Translation from English

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Poems Found in Translation- Romani Russian, Chinese, German

Poems Found in Translation: “Lera Yanysheva: Paganini (From Russian Romani)” plus 2 more

Link to Poems Found in Translation

Posted: 10 Oct 2016 06:40 PM PDT
Valeria "Lera" Yanysheva is an actress, singer and dancer affiliated with the Romen theater. She also showed herself a poet when, 8 years ago, she put out a small collection of verse in Romani — in various dialects thereof — accompanied by free translations into Russian. The collection, titled  Adadîvés i Atasja "Today and Yesterday" contains so much to cut one's teeth on. (Incidentally there seems to me to be some wordplay involved even in the title. Atasja can mean either "yesterday" or "tomorrow." When placed after adadîvés one might expect the latter sense, as what comes after today is generally not yesterday. The contents of the book make it clear that the former is involved, as does the title of the Russian translation. Were I publishing a version of the book in English, I might be tempted to call it "From Today Till Yesterday" or "Todays of Old" or the like.)

She is one of the more brilliant poets I have read in a long time — in any language. Her self-translations into Russian, often strikingly contrasting with the corresponding Romani texts in ways, are also fascinating, and fully deserving of the Russian appellation (which I think English should steal) of художественные переводы "artistic translations." Still, it is in Romani that she interests me more. Her statements about her work that I can find online suggest that she is greatly underselling her achievement. The postscript to her collection is almost a masterpiece of modesty:
Насколько я знаю, цыганский народ равнодушен к поэзии. Принимая это как данность, я всё же попыталась написать стихи, которые были бы интересны самим цыганам. Мне хотелось, чтобы в этой мозаике характеров люди узнавали черты своих знакомых. При самом лучшем раскладе цыганские читатели вообще забыли бы, что это поэзия. Всё должно выглядеть просто как интересная история. И если вы добрались до последней страницы, то, наверное, это у меня получилось. 
As far as I know, the Gypsy people are indifferent to poetry. Taking this as a given fact, I nonetheless tried to write poetry which might interest Gypsies themselves. I wanted people to recognize in that mosaic of characters the traits of people they knew. The best-case scenario would be for Gypsy readers to completely forget that this is poetry. Everything ought to simply seem an interesting story. If they made it to the last page then I've probably achieved that. 
(Note: tsygán the word translated above as "Gypsy" has never become pejorative or unacceptable in Russian the way its counterparts in many other languages have. Many Russian Rom intellectuals in fact are quite attached to the term, and do not take kindly to activists from Central and Western Europe insisting that they must call themselves Rómy and their language Rómskiy Yazýk in Russian — some even find it outright offensive. Roms' acceptance of the traditional exonym in Russian, as opposed to those of German or English, is tied to their partial acceptance of at least some of the ways in which ethnic Russians have often perceived them. There are many reasons, but I suspect the most crucial one is the relative lack, in Russia, of genocide, forced sterilization, orchestrated mob persecution, incarceration on account of "incorrigible vagrancy", workplace discrimination or linguistic marginalization directed against the Roma. One need only compare how the Soviet Union treated Roms in the 1930s, with how the Third Reich treated them in that same period. The difference between Russian Tsygán and German Zigeuner is the difference between national inclusivity and a gas-chamber.)

It's hard for me not to see in her work something much, much more than what she presents it as. It is all she presents it as, certainly, but not only that. She is manipulating language in an extremely artful and non-generic way. Stories she often tells, but she has more to say than their paraphrasable content. The poem translated here, which does not tell a story exactly (though the bulk of her poems are indeed narrative), and repays close reading and close consideration of individual words, is a case in point. 

