Louise Labé: Last Sonnet

If I have loved, good ladies, blame not me,
If I a thousand flames have felt the light,
A thousand pangs and travails, passed each night
And day in weeping inconsolably;

Do not Love’s darts envenom by your spite,
Alas! that my good name should sullied be,
If I have erred, I paid the penalty;
Consider this : if e’er the time is right

Adonis’ beauty you need not accuse,
Nor Vulcan’s rights, your ardour to excuse,
Should Cupid wish it, smitten you will be,

And subject to far less temptation
Burn with a stranger, stronger passion;
Pray that you end not heartbroken like me !

Sonnet XXIV
Ne reprenex, Dames, si j’ai aimé
Si j’ay senti mile torches ardentes,
Miles travaus, mile douleurs ardentes.
Si, en pleurant, j’ay mon tems consumé,

Las! que mon nom ne soitm par vous blamé.
Si j’ay failli, les peines sont presentes,
N’aigrissez point leurs pointes violents :
Sans votre ardeur d’un Vulcan excuser,
Sans la beauté d’Adonis accuser,
Pourra, s’il veut, plus vous rendre amoureuses,

En ayant moins que moi d’ocasion,
Et plus d’estrange et forte passion.
Et gardez vous d’estre plus malheureuse! 

Louise Labé (1522-66), known as La Belle Cordière, was one of the most famous inhabitants of Lyons during its heyday as a centre of culture during the sixteenth century. Stanley Applebaum (Introduction to French Poetry, Dover 1991) describes her as “a fêted beauty, an accomplished scholar and linguist, a spirited horsewoman, a champion of women’s rights and a gifted literary hostess, as well as a touching poet“.  Whether she ever was a Belle de Jour of the time is uncertain, but she did have several intense extra-marital affairs. In this, her last Sonnet, she launches a spirited counter-attack against her judges, the respectable bourgeoises of Lyons.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

The New York based publisher, Contra Mundum, will shortly (September 2012) be bringing out a translation of Marginalia on Casanova, the first volume of the massive St. Orpheus Breviary by the Hungarian writer, Miklós Szentkuthy.

“Originally published in 1939, as Csaba Sík noted, the seven volumes of the St. Orpheus Breviary ‘represent the greatest enterprise in scope, in worth? – undertaken in the Hungarian novel.’ Justifiably, Szentkuthy has been compared to Proust, Musil, and Joyce, and has already been translated into French, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovakian, and Spanish. Our translation was done by Tim Wilkinson (known for his translations of Imre Kertész and others) and will feature an original cover designed by Hungarian artist István Orosz.
As the first ever translation of Szentkuthy into English, this should prove to be a momentous if not historic publication for the Anglophone world. Over the next decade, CMP hopes to publish a translation of the entirety of Szentkuthy’s Breviary and many other works, including his monumental Prae. News will follow about possible book events this coming fall in NYC, if not elsewhere …”

“Contra Mundum is a New York based independent press dedicated to the value and the indispensable importance of the individual voice.
Its inaugural publication, a new edition of Gilgamesh [to be shortly reviewed in these pages S.H.], was published in January of 2012 and translated by Stuart Kendall, known for his translations of Bataille, Blanchot, Éluard and others. Jerome Rothenberg deemed Kendall’s Gilgamesh “the exemplary version for our time, a reading that allows the mind to see what had been too long lost to us and what we so much need to make us fully human. This is the place to go for further sustenance.
In March, CMP released a bi-lingual edition of Self-Shadowing Prey, one of the final texts by the Romanian poet Ghérasim Luca (1913-1994) and in May, CMP published Rainer J. Hanshe’s second novel, The Abdication. Forthcoming publications include Richard Foreman’s Plays with Films, Elio Petri’s Writings on Cinema and Life, Louis Auguste Blanqui’s Eternity by the Stars, Emilio Villa’s Selected Poems, and Nietzsche’s Greek Music Drama, amongst others, many of which are being translated into English for the first time.”   from Contra Mundum .

