of blood on a bolder pointed
the way to Aleppo.
The ancients wrote
that poetry brings you
closer to god. Maybe not
if you’re reading mine.
But I new it was true
the day my voice returned
in a wrap of cloud
as goats rattled from a crag
to cascade across
the road, settling to graze
on blackthorn burs
broom and sedge,
while sun and moon
melted and fused,
that day the engine died
and an arrow of blood on a stone
showed the way to Aleppo.
First published in New Walk 12, summer 2016.