Unlike some other Russian Romani poets I have read, who seem to be unsure of what to do with the language as they find it, or whose aesthetic and creative horizons seem to be delimited by those of Russian, Yanysheva seems to have a surer sense of what she can, and wants to, do in Romani. Her multidialectal experimentation attests to an interest in the stuff of language itself. She's not just interested in what to say, but how to say it. It gives the impression of complete effortlessness sometimes — though effort there clearly was. Adadîvés i Atasja does not feel like a "first book." Nor does it seem like the kind of one-off thing that she wrote on a whim because she felt like it in the moments when she wasn't occupied with other things. These poems are the result of considered craft an extremely keen sensitivity to language. Romani in her hands is a fine instrument. The collection shows an entire side of her that I'm guessing doesn't find expression on stage. Sometimes she has a way of making every word seem like exactly the right word in exactly the right place. I wind up saying sometimes "how did you even think of that?" She can wring an entire conceptual universe out of the multiple meanings of a single verb — something Romani is particularly ripe for. She can write in the manner of a lullaby that shifts into gritty and terrifying realism, and when she mocks someone she is both merciless and absolutely hilarious. It is worth learning to read a language simply in order to be able to read poetry like this in it. Her gritty and dark sense of irony is striking as is the keen sense of detail that allows her to evoke enormous amounts by mentioning just the right thing in two or three words.

Okay, I'll stop. But seriously —this, this right here. Poetry like this should not be allowed to remain obscure. This poem, about writing in Romani, seems to be a fitting starting point to begin translating.

I include the poet's own Russian self-translation of this poem for interest's sake. For more on that see below. I've used two non-standard English words in my translation, taken from the English spoken in Scotland and Northern England — both of which are ultimately of Romani origin, and one of which I use as a translation of its own Romani cognate. For more ponderments and wonderments about the poem, again, see below. 

By Lera Yanysheva
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click here to hear me recite the original Romani

The people crowded in to hear great Paganini's solo,
But crooked gadgies found his violin and chibbed its gut,  
Cut every string but on one string that virtuoso
Played — and no one could tell the strings were cut. 

Our gypsy language is word-poor? Maybe. 
For every thousand words the others have, we've maybe one. 
But if you are cut out for verse in Romani, 
A Paganini is what you become. 

The Original:

Лера Янышева

Скэдэ́нпэ тэ шунэ́н о Пагани́ни мануша́,
А лэ́скэ налаче́ гадже́ о стру́ны риськирдэ́.
Ачья́пэ то́ко екх... Нэ ёв адя́кэ башадя́.
Со стру́ны риськирдэ́, нико́н на ґалынэ́!

Чиб романы́ набарвалы́ лавэ́са.
Гадже́ндэ кай тысе́нца — е́кх лав амаро́.
Нэ ко́ли сти́хи романэ́ чинэ́са,
Сыр Пагани́ни яв ту, дру́гицо миро́!

Lera Janîševa

Skedénpe te šunen o Paganíni manuša,
A léske nalačje gadžje o strúnî risjkirde.
Ačjápe tóko jov adjáke bašadja.
So strúnî risjkirdé, nikon na ghalîné!

Čib romanî nabarvalî lavésa.
Gadžénde kaj tîsjénca — jekh lav amaro.
Ne kóli stíxi romane činésa,
Sîr Paganíni jav tu, drúgico miro!

Russian Translation by the Poet:

Лера Янышева
Click to hear the Russian

Набился слушать Паганини полный зал.
Вдруг видит он, что струны оборвали.
Одна осталась. Но маэстро так сыграл!
Что струны порваны, никто не понял в зале…
Словами небогат язык цыганский.
На тыщу русских слов — у нас всего одно.
И коли ты стихи писать собрался,
О Паганини вспомнишь всё равно.


The story the poem draws from is not actually true. Paganini never played on only a single string. He did however play with broken strings on occasion. But this was because he broke them intentionally, the better to display his virtuosity on stage. One wonders, in light of the multiple meaning of Äinésa whether that's part of the point, and the falsity is thus a savvy one. The metaphor still works however you slice it, though, if you consider that no Romani-speaker is monolingual (and probably few if any have ever been, since the arrival of the Roms in Europe); every poet who does compose in Romani does so by choice, since they could well have simply used the majority language.

