Translation from English

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Yiddish and Chinese Poems


Poems Found in Translation: “Abraham Sutzkever: A Voice From The Heart (From Yiddish)” plus 1 more

Link to Poems Found in Translation

Posted: 01 Nov 2016 09:34 AM PDT
This poem, written just before the Vilnius ghetto was established, is a call to resistance in the face of Nazi persecution. The theme of Jewish revolt is one that would for obvious reasons permeate a good deal of Sutzkever's work from the 40s. There is much about this piece, as a Yiddish poem, as a Jewish poem, that could be said in explication. It takes a quasi-biblical and prophetic tone throughout. Its multi-textured allusions subvert pious tradition and supplant it with ideals of secular Jewish resistance in this world. Even the word גאַנג "way, course, manner of walking" seems loaded in context. I could probably fill several pages with detailed commentary. Maybe sometime I will actually do just that. (Poems like this are why The Modern Yiddish Poem Itself is a book that desperately needs to be written. Presumably by somebody whose knowledge of the language and literature is not so uneven, gap-strewn and idiosyncratic as my own.)

Liberties in translation? Yes, I took them, as I often do on days when I have more sense in me. No, that "sword" in line 4 has no precise warrant (so much as generalized inspiration) in the original. I did what seemed to work for the text in English. (I'm still wondering if I ought to have rendered the first line as "The heart's voice said: thou shalt believe...")

A Voice From The Heart
By Abraham Sutzkever
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

A voice said from the heart: believe
In the already debased word
Justice! The lion's heir must heave
Against enslavement with the sword. 

There is a way. Its destination
Is memory's wild primeval wood. 
But there's a germ that spreads contagion 
Of a millennium in your food. 

You'd have your suffering make sense? 
Make of yourself the things it tells.
Hear as grandfathers waken sons
As stormblades in the bronze of bells. 

There is a way: rise, stride. Wayfarer!
Strike down the stumbling stones and live. 
Death will forgive you any error.
Slavishness it cannot forgive.

- Vilna, July 1941

The Original:

אַ שטים פֿון האַרץ
אבֿרהם סוצקעווער

אַ שטים פֿון האַרץ באַפֿעלט מיר: גלייב
אין שוין פֿאַרשוועכטן וואָרט גערעכטשאַפֿט
דער ווײַטער יורש פֿון אַ לייב
מוז ווידערשפּעניקן זײַן קנעכטשאַפֿט

ס׳איז דאָ אַ גאַנג. עס ליגט זײַן ציל
אין ווילדן אורוואַלד פֿון זכּרון.
ס׳איז אויך פֿאַראַן אַזאַ באַצילֹ,
וואָס טראָגט דעם סם פֿון טויזנט יאָרן.

און זוכסטו פֿאַר דײַן פּײַן אַ זין– 
פֿאַרוואַנדל זיך אין איר אַנטפּלעקער,
און הער ווי זיידעס וועקן זין
ווי שטורעמהעק אין בראָנדז פֿון גלעקער. 

ס׳איז דאָ אַ גאַנג. איז קלעטער, שפרײַז,
קויף אויס דעם דורותֿדיקן שטרויכל.
דער טויט איז מוחל יעדער גרײַז,
נאָר זײַן אַ קנעכט איז ער ניט מוחל.

ווילנע, יולי 1941

Posted: 01 Nov 2016 09:25 AM PDT
Airs of Ancientry No.14 – Lament of the Empire's Conscript   
By Lǐ Bái
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original in reconstructed 8th century Chang'anese pronunciation

The border post ablast with sand and wind
 Drear and wailing now from elder days
Leaves felled from trees, grasses yellowed with fall
 I scale the tower surveil the foe's terrain —  
Weed-choked ramparts derelict in the desert 
 Border town where not a wall remains  
Bleachwhite bones  a thousand frosts have weathered
 Jumbled barrows  brushwood overtakes 
Let me ask who was the great aggressor?  
 Nature's pet tribesmen moved with violent bane
So flamed with rage our godly Emperor
 Bade his army bang the drums of war
His sunbalmed nature steamed to murderous air   
 Sent troops to invade and turmoil through the State
Three hundred sixty thousand men deployed
 Now sorrow and sorrow — and sorrow's tears like rain 
Though it grieved us so we got no choice but go  
 How can we farm our fields in these blasted acres  
Till you've seen boys stationed at the border 
 Don't think you know the front line's dreary ache 
General Li Mu  is with us no more today
 We frontier men are fodder for what infests these wastes

The Original: