Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Translation Follies

I don't feel like going anywhere today. I don't.

I could go to Whole Foods, get some soup and a couple of things I need for dinner and sit down with Teddy for a nice sidewalk lunch and pretend that I'm already in France. I could take Teddy to Marymoor after that so he can run with his kind. We love going to Marymoor, watching dogs of different sizes and shapes leaping through the grass. I could go pay for my international driver's license because I am going to be tooling around in France, Switzerland, and Spain very soon and I want to be the cool sister/aunt who has one in case we get tired of schlepping our stuff and want to rent a car for a couple of days. It turns out that all I have to do to get an international driver's license is to show up at an AAA office and pay fifteen dollars for one. I love being the cool sister/aunt.

Did I tell you that I can't wait until I go to Europe? Did I? Did I tell you that I've been telling total strangers that I meet that I'm finally going to eat at a sidewalk cafe in France in just a little more than a week? Did I tell you that I'm a little nervous about speaking such bad French?

I picked up a couple of bilingual books of poetry, one in Spanish and one in French and am struggling to read them. I'm telling you that my favorite translator is Stephen Mitchell. He's a poet, reflecting both Neruda and Rilke. I love reading aloud from 'Full Woman, Fleshy Apple, Hot Moon' by Neruda. Anyone who can write a good poem about socks is a hit in my book. In it, Mitchell's translation sings. It really does. The English of some of other translations I've found seem like they're written in concrete by comparison. Really.

The book of French poetry I bought is clunky in some places and lyrical in others. I don't know whether to blame the poet or the translation because I'm so bad at reading French. Oh, my adventures in reading in French and Spanish are funny. I have only a very basic vocabulary in either language, so when I begin, say, on a French poem, it is hysterical what I think the poem is about until I get too lost and look to the opposite page to see its real meaning.

From my book of 'Modern French Poets,' I like Paul Eluard. So, here's one of my foibles:

Tu vois le feu du soir qui sort de sa coquille
Et tu vois la foret enfouie dans la fraicheur

Forgive my lack of the little carrots on top of some e's and i's. I thought it said:

You see the fire of the night quite coqueteishly
And you are the leaves on top of the strawberry.

Terrible poetry, right? Well, it would be terrible, but that's not at all what it said. It acutally said:

You see the evening fire coming out from its shell
And you see the buried forest in its coolness.

Now, I like that. I can feel the temperature of it on my skin. Last week, when a young friend of mine caught me reading my book of French poets, she said, "Poetry sucks."

"No it doesn't," I said. "I like poetry." Good argument, huh? I didn't have my copy of Neruda's book to read 'Ode to Lemons' to her or Lucille Clifton's poem about 'Wishes for Sons' in which she wishes her sons to have the experience of going to a gynecologist or getting the dreaded period unexpectedly while wearing thin white shorts. Oh, I love Lucille Clifton. And there's Mary Oliver and Jane Kenyan and Billy Collins. And the book 'The Light that Whispers Morning' by Kevin Miller. I love that book. Even the title makes me breathe more deeply.

The only way I was going to catch this girls opinion and turn it around is if I can get her to laugh or to cry over one of those poems. And she had this look on her face that to do that would be torture, the sheer hell of 'Dante's Inferno.'

Well, then.

I guess I'll leave her alone to her own kind of reading. But tomorrow, when I go to the library where she will mostly likely dance in front of the big library desk before she flutters off with her friends to chatter, I am going to be reading Pablo Neruda. So there. Pththpththpth.

And I'm going to be enjoying the way my mind can totally bunch up the translation of a poem and how Stephen Mitchell can smooth it all back into place.

Thank you for listening, jb

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