Tuesday, 11 December 2007

An exercise in translation

Here is my freshly baked translation of Thomas Bernhard's untitled opening poem in his collection 'Unter dem Eisen des Mondes' ('Under the Iron of the Moon'). Unfortunately, for copyright reasons, P-i-R is unable to display the full original German text or James Reidel's translation.

The year is like the year a thousand years ago,
we carry the jug and strike the back of the cow,
we mow and bleat and know nothing of winter,
we drink our cider and know nothing,
and soon we'll be forgotten
and the verses decayed like snow before the house.

The year is like the year a thousand years ago,
we look in the woods as if in the stall of the world,
we lie and weave baskets for apples and pears,
we sleep while our dirty shoes
moulder before the door of the house.

The year is like the year a thousand years ago,
we know nothing,
we know nothing of the end,
of the sunken towns, of the flood in which the horses
and people were drowned.

c) Gwilym Williams 2007

The first three lines of the recently published Reidel translation (Princeton University Press) will serve to highlight important differences in interpretation and translation style. You may judge for yourself which version is most faithful to the spirit of Bernhard.

The year is like a year a thousand years ago, (why use the indefinite article?)
we carry the jug and whip behind the cow, (no mention of a whip in the German)
we reap and know nothing of winter, (by going for 'reap' missed B's lovely pun)

Das Jahr ist wie das Jahr vor tausend Jahren,
wir tragen den Krug and schlagen den Rücken der Kuh,
wir mähen und wissen nichts vom Winter,

I applaud Reidel for tackling the two Bernhard books 'In Hora Mortis' and 'Under the Iron of the Moon' and bringing them together in one volume but I confess to raised eyebrows on reading a comment by Richard Howard, series editor of the Lockert Library of Poetry in Translation, on the back cover blurb: 'I am very taken with James Reidel's translations...'.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.