Note from website organiser : I must make it clear that I, the controller of this website, do not wish it to be used for advertising purposes as such, but that I am very happy to publish information on forthcoming books that might interest our readers, especially from start-up publishers. Although the main theme of the website remains poetry in translation, you will also find here posts on linguistic issues, translating techniques and notices of important translations of works other than strictly poetic ones. Congratulations to Contra Mundum for obtaining a grant from the Petrofi Literary Museum within their first year — this shows it’s still possible to get into publishing in these hard times. S.H.   23/7/12

Daily I switch languages — call them masks:
At times a mask can feel like your own skin.
At other times, the spirit has to struggle,
Saved only by the tongue it calls its own.

The mysteries of life, of the universe,
I can describe in English now, although
In my mother tongue alone I can stammer out
The words that compose the sunset, make it glow.

George Gömöri  tr. Clive Wilmer

Thus the distinguished Anglo-Hungarian poet, George Gömöri, describes the predicament of someone ‘entre deux langues’. It is interesting that the poet, who has lived in England for much the greater part of his life, talks of languages as ‘masks’ and speaks of “the tongue it calls its own” rather than ‘my mother tongue’. George Gömöri tells me that he writes his own poetry in Hungarian first and collaborates with his friend Clive Wilmer (also a noted poet in his own right) to make a rendering in English (Note1).

I certainly share a dislike of translating something I have written myself into another language and there are one or two poems I wrote in French that I have no desire at all to translate back into my first language, English, (including a fairly long one about a Parisian friend of mine entitled Michel le Hongrois). I sometimes find myself lapsing into French in conversation  when I want to get across feelings or ideas that just don’t come over at all well in English, indeed for which there literally are no proper equivalents. (I don’t know whether George Gömöri, when he wants to ‘make the sunset glow’, reverts to Hungarian because the latter language is better at this sort of thing, or simply because it is his first language.)
That there is a very considerable ‘difference of sensibility’ between various languages is indubitable. French is cited by linguists as being one of the most ‘evolved’ of all the world’s languages (along with Mandarin) and it is certainly better at expressing intricate philosophical and scientific concepts, and marvellous for the meticulous analysis of human affections and affectations. French is indeed the language of the ‘philosophes’ — though whether it was the language that created Voltaire or Voltaire who left an indelible mark on the language is an open question. French, however, lags far behind English in vitality and descriptive power : not only was there no French Shakespeare, one cannot imagine there ever having been one. And vice-versa, one can with difficulty imagine an English Proust — Henry James, one feels, would have been a greater writer if he had been born the other side of the Atlantic/Channel.
It would be interesting to hear what other translators and fluent speakers of two or more languages have to say on this and related subjects.   S.H. 15/7/12

Note 1 : In an earlier version of this post I wrote erroneously that George Gömöri writes in English first and then has the poem translated into Hungarian by Clive Wilmer. Apologies to both George Gömöri and Clive Wilmer for this stupid error and many thanks to George Gömöri for pointing this out to me and also giving me permission to quote his memorable poem.    S.H.

   John Dewey is the author of Mirror of the Soul. A Life of the Poet Fyodor Tyutchev (Brimstone Press 2011)    

   Q1. Do you only ever translate from a language you  know well?
   A: Yes (Russian, German, occasionally French).

Q2.
 Do you prefer to read other translations of the piece you are translating?  (a) Before starting  (b) After making a first draft (c) Never ?
A: I avoid this if at all possible, as I prefer to start from scratch and would worry about unconscious plagiarism. It would of course be a different matter if asked to revise an existing translation, but this has never arisen.

Q3.  Do you use a dictionary?  If “Yes”, do you use a foreign language/English dictionary or a dictionary in the source language itself?
A:  Yes, both: Foreign Language-English for quick reference, FL-FL for more obscure points, use of words in context, and so on. Also useful are a thesaurus and (for poetry) a rhyming dictionary.

