TRANSLATIONS AND MISTRANSLATIONS BY PHILIP MORRE AND OTHERS

One of the many poets often referred to as 'a poet's poet', Jean Follain has never quite done it for me, but I took to this one (mildly meddled with):

 

October Thoughts


Nothing beats

an old wine

savoured alone

as early evening

coppers the hills,

no huntsman now

drawing a bead

on the beasts of the plain.

Our friends’ sisters

(the radio bleats

of wars to come)

look lovelier

(an insect settles

and moves on again).

 

 

Another Callimachus:

  

Melanippus

 

Melanippus, who sold smack to schoolkids,

did the world a favour this morning,

dying from a seizure. Young Basha

followed after lunch by her own hand.

Having laid out her brother it seems

she lay down herself and saw no reason

to get up again. Their fond father's

vacant house is crushed on two sides

like a nut. We are sorry for him,

up to a point. Had he no warning?

One thing he must know only too well:

both his darlings are ticketed to hell.

 

 

Milo de Angelis has some claim to be top living Italian poet, and has already been translated into English, or at least American, including I think (somewhere on the net) this poem from Tema dell'addio (2006)

 

Milo de Angelis


Non è più dato


It's no longer an option. The weeping that morphed

into uncontrolled laughter, the nights spent

beating Via Crescenzago, homing in on the neon

of a news-stand. No longer an option. No longer

ours, that breathless waiting for midnight, waiting

for her until midnight tune up its turmoil,

its hours of delirium, all the hours through to daybreak.

No longer an option. Just the one lifetime,

one death, too few the obsessions, too few

our nights of love, the kisses, too few the streets

that led away from ourselves, too few the poems.

 

 

 

A late Szymborska:

Mirror

Yes, I remember that wall
in our ruined city. A block
gutted almost to the sixth floor.
a mirror on the fourth,

unbelievably intact, still
resolutely attached.

It reflected no one's face now,
no hands tilted a hat,
there was no door opposite,
nothing you could call
a room, or a flat.

It was as if on vacation -
only the busy sky

admired itself there:
clouds wandering in free air,
bright rains rinsing the dust of ruins,
birds in mid-flight,

stars and rising suns . .

And so, like every well made thing,
it worked on irreproachably,
with a professional want of surprise.


 

 

An attempt at one of my all time favourites, from Le Occasioni

 

Dora Markus

 

It was where the wooden pier at Porto Corsini

thrusts out into open sea

and solitary men, hardly seeming to move,

cast and retrieve their nets. With a vague hand

you gestured to your real country

on the other, invisible shore,

and we followed the canal downtown

to the docks in their sheen of soot

where a stagnant Spring ebbed away

unmourned.


And here where a sweet middle-eastern unease

perturbs the centuried calm,

your talk glittered like the scales

of their basketed catch.


Your restlessness recalls

those birds of passage that dash

against the harbour lighthouse

on hurricane nights:

tempestuous too your allure

that simmers without seeming

(and how rare its abeyance).

I don't understand how it is

you contrive to survive

in that lake of indifference, your heart.

Is it your talisman saves you,

- the one that you keep with your

nail-file, your lipstick, your powderpuff:

that miniature ivory mouse?

Is he your secret?!

 

Eugenio Montale


 

 

One from Philippe Jaccottet's first book L'Effraie (Gallimard, 1953)

 

Interior


A long time I've been trying to live a life here,
in this room I pretend to be fond of,
the table's unthreatening clutter, the window
that opens each dawn onto altered greenery,
a blackbird's heart ticking in the dark ivy,
light-splinters throwing quaint shadows everywhere.   

I make myself believe it's a milder day than most,
I'm at home, and the morning bodes well.
There  is  just  this  spider, at the foot of the bed
(because of the garden), I can't have stamped
on her adequately, she seems busy still
setting her nets to enmesh my frail ghost . . . 

 

and another:

 

Portovenere


The sea is dark again. You understand - don't you? -
it's our very last night. But who am I calling?
Beyond my own echo, I'm talking to no-one, to no-one.
Round the tumbled rocks the sea is black,
and tolls in its cloche of rain. A lone bat
bangs off the bars of air in its startled flight,
all our days are equally lost, shredded
by black wings; these waters, their predictable
grandeur, leave me cold, though I'm still here talking,
not to you, not to anything. Let them founder,
these 'fine days'. I'll go, I'll continue to age, who's counting?
The sea knows well enough to shut the door at our back.

 

Changing millennia, two after (quite a long way after) Callimachus:

 

Argonauta Argo

 

I was once a prodigious egotistical seashell,
goddess of promontories, and now I'm all yours,
on yours, since Selenea offered me up.

Oh once I was an argonaut, the song goes,
argonauta argo, I was a paper nautilus,
and when there was wind I waved my arms

like little sails, scudding the seas,
so Aristotle thought, wrongly of course,
and Callimachus who might have known better.

When a glassy calm, a calm of glass, prevailed,
and the nereid smiled idly over the ocean,
I rowed lustily with my tentacles,

I lived into my name, until I was finally
beached on a beach at Kea in the Cyclades
and had surely been kakavia

by daybreak were I not old and chewy;
and now, and now, I'm a bauble in your temple,
Arsinoë, I'm an empty envelope,

any message of love I bore an ago ago
cried through and lost, no longer a nest even
for halcyon foundlings (oh I've suffered

immodesties in my time I've seen things).
Look kindly, goddess, on the prayers
of Clinia's daughter, there's a deal of good in her,

- in the way her skirt swings
as she corners the agora -
and she comes from Aeolian Smyrna. 



 

Where the Girls Are

 

My mirror-half is lost, my egregious twin,
and all four-handed chores without him
are tedious: folding the sheets, for one.
Could be from sheer ennui he's just gone
down to the foreshore and had done with it;
else he's ensnared in some barely licit
liason. My tart neighbour insinuates
he's snuffling around the jailbait,
the gym, the Sappho Centre, the Eve Bar,
wherever it is the girls are,
being all gentlemanly and helpful
with their duffel-bags. The fat cop whose amble
that is (beat's too sprightly) has promised
to send him home if sighted; the boy's missed.

Silvia won't you help me? We know,
don't we, what he's at, trawling the meat shows
the singles dives, the drive-ins - asking for trouble?
No hanging offence, you'll say, in these parts.
But why scan only the callous hearts?
He's out there, Silvia, looking for your double.

 

The agora at Cyrene, Callimachus's home town