Sunday, 13 October 2013

Poems about translation 15b: Magrelli redux

As readers may remember, the last Poem in Translation (number 15) was Magrelli's wonderful 'L'imballatore', in honour of my moving to Bristol.

I have now tracked down my copy of the published translation by Anthony Molino in The Contagion of Matter (2000), published by Holmes & Meier.

I was particularly curious to know how Molino had rendered two lines from the poem:
È questo il futuro, la spola, il traslato,
il tempo manovale e citeriore,
Cognates of 'translate' are difficult anyway, because Italian has so much more space to play with them than English does - but the real problem for me was this 'tempo manovale e citeriore'. There is something magically hermetic about this phrase, and I note that Molino picks it up in his dedication of the book to his son.

Molino translates it
This is the future, the shuttle, the shift,
manual, otherwhere Time,
So the problem of 'citeriore' is solved with 'otherwhere', relationally less specific than the Italian but similarly ambiguous in context in relation to time. The weight and rhythm of the polysyllables in the second line of the Italian is present again in a very different but also compelling form in the English, and the sound patterns are also acknowledged in the alliteration of 'shuttle' and 'shift'. The choice to capitalise Time is a nice reminder of how the materiality of print can carry signification. Absolutely fascinating to see how Molino does it.

There are some other very interesting translational things at work in this section of the book. For one thing, Magrelli uses the first two lines of Nabokov's famous poem about translating Pushkin (fêted as no. 6 in our occasional series) as an epigraph to the Italian poem: 'Cos'è la traduzione? Su un vassoio / la testa pallida e fiammante d'un poeta'.

Rather than doing what one might normally do and restoring the lines from Nabokov's poem in his English translation ('What is translation? On a platter / a poet's pale and glaring head'), Molino chooses to translate the Italian translation used by Magrelli: 'What is translation? On a platter / the pale and glaring head of a poet'.

This has the effect of adding a further layer of 'translatedness' to Molino's own translation. The 'poet' in question is not only Pushkin, and Nabokov but also Magrelli. This bravura translation by Molino of a poem about translation by a translator (we should remember that in Magrelli's Italian collection, the poem about translation accompanies translations of a number of poems, one of them also about translation) is presented through the lens of somebody arguing that the translation of poetry is impossible and undesirable. By way of response, Molino then goes on to present Magrelli's translations themselves in English translation - and in a nice touch, the poems translated into Italian by Magrelli are presented in their original languages in an appendix.

Interestingly, in his introduction, Molino admits that one poem from Magrelli's collection (Esercizi di tipologia, 1992) had to be omitted. 'Due dichiarazioni' presents a play on words between 'Scarabeo' (the Italian translation of the game 'Scrabble') and scarabeo, the beetle.

What is a translator to do, says Molino,
to later justify in the text the sudden appearance of a beetle? Short of toying with images of a Volkswagen, or a member of Liverpool's Fabulous 4, the decision was reached to wave a white flag and desist, in this case, from "pushing a whim to its utter extreme". (p.xiii)
Normally, one treats with gentle scepticism the claim that a poem is truly untranslatable. In this case, I think Molino has more than earned the benefit of the doubt.

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