Yehuda Amichai: My Father (From Hebrew)

This is a poem whose full scope I did not appreciate until recently. 

Every generation that goes to war hopes that the next will not have to do likewise. The hope is often misplaced, as when The War to End All Wars proved to be no such thing in the face of its even more deadly and infinitely more tragic sequel. 
Yehuda Amichai's father, with whom this poem begins, served in WWI on the side of the Germans. Later Amichai himself volunteered and fought in WWII in the British army as a member of the Jewish Brigade, and then as a commando in the Negev Brigade during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, on which note the poem abruptly ends.
In the case of the father fighting for the Germans, the war is rightly described as "theirs." Yet for Amichai, the wars are understood as being very much his own, fighting as a Jew for his people. (The year after this poem was published, Amichai would serve yet again in the Sinai War, and again after that two decades later in the Yom Kippur War.)
The poem is understatedly tragic, as many of Amichai's poems are. The father had hoped to give his son wisdom, the understanding that all human beings are in some sense to be loved - a love which his son was to experience by seeing through his father's gaze. Yet the son cannot afford to accept that wisdom and vision. Like the leftovers of mother's cake in the father's knapsack, such understanding can no longer give sustenance. There is no place for universal love now, as he goes off to fight for his people. 
In the logic of the poem, though, the son will not be able to develop an understanding like that of his father in the wars he goes to. His father could only do so because he fought in someone else's (their) war, a war in which he could afford to see enemy combatants in a detached way. The son, now fighting a war of his own, will be forced to have a different perspective. As the people on whose side the father fought saw the war as their own and thus could not achieve the perspective the father did, so the son now in a war for his own people will presumably not be able to develop such a wisdom. He will also not be able to impart it to his own children. The wisdom and worldview of his forbears are dead, collateral damage in the cause of a people's nationhood. 
My translation is a function of this reading. This reading, in turn, is my own, and a function of my own perspective. Whether I am merely a tendentious fabulator, or am picking up on undercurrents of Amichai (not restricted to this poem) that many readers have not wanted to see, is really up to you to decide. In the spirit of full disclosure, though, I will say that the words "like them" in the final line are my addition.


My Father
By Yehuda Amichai
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Hebrew

Four years my father fought that war of theirs,
And did not love or hate his enemies.
But I know he was forming me, even there,
Day by day, out of his tranquilities,

The precious few tranquilities he gleaned
Between the smoke and bombs for a child's sake
And put them in the knapsack tattered at the seams,
With leftovers of mother's hardening cake.

He gathered with his eyes the nameless dead.
The numerous dead he gathered so I'd know
And love them, seeing them as he saw, instead 

Of dying, as they died, in gore and terror.
He filled his eyes with them. He was in error.
Onward like them to all my wars I go. 

The Original: 


אבי

אבי היה ארבע שנים במלחמתם
ולא שנא אויביו ולא אהב.
אבל אני יודע, כי כבר שם
בנה אותי יום-יום משלוותיו

המעטות כל-כך, אשר לקט
אותן בין פצצות ובין עשן,
ושם אותן בתרמילו הממורטט
עם שארית עוגת-אימו המתקשה.

ובעיניו אסף מתים בלי שם
מתים רבים אסף למעני
שאכירם במבטיו ואוהבם.

ולא אמות כמוהם בזוועה…
הוא מילא עיניו בהם והוא טעה:
אל כל מלחמותיי יוצא אני.

Catullus: Poem 46 (From Latin)

Poem 46: Springrise
By Gaius Valerius Catullus
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Now spring retrieves the warm heart of the year,
as equinoctial blusters of the heavens
are hushed at last in Zephyr's tender breezes.
Catullus, time to leave the plains of Troy
and the rich lands of sweltering Nicaea:
Off now, to the famed cities of the Agaean!
The mind is fluttering with wanderlust, 
These eager feet cannot stay still, and dance.
So now it is farewell to dear companions
who from a faraway home set out together,
whom several roads now separately return. 

The Original:

Carmen 46

Iam ver egelidos refert tepores,
iam caeli furor aequinoctialis
iucundis Zephyri silescit aureis.
Linquantur Phrygii, Catulle, campi
nicaeaeque ager uber aestuosae:
ad claras asiae volemus urbes.
Iam mens praetrepidans avet vagari,
iam laeti studio pedes vigescunt.
O dulces comitum valete coetus,
longe quos simul a domo profectos
diversae varie viae reportant.

Garcilaso de la Vega: "While there is yet the color of the rose" (From Spanish)

The donor who requested this poem also requested that I make my audio recording of the original Spanish using a reconstruction of the pronunciation Garcilaso himself would have used (similar to my reading of this sonnet by Ronsard in Renaissance French.) This I have done. More information about this pronunciation follows the text.

Sonnet XXIII
By Garcilaso de la Vega
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Requested by Enrique Flores

While there is yet the color of the rose
And of the lily in your countenance,
And while the burning candor of your glance 
Can fire the heart and yet constrain its throes;

And while yet that soft hair of yours which flows
From a gold vein, in a disheveled dance
Is tangled by wind's sudden dalliance
As round that lovely proud white neck it blows,     

Gather the harvest from your joyous spring
Of sweetest fruit before Time comes in rage
Of snow to cover that fair peak at last.