Q4. Do you show your translation to anyone before sending it off?
A:  No.

Q5. Do you ever translate books or poems you don’t like?  If “Yes”, does this bother you when translating?
A:  Like everyone, I suppose, I prefer to translate things I like and have some sympathy with, but have also undertaken work on a ‘jobbing’ basis as long as the original is not too disagreeable. Recently I did turn down a commission, unable to face the prospect of translating a distressing and evidently autobiographical account of a young girl’s struggle with cancer. 

Q6.  Do you work regular hours or in spurts ‘when you feel like it’?
A: I try to keep to a routine, particularly with longer prose pieces. Having said that, both with poetry and tricky prose passages inspiration often comes away from the desk, while doing something else.

Q7. Do you use stimulants (e.g. coffee, alcohol, drugs) to ‘get started’?
A:  No (unless walking counts as a stimulant: the steady rhythm seems somehow conducive to poetic translation!) 

Q8. Could you give examples of particular difficulties in translating poems or prose from a specific language ? Have you any tips about how to get round these difficulties?
A: Rhymes (especially feminine, i.e. double-syllable ones) are much more abundant in inflected languages such as Russian than in English. Some of the strategies for dealing with this are discussed below (No. 10).

Q9.  Do you see yourself as a ‘literal’ translator or a ‘free’ one?
A: As others have no doubt pointed out before, in many ways this seems a misleading choice. After all, neither a resolutely literal nor a completely free translation would convey much if anything of the spirit of the original. My own aim is to produce a faithful translation: as ‘literal’ as possible, as ‘free’ as necessary, if one insists on putting it in those terms. A possibly more productive question: What would the author have written if his/her native language had been English?

Q10. When translating rhymed poetry, do you try to imitate the rhyme scheme and metre?  (a) always; (b) sometimes; (c) never ?
A: While full of admiration for translators able to convey the spirit of rhymed metrical poetry in English free verse, I personally find it easier to retain a formal framework as far as possible. It seems to me in any case an integral part of the poem’s musicality. Sometimes this can be achieved without sticking blindly to the original scheme,  for instance by substituting half-rhyme (especially for feminine rhymes) or by rhyming only alternate lines.
John Dewey July 2012

Note about the translator and his book :

Mirror of the Soul. A Life of the Poet Fyodor Tyutchev (1803-73)
 by John Dewey

Fyodor Tyutchev (1803-73) was a contemporary of Pushkin and is widely considered his equal as a lyric poet. This new biography tells the story of a fascinating life and personality as reflected in the poems, presented here in the author’s own verse translations.

  How can the soul its flame impart?
How can another know your heart,
The truths by which you live and die?
A thought, once uttered, is a lie,
The limpid spring defiled, once stirred:
Drink of it, and say not a word.

A paradoxical statement for a poet to make, one might think. Unless, that is, he believes poetry to be uniquely capable of challenging the opaqueness and inadequacy of language alluded to in these lines. Tyutchev’s lyric verse can be read as an intimate diary of his inner life (the ‘mirror of his soul’, in the apt phrase of a contemporary), publication of which he resisted or at best tolerated throughout most of his mature years. It was largely thanks to the persuasion and efforts of others that his work became more widely known.
Tyutchev’s poetry combines emotional intensity with philosophical depth, revealing glimpses of an eternal, unfathomable reality beneath the fleeting world of appearances. His nature lyrics are unsurpassed, as is the remarkable ‘Denisyeva cycle’ charting a tempestuous long-term extramarital relationship.
In his own country his literary status has never been in doubt. He was the favourite poet of Leo Tolstoy, who declared: ‘One cannot live without him.’ For Dostoyevsky he was ‘our great poet’, for Turgenev (who published his first volume of verse) ‘one of our most remarkable poets’. Afanasy Fet considered him ‘one of the greatest lyric poets ever to have existed on this earth’. Yet outside Russia Tyutchev’s name remains curiously unknown.
John Dewey’s biography — the first in English, and one of the most comprehensive to date in any language — provides a long overdue introduction to this major figure, with new verse translations by the author. Written with the general reader in mind, the book also makes important new contributions in the field of Tyutchev studies. For its account of the life it draws on an extensive range of sources, including much previously unpublished archival material. Datings, addressees and circumstances of composition are established for a number of the poems which have hitherto proved problematic in this respect. Tyutchev’s poetry, and his relationship to the major intellectual and political movements of his age, are subjected to detailed analysis and reassessment.

