Funded by the NEH, “Incredible Bridges” responds to the NEH’s initiative The Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square, which seeks to demonstrate and enhance the role of the humanities in public life.
Poetry & Translation
“As a poet, translation gives me the opportunity to engage directly with poetic strategies different from my own. In attempting to recreate them in English, I am also practicing them. It is a chance to work in the ‘clay’ of poetic language with my ego, experiences, preferences, left in the wardrobe closet,” says former Academy Chancellor and translator Marilyn Hacker. Whether it’s for National Translation Month in September or any time of the year, learn more about the art of the translation with this collection of texts, videos, poems, and more.
—Rainer Maria Rilke, "Archaic Torso of Apollo"
The word’s augapfel—
meaning eyeballs or “apple of the eye.”
But we only have the torso of a god here.
Apollo’s abs! Not, the poet writes, his
“unknowable” head. Not his unseen immortal gaze.
But a god might materialize within a sudden turn of phrase:
those startled eyes,
arms and legs: sudden lamp-bright rays
from inside the bruised translucence of stone.
Then a “proud manhood” flaring—don’t look away!
See, this god doesn’t lust after your little life—or care.
It is his own Apollonian god-ness insisting on itself,
handfuls of gems shaken over that chest, blinding
us. Blinking as each rendering slides its straitjacket
over him as he spins, rocketing back into monument.
Translation is about freeing ourselves from our selves:
That older voice, from the back.
Long ago Dresden, she sat, a kid in kitchen lamplight,
a decade after nonstop bombs obliterated each strasse:
homes, hospitals, museums, towers: rotating
beams. She cut open an apple with a pocketknife,
watching its heart break into a five-pointed star,
that children then called augapfel.
Apple on a plate, Apollo’s petaled eye…
Searchlights rake each word’s perfect precedence.
There is nothing here that does not see you—
your word-history in ego’s funny destruction,
in linguist-selfies, a drone’s drone-sight. So follow Apollo now!
@ hashtag: You Must Change Your Life.
Poetry in Translation, a unit created by Queens teacher Carol McCarthy, draws on the unique abilities of her multicultural classroom. In her introductory lesson plan, Carol calls upon her students to investigate poetry through the lens of their individual cultural backgrounds. Students translate the work of poets from their native country or ethnic heritage, then write and translate their own poems. Students probe poetry in translation in other lessons as well, including "Translating Poets of the Holocaust Era," "Haiku," "Women in Poetry," and a comparative lesson focusing on two translations of Beowulf. Against this backdrop, Carol employs a series of classroom learning activities and Internet research that helps each student to find their place in a poetic tradition.
Unit Length: 8 Class Periods
I was trying to wave to you but you wouldn’t wave back —The Be Good Tanyas Forgive me my deafness now for your name on others’ lips: each mouth gathers then opens & I search for the wave the fluke of their tongues should make with the blow of your name in that mild darkness I recognize but cannot explain as the same oblivious blue of Hold the conch to your ear & hearing the highway loud & clear. My hands are bloated with the name signs of my kin who have waited for water to reach their ears. Or oil; grease from a fox with the gall of a hare, bear fat melted in hot piss, peach kernels fried in hog lard & tucked along the cavum for a cure; a sharp stick even, a jagged rock; anything to wedge down deep to the drum inside that kept them walking away from wives—old or otherwise—& the tales they tell about our being too broken for their bearing, & yet they bear on. Down. Forgive me my deafness for my own sound, how I mistook it for a wound you could heal. Forgive me the places your wasted words could have saved us from going had I heard you with my hands. I saw Joni live & still thought a gay pair of guys put up a parking lot. How could I have known You are worthless sounds like Should we do this, even with the lights on. You let me say Yes. So what if Johnny Nash can see clearly now Lorraine is gone—I only wanted to hear the sea. The audiologist asks Does it seem like you’re under water? & I think only of your name. I thought it was you after I love, but memory proves nothing save my certainty— the chapped round of your mouth was the same shape while at rest or in thought or blowing smoke, & all three make a similar sound:
What I’ve written for you, I have always written
in English, my language of silent vowel endings
never translated into your language of silent h’s.
Lo que he escrito para ti, siempre lo he escrito
en inglés, en mi lengua llena de vocales mudas
nunca traducidas a tu idioma de haches mudas.
I’ve transcribed all your old letters into poems
that reconcile your exile from Cuba, but always
in English. I’ve given you back the guajiro roads
you left behind, stretched them into sentences
punctuated with palms, but only in English.
He transcrito todas tus cartas viejas en poemas
que reconcilian tu exilio de Cuba, pero siempre
en inglés. Te he devuelto los caminos guajiros
que dejastes atrás, transformados en oraciones
puntuadas por palmas, pero solamente en inglés.
I have recreated the pueblecito you had to forget,
forced your green mountains up again, grown
valleys of sugarcane, stars for you in English.
He reconstruido el pueblecito que tuvistes que olvidar,
he levantado de nuevo tus montañas verdes, cultivado
la caña, las estrellas de tus valles, para ti, en inglés.
In English I have told you how I love you cutting
gladiolas, crushing ajo, setting cups of dulce de leche
on the counter to cool, or hanging up the laundry
at night under our suburban moon. In English,
En inglés te he dicho cómo te amo cuando cortas
gladiolas, machacas ajo, enfrías tacitas de dulce de leche
encima del mostrador, o cuando tiendes la ropa
de noche bajo nuestra luna en suburbia. En inglés
I have imagined you surviving by transforming
yards of taffeta into dresses you never wear,
keeping Papá’s photo hinged in your mirror,
and leaving the porch light on, all night long.
He imaginado como sobrevives transformando
yardas de tafetán en vestidos que nunca estrenas,
la foto de papá que guardas en el espejo de tu cómoda,
la luz del portal que dejas encendida, toda la noche.
Te he captado en inglés en la mesa de la cocina
esperando que cuele el café, que hierva la leche
y que tu vida acostumbre a tu vida. En inglés
has aprendido a adorer tus pérdidas igual que yo.
I have captured you in English at the kitchen table
waiting for the café to brew, the milk to froth,
and your life to adjust to your life. In English
you’ve learned to adore your losses the way I do.