Archive for ‘Translation’

Thursday, 23 July 2020

A Prayer by Dániel Berzsenyi

O, God, whom no wise man in thought can reach,
Thou whom his yearning hope can barely trace;
Thy being, like the sun, pervades all life.
But human eyes can never see Thy face.

The highest heaven and ether’s Uranus
Around Thee in revolving order course;
The very worms unseen beneath the sod
Proclaim Thy wondrous wisdom and Thy force.

The myriad orbs from nothing Thou hast called,
Thy glance brings worlds to life or sends to death,
And measures the swift-flowing tides of time,
Whose ocean-waves are even as Thy breath.

Zenith and Nadir glorify Thy name,
Strong tempests breeding strife o’er sea and land.
Thunder and lightning, dews and flowering boughs,
Alike proclaim them creatures of Thy hand.

In pious guise I kneel before Thy grace;
When once my soul from its abode doth part,
And near approaches Thee, O, then, I know
I shall attain the yearning of my heart.

Till then I dry my tears and simply tread
The pathway of my life ordained by Thee —
The pathway of all good and noble souls,
Until my soul, like theirs, gains strength to flee.

Though awful, yet I view the grave’s dark night,
Which cannot all be evil, now in trust,
Because, e’en dead, Thy creatures still are Thine,
Whose gracious hands protect even bones and dust.

From: Loew, William N. (ed. and transl.), Magyar Poetry. Selections from Hungarian Poets, 1899, Author-Translator’s Edition, p. 149.

Date: 1807-1810 (original in Hungarian); 1899 (translation in English)

By: Dániel Berzsenyi (1776-1836)

Translated by: William Noah Loew (1847-1922)

Saturday, 18 July 2020

Fragment 26 by Alcman

No more, you honey-voiced maidens whose songs have a holy power,
can my frame bear my weight. I wish, I wish that I were
a kingfisher aloft with you halcyons over the sea-foam in flower,
holy, the color of ocean, light in my heart, and sure.

Note from the Translator: In this poem Alcman wishes he were a kerylos, an obscure word which Antigonus of Carystus, who quotes the poem, defines as a male halcyon, a mythical bird that borrows many of its traits from kingfishers. Antigonus adds: “When they become weak from old age and are no longer able to fly, the females carry them, taking them on their wings.” Unfortunately, there’s not much evidence for this charming story and the poem expresses a wish to fly with the halcyons, not on their backs. Some commentators think the fragment may be a prelude to a “maiden-song” (partheneion—Alcman’s main genre) that explains why the poet can’t join the choral dance; others go further and picture the chorus dressed as birds, while one even imagines them leaping into the sea, like Sappho from the Cape of Leucas. Such picturesque speculations don’t contribute much to our enjoyment of Alcman’s Greek, which lilts hypnotically along in a lyric dactylic hexameter full of evocative compound nouns and wistful repetitions. The contrast between the poet’s earthbound infirmity and his dreamy flight of lyric virtuosity makes this fragment Alcman’s loveliest and most poignant poem.


Date: 7th century BCE (original in Greek); 2016 (translation in English)

By: Alcman (7th century BCE)

Translated by: Christopher Childers (19??- )

Thursday, 16 July 2020

Song by Jacques Prévert

What day are we?
We are every day
My friend
We’re the whole of life
My love
We love and we live
We live and we love
And we don’t really know
What life is
And we don’t really know
What the day is
And we don’t really know
What love is


Date: 1949 (original in French); 1997 (translation in English)

By: Jacques Prévert (1900-1977)

Translated by: Alastair Campbell (19??- )

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

The Roses of Saadi by Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (Marie Felicite Josephe Desbordes)

I wanted to bring you roses this morning.
There were so many I wanted to bring,
The knots at my waist could not hold so many.

The knots burst. All the roses took wing,
The air was filled with roses flying,
Carried by the wind, into the sea.

The waves are red, as though they are burning.
My dress still has the scent of the morning,
Remembering roses. Smell them on me.


Date: 1860 (original in French); 1995 (translation in English)

By: Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (Marie Felicite Josephe Desbordes) (1786-1859)

Translated by: Louis Aston Marantz Simpson (1923-2012)

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

And This Is the Ballad of My Life by Abraham (Avrom) Sutzkever

And this is the ballad of my life: dipping bread
in salt at a banquet for my unseen guests from afar.
And when they are hailed on by clod of earth after clod of earth,
to meet them between long tree-lined streets once more.

And this is the ballad of my life: that I mumble
strange syllables before the people of silence.
And they, the unseen and heirs of the mists,
fill my living anxiety and contemplations.

And this is the ballad of my life: to be a witness that those
who lashed me with thongs just a moment ago and set
children on fire and cremated them with their grandfathers,
these same people should send off a swarm of diamonds.

A day at the conclusion of days approaches through tears,
the way a blooming cherry tree approaches at the end of night.
And this is the ballad of my life: to hear my critic–
the roaring oracular voice of forever.


Date: 1977 (original in Yiddish) 2014 (translation in English)

By: Abraham (Avrom) Sutzkever (1913-2010)

Translated by: Maia Evrona (19??- )

Sunday, 24 May 2020

My Mother by Leonard George Wolf

My Mother used to say:
Laughter and light—
That’s all it takes to deal with life.