Reviews of Mirror of the Soul:
‘magnificent book … beautifully written and edited. It will be, for a long time, the standard work on Fyodor Tyutchev anywhere in the world’
– Times Literary Supplement
‘This book is not only the first life of Tyutchev in English, it is by far the best and most complete anywhere, including Russia. Dewey’s scholarship is meticulous’
– Literary Review
‘magnificent biography … the clear writing and lively exposition keep the reader fully engaged … a highly informative and richly rewarding volume’
– Slavonic and East European Review
‘Not least impressive are the translations of Tyutchev’s lyrics which … give the non-Russian speaker a real sense of the originals’
– Malcolm Jones, Emeritus Professor of Slavonic Studies, Nottingham University
‘brilliant analysis of the lyric verse … penetrating commentaries on [Tyutchev’s] political writings.’
– Radio Free Europe
‘has convincingly resolved many of the unresolved questions of Tyutchev’s biography … Brimstone Press are to be congratulated on making it available.’
– East-West Review

555 pages, including 17 photographs. Also available as a downloadable e-book.

      Order from Brimstone Press website www.brimstonepress.co.uk Price £20 free p&p; add £3.50 for Europe, £9 for rest of world.   Downloadable e-book: £10.

Other translations by John Dewey have appeared in the series Glas New Russian Writing, among them Boris Yampolsky’s chilling novel of everyday life under Stalin, The Old Arbat, and The Nomadic Soul, a collection of stories by the US-basedwriter Irina Muravyova. His published verse translations include a substantial selection for the 15-volume Complete Works of Pushkin in English, and a version of Pushkin’s narrative poem The Bronze Horseman which was
shortlisted for the John Dryden Translation Prize.          SH

 

Click here to access recording  C’est après les moments 2

  C’est après…. 

C’est après les moments les plus bouleversés
De l’étroite union acharnée et barbare,
Que, gisant côte a côte, et le front renversé
Je ressens ce qui nous sépare!

Tous deux nous nous taisons, ne sachant pas comment,
Après cette fureur souhaitée, et suprême,
Chacun de nous a pu, soudain et simplement,
Hélas! redevenir soi-même.

Vous êtes près de moi, je ne reconnais pas
Vos yeux qui me semblaient brûler sous mes paupières;
Comme un faible animal gorgé de son repas,
Comme un mort sculpté sur sa pierre,

Vous rêvez immobile, et je ne puis savoir
Quel songe satisfait votre esprit vaste et calme,
Et moi je sens encore un indicible espoir
Bercer sur moi ses jeunes palmes!

Je ne puis pas cesser de vivre, mon amour!
Ma guerrière folie, avec son masque sage,
Même dans le repos veut par mille détours
Se frayer encore un passage!

Et je vous vois content! Ma force nostalgique
Ne  surprend pas en vous ce muet désarroi
Dans lequel se débat ma tristesse extatique.
— Que peut-il y avoir, ô mon amour unique,
De commun entre vous et moi!
The Aftermath

Above all, after climaxes the most intense
In our close-knit uniting, frenzied, barbarous,
Reclining side by side, gasping for breath, I sense
The abyss that severs us;

In silence we recline, not understanding why,
After such pent-up fury, longed-for, deep, insane,
So suddenly we find ourselves apart and lie
As separate selves again;

You are beside me but your gaze does not reveal
That eagerness I answered with a fire unknown,
You are a helpless beast gorged with its meal,
A corpse sculpted in stone;

You sleep and do  not stir — how can another know
What dream has quieted your restless mind?
But through me yet great gusts of yearning blow
Leaving their mark behind;

I cannot cease from living, O my dearest love!
My warlike frenzy underneath its peaceful air
In desperation searches round me and above
To find a passage there!

And still you lie content! The throbbing ecstasy
Of sadness coursing through my limbs, and that profound
Confusion, nothing of all this in you I see.
My love, my only love! Between yourself and me
There is no common ground.

Translation by Sebastian Hayes

 

 

 

L’âme et le corps 1d   (Click here to access the recording)

                                                 L’Ame et le Corps

Ils ont inventé l’âme afin que l’on abaisse
Le corps, unique lieu de rêve et de raison,
Asile du désir, de l’image et des sons,
Et par qui tout est mort dès le moment qu’il cesse.

Ils nous imposent l’âme, afin que lâchement
On détourne les yeux du sol, et qu’on oublie
Après l’injurieux ensevelissement,
Que sous le vin vivant tout est funèbre lie.

— Je ne commettrai pas envers votre bonté
Envers votre grandeur, secrète mais charnelle,
O corps désagrégés, o confuses prunelles,
La trahison de croire à votre éternité.

Je refuse l’espoir, l’altitude, les ailes,
Mais étrangère au monde et souhaitant le froid
De vos affreux tombeaux, trop bas, trop étroits
J’affirme, en recherchant vos nuits vastes et vaines,
Qu’il n’est rien qui survive à la chaleur des veines !

                                    from L’Honneur de Souffrir (1927) 

The Soul and the Body

The soul was first conceived in order to demean
The body, the domain of dreams and reasoning,
Sole source of our desire, of all that’s heard and seen,
For when it stops, it marks the close of everything.

They foist the soul upon us, so we cannot see
What’s underneath our feet, and in our cowardice
Deny our squalid end, the grim reality
That when the wine is drunk, there’s nothing but the lees.

O shattered bodies, eyes whose fire is at an end,
I shall not now commit the shameful  treachery
Against your greatness and your beauty to pretend
That you are as you were for all eternity.

No. I refuse all hope, distrust sublimity,
I am an outcast from your world and  I invite
The chill of your ignoble tombs, so mean, so small,
For I declare, on contemplating that vast night,
That once our blood is cold, it is the end of all.

Translated by Sebastian Hayes

Click here for audio of L’Empreinte by Anna de Noailles, read by Julia Slade

This poem, beautifully read by Julia Slade, was presented at the very first meeting of the series I organized at the Poetry Cafe on  27 January 2010 — indeed, the title of the series, The Trace They Wished To Leave, refers to the first line of my translation of this poem. Below you can find the original French and my English translation and interested readers are referred to the linked website www.annadenoailles.com  where you will find other poems of Anna de Noailles translated and commentaries on the œuvre of this great forgotten poet of the Belle Époque era.

                   L’Empreinte                                        

Je m’appuierai si bien et si fort à la vie,
D’une si rude étreinte et d’un tel serrement,
Qu’avant que la douceur du jour me soit ravie
Elle s’échauffera de mon enlacement.

La mer, abondamment sur le monde étalée,
Gardera, dans la route errante de son eau,
Le goût de ma douleur qui est âcre et salée
Et sur les jours mouvants roule comme un bateau.

Je laisserai de moi dans le pli des collines
La chaleur de mes yeux qui les ont vu fleurir,
Et la cigale assise aux branches de l’épine
Fera vibrer le cri strident de mon désir.

Dans les champs printaniers la verdure nouvelle
Et le gazon touffu sur le bord des fossés
Sentiront palpiter et fuir comme des ailes
Les ombres de mes mains qui les ont tant pressés.

