Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Poems about translation 15: Valerio Magrelli on moving house

Having trailed the excellence of Valerio Magrelli as a translator in a previous post, I think it is only fair to give a space in our irregular Poems in Translation series to his wonderful poem 'L'imballatore'. This is a poem which speaks particularly to me at the moment because I am moving home, job and city.

'Imballare' in Italian is 'to pack', as in to pack boxes. 'L'imballatore' would, literally, be something like 'the packer'. More idiomatically it could be 'the removal man'. 'L'imballatore chino/ che mi svuota la stanza' (or, more accurately, the seven removal men) did a wonderful job yesterday and this morning:

For Magrelli, 
Sto spostando me stesso
traducendo il passato in un presente
che viaggia sigillato
racchiuso dentro pagine
o dentro casse con la scritta
"Fragile" di cui ignoro l'interno.

[I am displacing myself /translating the past into a present /which travels clearly labelled /wrapped securely in pages /or packed in tea-chests marked /"Fragile" whose contents I don't know.]
Already, in translating this into English, I traduce Magrelli's masculine first person, unobtrusively personalising it for my own story. But this is far from the most knotty translation problem in the poem. Towards the end of it, he suggests that
È questo il futuro, la spola, il traslato
il tempo manovale e citeriore;
How on earth to translate these lines? The 'spola' is the shuttle on a loom. 'Fare la spola' is to go back and forth, to commute. So the future for the translator, and for the travelling object, is the shuttling back and forth, the 'carrying over' ('traslato' being the past participle of the Italian verb descended from the Latin 'transferre'). 'Manovale' is an unskilled or manual labourer; 'citeriore' 'nearer' in the ancient sense of 'nearer Gaul'; what is on this side, rather than the far side. Time is both a time of labour, and something which is still on this side, still not yet the future.

Somewhere among my boxes of books I have a yet unopened copy of Magrelli's The Contagion of Matter containing an English translation of this poem by Anthony Molino. I look forward, for all sorts of reasons, to finding it.

Photo credit: CCT.