Shutting out the torment and the fear
deep into the night’s cold morning hours
I work on my translation.
Improbable, that in another tongue
such lines as these were born,
set down, are vivid on his page
and will not come across to mine.
Two ways to go: the forced rhyme
the flaccid filling phrase
or terse, unrhymed,
trying to capture the meaning
as if that could ever be known.
But something does translate —
a voice from bleak immensities
perfect for nights like these:
the wind’s forgotten murmur,
the war that beggars language
speaking the creole of slaughter.
“The Translator” was first published in New Zealand Books (December 2004), included in Best New Zealand Poems 2004, and then collected in Tim Jones’s second collection, All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens.
Tim Jones is a poet and author of both science fiction and literary fiction who was awarded the NZSA Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature in 2010. He lives in Wellington. His third poetry collection, Men Briefly Explained, was published in late 2011. Among his other recent books are fantasy novel Anarya’s Secret (RedBrick, 2007), short story collection Transported (Vintage, 2008), and poetry anthology Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand (Interactive Press, 2009), co-edited with Mark Pirie. Voyagers won the “Best Collected Work” category in the 2010 Sir Julius Vogel Awards. For more, see: Tim’s Amazon author page and his blog.
Marcus Speh said:
I like this. I only translate my own work (from English into my native tongue, German) but even though I should be the master of my own meaning, I recognize the truth of this. “trying to capture the meaning / as if that could ever be known.”
It’s a fascinating theme: translations and the tasks they present. This line spoke to me especially: “Improbable, that in another tongue such lines as these were born.”
I did some translations for a forum software last year. You think it should be easy, translating those short lines, but it was like a puzzle, a reminder that each language is like an own creature with an own habitat, even more so when it comes to poetic / literary texts.