Yanysheva's decision (or rather the implementation of her decision) to write in Romani, and then adapt her poems to Russian, brings out extraordinary virtuosity on several levels. Here she completely subverts and undercuts part of the overt statement of the poem, about the poverty of Romani. ÄŒinel means "cut down, mow down" as well as "write", and "play (an instrument.)" It is related to the word Äindlî "violin" — Paganini's instrument. A single word is all she needs to tie the act of writing Romani to the cutting of strings, to evoke the metaphor of versewright as craftsman chipping away at a work, to highlight the link between poetry and music, and in so doing subvert also the idea that merely a large vocabulary (and of a particular type at that) can be equated with how rich a language is. For here the richness and texture of the poem comes not from having multiple words meaning closely related but different things, but rather from having a single word mean so many extremely different things at once — each of which adds a different shade of sense to the poem. Many notes are wrung out of a single word, much like Paganini's single string. The material she deploys for her master-stroke is a specific resource afforded by Romani. If Romani were really so poor and so unsuited to linguistic art, the poem suggests, then its very existence would not be possible.

It does seem to me that polysemy is an especial richness at the Romani-writing poet's disposal. I have noticed a good deal of it in Romani poetry. In fact there have commonly been at least a case or two where the wide semantic range of the word, and the resulting ambiguity, is exploited via its context. Using words (e.g. Ähinel, them, doÅ¡) with wide semantic ranges in ways that bring different parts of that semantic range to light is not something exclusive to Romani writers, obviously, but it does seem — in my unabashedly and almost comically non-expert and amateur opinion — to be somewhat more characteristic of Romani poetry compared with the literatures with which it is in contact. It also seems to be something to which Romani is well-suited; given how the semantics of a word may vary across dialects, it seems to me that a person with a goodly amount of cross-dialectal exposure would retain in their mental lexical entries a set of extended senses beyond those which they actively use but which are nonetheless processed as plausible — much as speakers of Arabic dialects do today. Given that dialects in contact with one another tend to develop radiating areal features, multiple semantic ranges from multiple sources might end up bleeding into one another. Moreover, even apart from this, context-sensitivity is magnified by the use of such otherwise ambiguous words. It all leads to a connotative lexical landscape that seems more in keeping in some ways with, say, the medieval Romance lyric.

In my translation, I thought about using a loan from Angloromani "chiv" (the merged reflex of a number of different Romani etyma, and with meanings as various as live, tongue, language, cut, put, knife and write) to do the same sort of heavy duty as Äinel does in Yanysheva's poem. I ultimately decided against it. With some regret. But it felt a bit like I'd be killing a really great joke by having to explain it to everybody afterward.

Still, I felt it worthwhile to use some words of Romani origin (such as gadgie "man, fellow", and chib meaning "slash, stab") which have made their way into dialectal English. There are many ways for a language to be rich after all, and the evocative richness of the Romani lexicon has contributed to that of English, particularly spoken English in Northern England. It is after all to Romani that English is indebted for such terms as pal, posh, lollipop, nark and hanky-panky (as Russian is for words such as lavé "cash, dough" Äuvák "dude, dawg" tyrít' "to filch, make off with" and laža "shitshow on ice, load of bullshit.") Poor in words? Maybe in some sense. But not the sense that matters. Words themselves can be rich, or poor, in sense and evocation. 

The original is a Romani poem addressed to a fellow Rom; it is advice given to a good friend (drúgico miro), telling him — or rather demonstrating to him — that the perceived "lexical poverty" of Romani should not deter him from writing in that language, perhaps also reminding him — with the image of the string-slashers — that it is the gadje who would set limits on what Roms and their language can do. (The fact that Romani has until recently seldom been written, or had the kind of resource support that allows the development of a large specialized lexicon and passive vocabulary, has not always been a matter of choice.) She shows him that the importance of the difference is more apparent than actual, that if he writes in Romani, and is up to the challenge, he can even take those seeming weaknesses and show them — as she shows them — to be potential points of strength.

I have given Yanysheva's Russian version of the poem after the Romani text (both have been copied from this online version of Yanysheva's collection) though the Romani text is the basis for my translation.

If the Romani poem is addressed to a Rom, the Russian translation is addressed to an ethnic Russian, or at least somebody who does not know Romani. It expresses itself in terms assimilable to the outsider. Though it basically follows the original, it is different in its specifics. It assimilates itself to Russian. It assumes the addressee writes (or might hypothetically write) poems in Russian, and there isn't any implication that he could write Romani if he wanted to. In the Russian there are no nalače gadže "vile (non-Rom) men" who cut the strings — rather Paganini just notices that "they", whoever they are, have cut them. The point is that Russian-speakers have no business on the high horse, but the vility of the gadje is toned down.

