Friday, November 08, 2013

Sounds about right: on a homophonic translation of a stanza of Rilke

I was teaching my poetry writing class at Mohawk college about alternate translation techniques and we discussed homophonic translation. I brought in a poem in German by Rilke and we set to 'translating' it.

For me, when using homophonic translation, it's possible to maintain the constraint of the original sound of the poem strictly, not allowing the poem to veer from the original phonemes. However, it's also possible to use the sounds and the associations of the words as a starting point, as a way of generating raw material which can then be revised.

I thought it might be interesting to post the original German stanza and then the various generations of edits stemming from this original, as I worked to create a working independent poem.

Seeing the various versions here, makes me think that I'd like to consider them all as stanzas of a longer poem—a series of variations with a kind of villanelle-like echo. I'll get back to you on that if I'm able to make something of the whole.

Homophonic translation of a stanza of Rilke


Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehen der Stäbe
so müd geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält.
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.

Sign black is come to stab my eyes
so muddy and wordy, that the night stops me
It is obsessed with a thousand stabs
and winter stabs our world with bitter kindness

Black sky comes to stab my eyes
and wordy the night stops
I’m obsessed with these thousand stabs
for winter stabs our world with its bitter kindness

The black sky stabs my eyes
The warden, so angry, the night stops
I’m obsessed: it must be a thousand stabs
And winter stabs our world with its bitter kindness

windows break the eyes
fracture into night
a thousand stars
winter with its bitter kindness

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