And, with that,
She became urgently busy,
Worked like a horse,
Cooking, washing,
Bedroom to cellar,
Cupboard to attic,
Windows and walls,

Until her hands were like the hands
Of a day laborer:

Out of the water
Into the dough,
Out of the dough,
Into the water.

And running, running
Running like a heavy bird
Newly created and already sick
That hardly knows what food
It ought to eat

Well . . .

When she came to die
It’s true that she had, indeed,
A golden candelabrum for
Her Chanukahs,
But, as for laughter . . .


An ugly story.


Date: 1959 (original in Yiddish); 1959 (translation in English)

By: Leonard George Wolf (1923-2019)

Translated by: Leonard George Wolf (1923-2019)

Saturday, 23 May 2020

For Years I Wallowed by Itzik Manger

For years I wallowed about in the world,
Now I’m going home to wallow there.
With a pair of shoes and the shirt on my back,
And the stick in my hand that goes with me everywhere.

I’ll not kiss your dust as that great poet did,
Though my heart, like his, is filled with song and grief
How can I kiss your dust? I am your dust.
And how, I ask you, can I kiss myself?

Still dressed in my shabby clothes
I’ll stand and gape at the blue Kinneret
Like a roving prince who has found his blue
Though blue was in his dream when he first started.

I’ll not kiss your blue, I’ll merely stand
Silent as a shimenesre prayer myself.
How can I kiss your blue? I am your blue.
And how, I ask you, can I kiss myself?

Musing, I’ll stand before your great desert,
And hear the camels’ ancient tread as they
Sway with trade and Torah on their humps.
I’ll hear the age-old hovering wander-song
That trembles over glowing sand and dies,
And then recalls itself and does not disappear.
I’ll not kiss your sand. No, and ten times no.
How can I kiss your sand? I am your sand.
And how, I ask you, can I kiss myself?


Date: 1958 (original in Yiddish); 1984 (translation in English)

By: Itzik Manger (1901-1969)

Translated by: Leonard George Wolf (1923-2019)

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Mankind by Mihály Vörösmarty

Listen. For the singing must be still:
Now the world speaks plain.
Hot wings of the rainstorm turn to chill,
Frozen the wind and rain—
The rain is tears, is sorrow’s smart,
The wind sighed by the human heart:
It makes no difference—spirit, virtue, sin:
All hope is vain!

You have heard the story: humankind
Born of their fathers’ breath,
Reaped with their fathers sowed and as they sinned,
Inheritance of death:
And the survivors howl for Law,
And law in turn kills m any more,
The best have failed, the worst’s plots reign:
All hope is vain!

Then the heroes came, and they bestrode
The law with their bright blaze.
Work began: steel cut its bloody road!
Mankind gloried in self-praise.
And when its heroes died, again
It mauled itself in its great pain.
The news? Lightning upon a darkling plain:
All hope is vain!

There is a long peace, and humankind
Teems grossly to beget
So the plague perhaps may one day find
A grander banquet set.
With greedy eyes it scans the sky:
Earth’s not its own, that’s why,
The Earth’s as hard as grave-ground for this strain:
All hope is vain!

How fertile is the earth, and human hands
Make it more fertile still,
Yet poverty stalks over all the lands
And bondage stamps its will.
Must it be so? Or if not, why
Must ancient times repeat the cry?
What’s lacking? Is it virtue? power? Again
All hope is vain!

A godless contract binds you in its bans,
Reason and evil will!
You nourish with the rage of ignorance
Your armies to the kill.
Reason or rage, devil or beast,
Whoever wins, men die at least:
This mud ran mad, this god-faced knot of pain!
All hope is vain!

Beneath Mankind the good earth groans, and now
War years and peace years burn.
The curse of brother-hate blooms on its brow:
You’d think that it would learn,
But then it spawns some greater sin.
Humans are dragon-teeth, the strain
Of Man’s the dragon-toothed, the race of Cain:
All hope is vain! All hope is vain!


From:  Ozsváth , Zsuzsanna and Turner, Frederick (eds. and transls.), Light within the Shade: Eight Hundred Years of Hungarian Poetry, 2014, Syracuse University Press: Syracuse, New York, pp. 30-31.

Date: 1846 (original in Hungarian); 2014 (translation in English)

By: Mihály Vörösmarty (1800-1855)

Translated by: Zsuzsanna Ozsváth (1931- ) and Frederick Turner (1943- )

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

The Bridge of Paper by Lothar Quinkenstein

we are waiting,
tell us.
(Itzik Manger)

Who carries the longing carries the burden
carries the genisah of burned names

who carries the unlived life
across the bridge of paper?


Date: 2017 (original in German); 2018 (translation in English)

By: Lothar Quinkenstein (1967- )

Translated by: Yanara Friedland (19??- )

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Do They Flower by Chiyojo

Do they flower
dreaming of a spring night?
blossoms out of season.

From: Ueda, Makoto (ed. and transl.), Far Beyond the Field: Haiku by Japanese Women, 2003, Columbia University Press: New York, p. 43.

Date: c1764 (original in Japanese); 2003 (translation in English)

By: Chiyojo (1703-1775)

Translated by: Makoto Ueda (1931- )