Tuesday, November 17, 2009
It’s Tuesday morning here in beautiful downtown Indian Valley, & this week it’s Translation Tuesday. The selection is by Blaise Cendrars, from his 1919 Dix-neuf poèmes élastiques (Nineteen Elastic Poems), which I translated while living in Baghdad by the Bay in the 90s.
The poem is “Crépitiments,” & the title is just one of the interesting words & phrases the intrepid translator is going to encounter here. The translation is literal, but the clue to its meaning comes in the first line: the “cracklings” or “sputterings” are radio static, tho of course, radio static is carrying some metaphorical weight throughout. We also come across the odd word “arcencielesques” as an adjective modifying “dissonances” in the first line (“dissonances”—same in French & English!) I’ve seen this translated as “rainbowed,” & a tad more literally it could be “rainbowesque,” but I liked the sound of “rainbowish,” especially as it gives a thread of internal short “i” sounds thru the opening stanza.”
The final line of the first stanza contains the very untranslatable “On,” which can mean anything from “one” (e.g., “as one knows”—that “one”) to “they” to simply indicating a construction that usually is passive in English. “On se dit” is the sign you see in northern Vermont, for instance: “On se dit français ici”—“French is spoken here.” The other moment I’d point to is “Well done”—the English pun is also present in the French phrase “bien fait.”
Finally, Bodin was a 16th century French jurist who was known for his cruel persecution for those accused of witchcraft.
Enjoy the poem, & have a fine Tuesday!
The rainbowish dissonances of the Tower during its wireless
Shit is spoken in every corner of the universe
We're in touch
The ocean liners approach from every coast
Every watch is synchronized
And the clocks strike
Paris-Midi announces that a German professor was eaten by
cannibals in the Congo
This evening L'Intransigeant published some verses for postcards
It's stupid when all the astrologers burglarize stars
We don't see them again
I interrogate the sky
The Weather Bureau predicts bad weather
There is no futurism
There is no simultaneity
Bodin has burned all the witches
There are no more horoscopes and we have to work
I'm going to take a trip
And I'm sending this stripped poem to my friend R ...
translated by John Hayes, © 1990-2009