Sunday, 8 May 2011

Poems about translation 8: Twm Morys, 'To My Translator'

Les Murray is a very difficult act to follow, so it's been an (a)eon since we had a Poem About Translation. But lo, here is the Welsh poet Twm Morys with a series of poems, all of them presented as being in some way concerned with translation. First is Morys' poem 'CV' in Welsh, French and two different English versions. Then follows a number of poems with literal and more 'polished' English translations, and notes by Morys.

'To my Translator' is the one which caught my eye. In his notes, Morys says of the poem that:
This is a poem about a poem about to be translated! By the time it lands on the translator’s desk, it will have been prepared already for the operation by being put into English. The poem in English is like a note for the surgeon attached to the (dead) body. But in the original language, this hasn’t happened yet, of course! The poem in Welsh tells us what the surgeon will do to it, after it’s been “prepared.”
So it's a poem about translation which is first presented in a literal translation, in order that it can be translated by some eager-beaver non-Welsh-speaker, and then actually translated. (I think). The prickly literal translation, which I hope Mr Morys will not mind us reproducing in full, reminds us by its strangeness how much interpretation and rewriting takes place between the poem and its translation. Is it just me, or does it also act as a mischievous reminder to those of us who don't read Welsh that we have to take it on trust that this is actually a translation at all...?
To the One Who is in My Translating

By to him my receiving,
my brain and my insides
after going, without blood (any) more,
without breath, in ice,
this one will-be-able, like a surgeon,
to my opening without nausea.
And without mess, transplant,
put himself into the hole black.
After doing (of) the needlework,
Not you-will-see trace (of) his hand, either.
May-put the doctor then
On me the name which he-wishes.
Click here to read Morys' more fluent English translation, and wonder. Click here for another piece by Morys on Welsh prosody (but be warned that it may make your head chime).

For more information on the EmLit project, of which these translations were part, click here.

(Btw the workshops run by the Poetry Translation Centre at SOAS also work by means of literal translations into English. Their excellent site has lots of poems in the original, juxtaposed with the working literal and the polished 'final' draft, for your reading enjoyment.)

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