Friday, March 24, 2006

Heinrich Manoevers

I've been working on a series of "translations" of Heine poems which I'm calling "Heinrich Maneuvers" mostly because I couldn't resist.

My usual M.O. is to run the original German through an online translator and see what results. Many words mistranslate or else aren't translated. When I encounter an untranslated word, I chose something in English that sounds similar but is also interesting. I'm trying to pick up something of the flavour of the text, exploring different tonal, lexical, rhythmic and formal approaches than I would normally choose. I'll also pulled in thematically. I'm not really a 19th century German poet., except when I go to those parties.

Here are two examples. In the second, I've given the original German and then my English version.

The first example shows my translation and then some suggestions/comments by the always insightful Greg Betts, in effect a translation of my translation, showing the influence of his interest in plunderverse. His version fractures the normative sentence based grammar and rhythm of mine. Hmm. Which should I choose?

bald head in the high north
covered with a doily of snow

dreams its body
flickering and mouthless
a burning wall

the fragile wig between
this life and the next

* * *
(Greg's comment: This first poem I found to be rich, but wordy. I tried knocking out some
words from the first stanza.) His suggestion:

bald head high
covered doily of snow

dreams its body
flickering mouthless
a burning wall

the fragile wig between
this life and the next

* * *
Here's a Heine original with my version following.

SONNET III (original German poem by Heine)

Ich lache ob den abgeschmackten Laffen,
Die mich anglotzen mit den Bocksgesichtern;
Ich lache ob den Füchsen, die so nüchtern
Und hämisch mich beschnüffeln und begaffen.

Ich lache ob den hochgelahrten Affen,
Die sich aufblähn zu stolzen Geistesrichtern;
Ich lache ob den feigen Bösewichtern,
Die mich bedrohn mit giftgetränkten Waffen.

Denn wenn des Glückes hübsche Siebensachen
Uns von des Schicksals Händen sind zerbrochen,
Und so zu unsern Füßen hingeschmissen;

Und wenn das Herz im Leibe ist zerrissen,
Zerrissen, und zerschnitten, und zerstochen -
Dann bleibt uns doch das schöne gelle Lachen.


I laugh whether the gobsmacked laugh—
me with the snorting face and short memory—
I laugh whether the foxes, which began so soberly
ended snuffling and begging
and I laugh myself
whether the blind beergarden apes were proud to be blind judges
or whether the cowardly midwinter boys made
me bedridden with poison-soaked weapons.
Because if luck filters pretty things
and fate gives us broken hands to hinge
and squeal and kiss
and if the heart in the body is
torn up, tore up, cut and restocked
still the beautiful laughter remains
dusky and firefly

left of the ashes


functional nomad said...

Oh, I'd definitely go with the Betts thing. Its like Milton on acid, Shakespeare on ecstasy, and Bernini on shrooms, all rolled into one giant northern doily. A very oily doily.

In unbiased presence,
Reggae Ettsbae

PS: very sorry to have missed your reading last night. Argh. Talk about frustrating. In any event, I would love to hear how it all went down.

gary barwin said...

The IV Lounge reading last night featured Maggie MacDonald, Max Middle, me, and Charles F. (A last minute fill in, whose name I unfortunately didn't catch or retain.)

Max Middle was great. Many of his poems are homophonic dislocations of poem-like structures. They seem like they are poems (they seem like they have the scansion, general form, length, and rhythm of traditional short free verse) but they are created out of fractured words, letter sounds, and some vocal sounds. Very effective use of repetition, and localized. permutation.Also, some of the pieces wove in and out of semantic intelligibility. His last piece (entitled The Epic of Egarag Hguanavak) was a stand out. It began with breathing-like H sounds, gradually forming into what sounded like permutations on the eponymous protagonist -- it sounded to me like an Anglo-Saxon saga name, such as Beorhtnogh, he of "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorthelm's Son." The piece went through a gradually intensifying process (I was reminded of bpNichol's "Generations Generated," based on the names of Pharoahs. There was a tension between the material and Max's performance. You could see the strain -- this was clearly a virtuoso thing to perform -- and that was certainly part of the piece. The piece ended the material having morphed into Max chanting "Kavanaugh Garage" which, as it turns out, is Egarag Hguanavak backwards. So the piece was a kind of delightful hoax, a sound poetry shaggy dog saga. Very charming end. I wouldn't have thought that it would have worked, but it did. What was great about it, was the way the piece gradually changed, Max's brilliant performance -- exciting but not showy -- and the way the listener experienced kaleidoscopic associations as the piece proceeded.

As for me, I read the Canada Weeds piece posted in my last blog entry, and a bunch of things that I haven't read before, or rarely. Mostly collaborations. One with this Betts guy using text from a talk by Mark Truscott, a collaboration with Victor Coleman, with Stu Ross, and a piece that I wrote by recording the things that my daughter said as she drew pictures when she was about 4. I'll post that piece. It's interesting how notions of identity aren't yet fixed in kids of that age. Also, how while narrating the drawing process, she was open to the fact that what the pictures represent can transform as she draws. Representation/signification is about discovery in her experience.


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