La nature qui fut ma joie et mon domaine
Respirera dans l’air ma persistante ardeur,
Et sur l’abattement de la tristesse humaine
Je laisserai la forme unique de mon cœur…

                              from Le Cœur Innombrable (1901) 

The Trace I Wish to Leave

I aim to thrust myself against this life so hard,
And clasp it to me fiercely, leaving such a trace,
That when the sweetness of these days I must discard
The world will keep awhile the warmth of my embrace.

The sea, spread out across the globe so lavishly,
On stormy days my fitful memory will sustain,
And in its myriad, random motions ceaselessly
Preserve the acrid, salty, savour of my pain.

What will be left of me in heath and windswept coomb?
My blazing eyes will set the yellow gorse on fire,
And the cicada perched upon a sprig of broom
Will sound the depth and poignancy of my desire.

Each spring, in fertile meadows where the skylark sings,
In lanes and wayside ditches where wild flowers grow,
The tufted  grass will tremble at the touch of unseen wings,
The phantoms of my hands that held them long ago.

My joy and restless passion will not die with me,
Nature will breathe me in, making of me a part
Of all that lives, while sorrowing humanity
Will hold the individual profile of my heart.

Translation Sebastian Hayes

 Anna de Noailles (1876–1933)   was an acclaimed poet, novelist and woman of letters during the Belle Époque but is now almost entirely forgotten. An acclaimed beauty sculpted by Rodin, at least one young man in Paris allegedly committed suicide because of her. As a poet, she is full of fire and unashamed sensuality and saw herself as a female Nietzsche, a thinker she admired and whose philosophy she claimed to espouse. Stylistically, she resisted modern innovations such as ‘free verse’ and stream of consciousness techniques, keeping strictly to traditional verse forms.


L’offrande à la nature t1      Read by Julia Slade

          L’Offrande à la Nature

Nature au cœur profond sur qui les cieux reposent,
Nul n’aura comme moi si chaudement aimé,
La lumière des jours et la douceur des choses,
L’eau luisante et la terre où la vie a germé.

La forêt, les étangs et les plaines fécondes
Ont plus touché mes yeux que les regards humains,
Je me suis appuyé à la beauté du monde
Et j’ai tenu l’odeur des saisons dans mes mains.

J’ai porté vos soleils ainsi qu’une couronne
Sur mon front plein d’orgueil et de simplicité,
Mes jeux ont égalé les travaux de l’automne
Et j’ai pleuré d’amour aux bras de vos étés.

Je suis venue à vous sans peur et sans prudence
Vous donnant ma raison pour le bien et le mal,
Ayant pour toute joie et toute connaissance
Votre âme impétueuse aux ruses d’animal.

Comme une fleur ouverte où logent des abeilles
Ma vie a répandu des parfums et des chants,
Et mon cœur matineux est comme une corbeille
Qui vois offre du lierre et des rameaux penchants.

Soumise ainsi que l’onde où l’arbre se reflète,
J’ai connu des désirs qui brûlent dans vos soirs
Et qui font naître au cœur des hommes et des bêtes
La belle impatience et le divin vouloir.

Je vous tiens toute vive entre mes bras, Nature!
Ah! faut-il que mes yeux s’emplissent d’ombre un jour,
Et que j’aille au pays sans vent et sans verdure
Que ne visitent pas la lumière et l’amour…

                                     from   Le Cœur Innombrable (1901)
My Offering to Nature

Sustaining Nature from whom bosom all life springs,
None have adored you with such passion from their birth;
The light of days and all the tenderness of things,
The shining water and the dark and fruitful earth.

I lent against your beauty since my youth began;
Dark forests, mountain pools, the open fertile lands,
These touched my eyes more than the wandering looks of man,
I have the odour of the seasons on my hands.

Your suns I bore as a tiara on my brow,
With pride and innocence I answered to your charms,
Your autumn labours matched my childhood play, and how
I wept for joy when clasped within your summers’ arms.

I came to you most trustingly, wanting it so,
Denying sense and reason, be it for good or ill;
The recompense and prize I sought was just to know
Your fervent essence and your cunning animal will.

I am an open flower where bees can make their home,
My life has spread abroad perfume and song and dance,
My morning heart is like a basket filled with loam
And trailing boughs that blooms and foliage enhance.

Like water I reflect the overarching trees,
And willingly, at night, have yielded to that fire
That fills both beasts and men, inspiring without cease
A wild abandonment and a sublime desire.

I hold you breathing at my breast, Nature, my own!
And must I live with shadows and exchange all this
For that drear landscape, grassless, windless and unknown,
Where neither sun nor moon will shine and no love is ?

Translation by Sebastian Hayes

 

 

 

 

 

1. GREETINGS to everyone who has visited this site and/or attended meetings at the Poetry Café. I am no longer the organiser of the series “The Trace They Wished To Leave” which presented relatively little known foreign language poets during the last two years or so but Bernadette Jansen op de Haar of Holland Park Press will be taking up the torch (see Events page for dates of future meetings). I shall, however, continue with the website and anyone who has material of interest can send it in to me at sebastianhayes@tiscali.co.uk . (To prevent being inundated by advertising everything has to go through me for the moment unfortunately but I don’t alter or censor anything.) I also aim to send out a monthly Bulletin from now on giving news and add something I have come across likely to interest readers.

2. FUTURE PERSPECTIVES.   I hope to expand the website in various ways, for example by including, as well as posts of poems in translation, more reviews of books and interviews with well-known translators. I shall be contacting translators known to me to invite them to write informal articles about their work. They might, for example, talk of the particular difficulties of translating from a certain language and give tips about how to deal with the problems. (Note there exist a certain number of posts already on the ‘theory of translation’ — see Menu).
Another initiative is to have ‘sound posts’ in the form of bi-lingual readings of poems and I am preparing one of extracts from Anna de Noailles at the moment. If you are a translator and can record poems in the original and in English I shall be glad to put them on the site if possible. Subsequently I hope to bring out some CDs of bi-lingual poems.
I also plan to bring out at least two books using the material accumulated during the last two and a half years, one an anthology of poems that have been presented at the Poetry Café, the other the complete set of Robert Yates’s translations of Rimbaud’s Illuminations  from which he read at the Poetry Café on 25 April (see also the linked site www.arimbaud.com).
There may be other ways in which this website can expand, perhaps via language translation Workshops — I welcome any suggestions.

3. ASSISTANCE    This site is your site and the best way you can help to keep it going is to send in articles or translations of poems you are working on. Also, if anyone is able and willing to give technical assistance on improving the site, this help will be gratefully received.
Eventually,  I hope to have books and CDs on offer to raise money (since revenue from the meetings will stop from now on). I can as from now offer to devote any sales of my recent book on Rimbaud entitled  Rimbaud Revisited & Une Saison en Enfer A New Translation  to “Poetry In Translation” (which has a collective bank account in this name). This book can be purchased online via the Brimstone Press website (www.brimstonepress.co.uk) or directly from me at £6.50 incl. p & p . I can also offer two booklets beautifully printed in limited edition by The Hague Press of extracts from the poetry of Anna de Noailles and Catherine Pozzi translated by myself at £4 each, available only from me, sae appreciated.
But the best way you can help to keep this site going is, as I said, to visit it and contribute articles and translations of high quality. All best wishes.
I append a brief piece about something that has caught my attention recently.