Where the Romani poem has iambic lines varying between pentameter, hexameter and heptameter, the Russian version cuts itself down to just pentameters and hexameters, the two that are more acceptable in the Russian tradition (Russian poetry has not taken much to iambic lines longer than six feet, unlike English where heptameters or "fourteeners" have a long and fêted tradition from Chapman to Tennyson to A.E. Stallings.) In addressing itself specifically to Russians (it translates the second instance of the word gadže with the word for "Russian") it points out that Romani may indeed have a smaller passive vocabulary, but the issue isn't how many dictionary entries your language has, let alone whether "your language doesn't have many words of its own" (a common dismissal leveled at Romani by people too numerous even to name, let alone punch in the throat.) Even if you (i.e. a Russian) try to write poetry, you'll remember Paganini. It won't be easy for you either, more words won't do you much good. The last two lines in Russian read semi-literally "And if you ever set yourself to write verses /  you'll remember Paganini in any case." 

The Russian version for all that it differs from the Romani in its dynamics, has the same point at its core. The trappings and epiphenomena of long and varied written use aren't the end-all. It is something else, apart from merely the size of the passive vocabulary, that makes a language great, rich or evocative. It is something else that makes for great or rich poetry, or a great poet, in it.
Posted: 10 Oct 2016 05:45 AM PDT
To The Moon
By J.W. Goethe
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Hushed, you flood with shining mist
Valley, bush and knoll,
And I feel you finally
Liberate my soul.

Round the regions of my world
Goes your easy gaze
Kind as a companion’s eye
Sizing up my days.

Every echo hefts my heart,
-Tears and joy renewed-
As I balance bliss and pain
In your solitude.

River, river, flow and flow;
Pleasure’s passed for me:
Every kiss has vanished with
Laughs and loyalty.

All I once possessed and lost
Is such treasure still.
Men would rather bear this pain
Than forget that thrill.

River, rise, and never rest,
Rushing down the dale;
Wash and whisper me a tune
As I sing my tale

How in dark December you
Rage and overflow,
Or arise in gloried Spring
Bidding roses grow.

Lucky’s he who leaves the world
Free of hate, by choice,
Has a friend to laugh with and
Lovingly rejoice

In what men have never guessed,
Or forgotten quite,
Roaming mazes of the breast
Wayward in the night.

The Original:

An den Mond

Füllest wieder Busch und Tal
Still mit Nebelglanz,
Lösest endlich auch einmal
Meine Seele ganz;

Breitest über mein Gefild
Lindernd deinen Blick,
Wie des Freundes Auge mild
Ãœber mein Geschick.

Jeden Nachklang fühlt mein Herz
Froh- und trüber Zeit,
Wandle zwischen Freud' und Schmerz
In der Einsamkeit.

Fließe, fließe, lieber Fluß!
Nimmer werd' ich froh;
So verrauschte Scherz und Kuß
Und die Treue so.

Ich besaß es doch einmal,
was so köstlich ist!
Daß man doch zu seiner Qual
Nimmer es vergißt!

Rausche, Fluß, das Tal entlang,
Ohne Rast und Ruh,
Rausche, flüstre meinem Sang
Melodien zu!

Wenn du in der Winternacht
Wütend überschwillst
Oder um die Frühlingspracht
Junger Knospen quillst.

Selig, wer sich vor der Welt
Ohne Haß verschließt,
Einen Freund am Busen hält
Und mit dem genießt,

Was, von Menschen nicht gewußt
Oder nicht bedacht,
Durch das Labyrinth der Brust
Wandelt in der Nacht.
Posted: 10 Oct 2016 05:38 AM PDT
Staying the Night in a Riverside Villa
By Du Fu
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Visible darkness  grows up mountain paths
 I enter my study  over River Gate
A wispy cloud  lodged all night on cliff's edge
 the lonely moon  atumble in senseless waves
A line of cranes  flies past on a silent hunt
 a pack of wild dogs  brawls violent over prey
I get no sleep  mind worrying over war 
 I have no power  to spare the world its fate 

The Original: