Wednesday, February 11, 2009

translating the untranslatable 1.

The Kingdomless

Alone, in the inconsolable dark
I am prince of a ruined tower,
My single stars is dead,
My metal guitar sings melancholy
Of a black sun, and black humors

Speak, grave, should you chose to comfort
when again will I see see familiar shores,
the flower of my desolation,
The rose and ivy tangled?

Am I the cold dawn? Am I love’s angel?
A king or a savage?
This or that hero?
My face is still marked by the queen’s chaste kiss
I have dreamt of caves,
and of the hungry sirens

I have twice crossed the rivers of hell,
Strumming Orpheus’s instrument
Singing each in it’s turn
the sighs of the saints,
the cries of the dead

being my attempt at a translation of Gérard de Nerval incredible

El Desdichado

Je suis le ténébreux,- le Veuf, - l'inconsolé,
Le Prince d'Aquitaine à la tour abolie:
Ma seule étoile est morte, et mon luth constellé
Porte le soleil noir de la Mélancolie.
Dans la nuit du Tombeau, Toi qui m'as consolé,
Rends-moi le Pausilippe et la mer d'Italie,
La fleur qui plaisait tant à mon coeur désolé,
Et la treille où le Pampre à la rose s'allie.
Suis-je Amour ou Phoebus ?.... Lusignan ou Biron ?
Mon front est rouge encor du baiser de la Reine ;
J'ai rêvé dans la grotte où nage la Sirène..
.Et j'ai deux fois vainqueur traversé l'Achéron :
Modulant tour à tour sur la lyre d'Orphée
Les soupirs de la Sainte et les cris de la Fée.

a note on why the hell i would even attempt this:

Nerval is interesting to me for many reasons, being in the habit of saying lovely things like "This life is a hovel and a place of ill-repute. I'm ashamed that God should see me here." and doing bizarre things like taking a lobster for a walk on a blue ribbon. when questioned on this he said “ I have a liking for lobsters. They are peaceful, serious creatures. They know the secrets of the sea, they don't bark, and they don't gnaw upon one's monadic privacy like dogs do.” In my opinion, this is a fucking awesome response when someone asks you why you are walking your lobster through the park on a ribbon.

This particular poem, and Nerval came to my attention via "the wasteland"., back when i was a wee highschooler, walking around with my pocket edition in my back pocket and quoting Eliot quoting "Le Prince d'Aquitaine à la tour abolie" even though i speak no french

in addition to being an influence on Eliot, I found later that he was important to Artaud and Breton, who are, if you are unaware, badasses of the highest order,and the line itself i think is haunting, as are many of the lines, packed with rich and simple symbolism, that just keeps unpacking as you go, ferinstance, "Porte le soleil noir de la Mélancolie."

"the black sun of melancholy" which , while readable in a surface level and carrying a perfectly clear meaning, also carries with it the weight of alchemical and occult symbolism, the entire poem taking place in the negrado, the putrefaction step alchemically, in which the sun turns black, the gold to lead, etc, before rebirth. and referencing not just this, but the melancholia engraving by durer and the anatomy of melancholy. The only other writer that i can think of that plays with this level of density in his images is Jarry, particulary his caesar/antichrist, and Jarry was completely batshit insane

the last stanza is difficult to convey how perfect it is

Et j'ai deux fois vainqueur traversé l'Achéron :
Modulant tour à tour sur la lyre d'Orphée
Les soupirs de la Sainte et les cris de la Fée.

literaly meaning something along the lines of \

And two times victorious I have crossed Acheron:
Modulating turn by turn on the lyre of Orpheus
The moans of the Saint and the screams of the Fairy.

however, fee, being more "weird" than the usual english garden fairy, think along the lines of the host of the dead, or the fallen angels. I feel that, like all translations mine is flat, and only emphasizes certain aspects of the poem, and loses entirely the music, which is clear even to someone with as rudimentary an understanding of french as mine is.

I may from time to time, try this exercise as a way to better understand a poem. please know that i am aware that this translation is a dim shadow of the original, and i make no pretense to speaking french, or latin, or greek, or whatever i take it upon myself to mangle. take it as an invitation to get to know the original better, rather than any hubris on my part.

here is a far better translation than mine, and other poems

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