Monday, 21 May 2012

A thousand splinters of moon

A thousand splinters of moon

By moonbeam-barricaded
bedsides, shards of crafted light
wait to pierce our naked soles,
yet look left, just off centre
as the heart is, in chaos
a star cluster spews, sprouts, foals,
cloudy-edged, joyous, required
confusion’s wild scattering;

the still pools, the perfect bowls
of your imagination
have been, the moon says, the snare
for jigsaw habited souls:
a thousand splinters of moon
won't piece back together whole.

After Chenzin Jiang’s literal translation for The Poetry Translation Centre (•_metaphor/literal) of Chen Yuhong’s poem.

When Ian Crockatt spoke about poetry translation at Nottingham University earlier this year ( he not only put emphasis on reproducing the original structure of the poem (so that the new reader experienced something of the force of the original) but was also very sniffy about those whose primary focus was instead on a literal rendering of the original words. At the time I was a little wary of the way in which, for example, the choice of the English rhyme words demanded by the structure could lead the translator too far from the original ideas of the poem (so the new reader heard too much of the ideas of the translator). But I saw his point more clearly when I came across the Poetry Translation Centre’s website’s literal translations (adjusted and polished by a panel or poet) which are clear and faithful but which, at first reading, seemed to lack some of the poetic sense. So, for what it is worth, my version of Chen Yuhon’s poem has been an attempt to give one of those literal texts a more English poetic structure while aware of the dilemmas involved in doing so.

Having heard Simon Armitage at Lincoln Cathedral a couple of weeks ago, I have been revisiting his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. He draws attention to this dilemma in his Introduction. His example is the lines about Guinevere The comlokest to discrye / ther glent with yyven gray (the loveliest to see / seen by gray eyes) where he would see a literal translation as only giving ‘the cold facts’ of her beauty. Instead he takes a hint from a reference to the ‘best gemmes’ in the previous line, and bows to the demand of the alliterative structure, by giving But not one stone outshone / the quartz of the queen’s eye, although the words beginning with q don’t appear in the original. My spews, sprouts, foals (where the literal translation only has a sense of process), and my the still pools, the perfect bowls (where the literal translation does not spell out any content for 'your own confused imagery'), both of which are partly squeezed in to meet the demands for rhyme at these points, are the only places where I’ve named something which Chen Yuhon had not already named, and I hope benefit from ‘the Armitage defence’ despite my wariness.

Meanwhile, the pictures of the mediaeval dovecote at Stoke-sub-Hamdon come from a lunchtime stop there when going down to take services for my Aunt in Yoevil Crematorium and South Petherton Parish Church in the week; we had a five hours drive down there before lunch, and a return journey the following day to be back for my new colleague's licensing in the evening.


Ian Crockatt said...

Greetings! A fascinating poem, and comments on translation dilemmas. There's a skaldic ring to it - I wonder what the chinese sounds like. Your irregular but emphatic end-rhymes brought to mind an Apollinaire line I found quoted in an essay by Breton - 'your tongue,that goldfish in the bowl of your voice' - a startlingly beautiful and 'whole' image I think - and there's that insistent rhyme-sound again..
I notice you start with what seems to be the end in the literal and 'verse' translation on the website on which you found it, which changes the focus from the poet confused by - caught up in? - his own metaphor, to a more general comment. But it's a fine poem.
Write on!


Peter Mullins said...

Thank you for this generous comment. And you are quite right about my changing the order of the lines in the original poem. I obviously knew I'd done this, but it is an interesting blind spot that I didn't think to mention it in my comments about the process of translation. I did a careful audit of the way each phrase in the orginal corresponds to a phrase in my translation, and then missed the way in which ordering the phrases made it much more my poem than a translation. Well, well.

Anonymous said...

Any thought on the meaning of the poem?