Friday, 9 July 2010

After Jozsef Attila's 'Only that the sea has come'

Thomas Bernhard said there is no such thing as a translation. Every translation, he said, is a new work. And he's right. Every attempt at translation, particularly with poetry, ends up as a new creation.

The following poem is my attempted translation of a Frischmuth and Racz German translation.

The original poem, Jozsef Attila's 'Czaka tenger jöff el' (1926) was written in Hungarian, and was published in the Lesebuch Der Ungarischen Avantgardliteratur (1915-1930) (Böhlau Verlag, Vienna & Argumentum Kiado, Budapest, 1996).

Only that the sea has come

The blue line between the poles of your breasts
- the tightrope-walker's dream stands on it.

The clouds have dissolved, now you can fly ahead
- how often I've searched for you.

My flight is as calm as the breath of deep water
- pine-cones drop from my lonely fir tree.

On the hillside the grass has already sprouted
- a beauteous green fire burns in its heart

Where tired beetles fly home
when dusk falls;

And it's there that the Lord stands
with his wide open hands,

Up to the knees in ripples
of peace
at the end of your path ...

I, my dear, am not tired
- it's only that the sea
has come to my threshold.

The reader might like to compare this poem with my Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes beyond the grave poem. It can be found 7 posts below.


  1. I have always felt that about poetry in translation G. Poetry is such a personal thing regardless of how good or bad it is and I don't think the translator can ever completely get into the poet's mind-set.
    One of my favourite poets in translation is Pablo Neruda and yet when I once heard a poem of his read in his native language somehow it had more impact although I could not understand it - the rhythm and resonance were there.

  2. Yes, you could never compare the melody of a poetic expression like "Szeretlek!" to "Ich liebe dich!" or even to "I love you!".

    Don't ask why the "!" is there! Maybe it's to do with Picasso's green period? Or maybe not? All we be revealed in the next exciting episode of the PiR Hungarian-German-English translations.


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