4.  FAST TALKERS AND THE ORIGIN OF LANGUAGE  Anne Pycha, in Scientific American April 2012 , tells us that François  Pellegrine and his team from the University of Lyon recently  carried out a survey on the ‘talking speed’ of twelve well known languages. The results were more or less what I would have expected with Japanese coming first at 7.84 syllables/sec and Mandarin last at 5.18 syllables/sec. English is mid-speed with 6.19 syllables/sec. (See Note for complete list).
However, speed is not everything. Mandarin, since it does not bother with articles and all sorts of other linguistic embellishments (but uses tones), punches far beyond its syllable weight while the Romance languages are full of charming (or irritating) redundancies. The researchers go so far as to suggest that most languages have a “relatively constant rate of conveying information” which Anne Pycha sees as an argument in favour of Chomsky’s ‘universal grammar’.
These results (on the basis of twelve languages only) are interesting but we need to go beyond the strictly informational aspect of speech. Plenty of people talk, not to convey data but “because they like the sound of their own voice” — and in a sense, why not? There have been cases of autistic children who use speech strictly as self-expression, as a kind of music.
Why do humans bother with spoken and written language anyway? After all, plenty of species can communicate perfectly well using smells and gestures. One theory is that spoken language started up when tribesmen got involved in complex joint operations such as hunting and killing a mammoth. Sound has the advantage here over gesture in that a spoken message (a yell) carries much further and you don’t have to be facing the speaker to get the message. Spoken language was, according to this theory, the original ‘walkie-talkie’.
However, it is doubtful if this is the whole story. A more recent theory is that language evolved, not so much to communicate information as to persuade. Reasoning plays a role in persuasion but this role is hardly decisive : highly effective public speakers such as Eva Peròn or Hitler (also for that matter Winston Churchill) tended to be thin on reasoning but strong on emotion and rhetorical flourishes.  If the economical transfer of information were the main function of spoken language, we would expect ‘early’ languages to have a very reduced syntax. The precise opposite is the case : the older the language the more elaborate the structure as a rule, with succinct telegrammatic Mandarin being at the other end of the evolutionary process.
As Voltaire said, “Le superflu est très nécessaire”. You only need to think of the endless amusement children get (or used to get) out of nonsense rhymes and jingles to realize that human beings love playing around with sounds for their own sake. The origin of poetry lies in song and it is unwise to stray too far away from this base.

Note 1.

Language               Syllables per second
Japanese               7.84    ±0.1
Spanish                  7.82
French                   7.18
Italian                    6.99
English                  6.19
German                 5.97
Vietnamese          5.22
Mandarin             5.18            

from Scientific American, April 2012  p. 14  “Linguistics” by Anne Pycha 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sebastian Hayes   19 June 2012

Curious enquirer into All That Is
Whose guiding principle and end I sought,
The hidden gold I spied within th’ abyss,
Made it my leaven, to fulfilment brought.

Then I explained how in a mother’s womb
The soul makes house, and how the pip and crumb
Of vine and corn, sealed in their earthy tomb
By miracle the bread and wine become.

The void; God spoke; the void became a thing;
I doubted this — for what maintained it so?
Nought but the void was ground and scaffolding.

At last, with scales that blame and merit show,
I weighed the eternal and it called to me;
I died adoring it, no more I know.

                                    Translation Sebastian Hayes

SONNET

Curieux scrutateur de la Nature entière,
J’ai connu du grand tout le principe et la fin.
J’ai vu l’or en puissance au fond de sa rivière
J’ai saisi sa matière et surpris son levain.

J’expliquai par quel art l’âme aux flancs d’une mère
Fait sa maison, l’emporte, et comment un pépin Mis contre un grain de blé, sous l’humide poussière;
L’un plante et l’autre cep, sont le pain et le vin.

Rien n’était, Dieu voulant, rien devint quelque chose,
J’en doutais, je cherchai sur quoi l’univers pose.
Rien gardait l’équilibre et servait de soutien.

Enfin avec le poids de l’éloge et du blâme
Je pesai l’éternel; il appella mon âme:
Je mourrai, j’adorai, je ne savais plus rien.

Comte de St.-Germain

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