The rose will wither in the wind's chill blast.
So changing everything comes flighty Age    
Never to change its way for anything.
Soneto XXIII
Garcilaso de la Vega
Click to hear me recite the original Spanish


En tanto que de rosa y de açucena
se muestra la color en vuestro gesto
y que vuestro mirar ardiente honesto
enciende el coraçon y lo refrena,

Y en tanto que el cabello que en la vena
del oro se escogio con buelo presto
por el hermoso cuello blanco enhiesto
el viento mueue esparze y desordena

Coged de vuestra alegre primauera
el dulce fruto antes que el tiempo ayrado
cubra de nieue la hermosa cumbre

Marchitara la rosa el viento elado
todo lo mudara la edad ligera
por no hazer mudança en su costumbre

The pronunciation I use in my recording is a very conservative one, differing in only one respect from the phonology reconstructed for Medieval Spanish. Though such a pronunciation underlies Antonio de Nebrija's Gramática de la Lengua Castellana (published in 1492, having incidentally the distinction of being the first grammatical description of a Romance language), it would probably not have been typical for the majority of Spanish speakers in Garcilaso's time. It is, however, the type of speech the old Toledo upper class of Garcilaso's time would have favored, as can be deduced from e.g. Juan de Valdés' Diálogo de la Lengua (1535) in which the author gives much information about the cultured Toledan accent which he praises, and about other accents whose deviations from the former he disparages.
It follows that Garcilaso, a privilege-born upper crust Toledan courtier who was on speaking terms with the king himself, would have spoken in this fashion, at the very least for elevated linguistic performance such as the reading of poetry. This is all the more likely since his poetic project involved the elevation of the Castillian language in imitation of Italian and classical Greco-Roman models, at some remove from the popular lyric tradition. Of course it is anyone's guess whether he also used this pronunciation to cuss when he stubbed his toe.
This pronunciation was to fall out of fashion among the cultured elite in less than a century, owing in no small part to the fact that Philip II was to move the court, and therefore the center of linguistic prestige, from Toledo to the more phonologically innovative Madrid.

Borges: Texas (From Spanish)


Texas
By Jorge Luis Borges
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

And so it is here too. Here too, as at
the Americas' other edge: the measureless
plain where a cry dies unattended. Yes,
here too, the Indian, mustang, lariat.

Here too the secret bird that ever yet
over the clamorings of history
sings for an evening and its memory;
here too the stars with mystic alphabet

that dictate to my writing hand below
such names, today, as the unceasing maze 
of days and turning days does not displace,

as San Jacinto and the Alamo,
and such Thermopylaes. Here, too, is rife
with that brief unknown anxious thing called life.    
Texas
Jorge Luis Borges


Aquí también. Aquí, como en el otro
confín del continente, el infinito
campo en que muere solitario el grito;
aquí también el indio, el lazo, el potro.

Aquí también el pájaro secreto
que sobre los fragores de la historia
canta para una tarde y su memoria;
aquí también el místico alfabeto

de los astros, que hoy dictan a mi cálamo
nombres que el incesante laberinto
de los días no arrastra: San Jacinto

y esas otras Termópilas, el Álamo.
Aquí también esa desconocida
y ansiosa y breve cosa que es la vida.

Borges: Ewigkeit (From Spanish)


Ewigkeit
Jorge Luis Borges
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Let Spanish verse turn on my tongue, affirm
Once more in me what it has always said
Since Seneca in Latin: that true dread
Sentence that all is fodder for the worm.
Let it turn back with song to hail pale ash,
The calends of death, and the victory
Of that word-ruler queen whose footfalls smash       
The banners of our empty vanity.

Not that. I'll cravenly deny not one

Thing that has blessed my clay. I know of all
Things, one does not exist: oblivion.
That in eternity beyond recall 
The precious things I've lost stay burning on:
That forge, that risen moon, that evening-fall.

Ewigkeit
Jorge Luis Borges
Click to hear me recite the original Spanish

Torne en mi boca el verso castellano
a decir lo que siempre está diciendo
desde el latín de Séneca: el horrendo
dictamen de que todo es del gusano.
Torne a cantar la pálida ceniza,
los fastos de la muerte y la victoria
de esa reina retórica que pisa
los estandartes de la vanagloria.

No así. Lo que mi barro ha bendecido
no lo voy a negar como un cobarde.
Sé que una cosa no hay. Es el olvido;
sé que en la eternidad perdura y arde
lo mucho y lo precioso que he perdido:
esa fragua, esa luna y esa tarde.
*"Ewigkeit" is German for "Eternity."


Quevedo: Love Constant Beyond Death (From Spanish)

It has occurred to me to try out a side-by-side presentation of my translations instead of the consecutive presentation I've been employing heretofore. I originally eschewed a side-by-side presentation of my translations because I wanted to discourage a particular kind of reading, which I know from experience to be tempting if one is familiar with the language of the original. The reader gets through line one of the original, then line one of the translation, then back to line two of the original and then of the translation and so forth, resulting in an impoverished appreciation of both texts and an overfocus on difference. As J.F. Nims put it:

Objections to what some may regard as intrusions, as foreign matter in the English version, generally come from those who do not understand the nature of poetry - those who read the translation and its original on facing pages, line by line, ping-pong fashion, eyes right, eyes left, triumphant when a discrepancy is found. Perhaps it would be better - many have thought so - not even to print the text of a poem together with a translation which itself is meant to be a poem. The original is an experience. The translation, different but an analogous, is an experience - but the two experiences cannot well be enjoyed together.
And yet I decided to try it. Stupidly perhaps. But here goes. 

Love Constant Beyond Death
By Francisco de Quevedo
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

    That terminal shadow may with darkness seal          
my eyes shut when it steals white day from me,
and in an instant, flattering the zeal
of this my eager soul, let it go free.
    But on this hither shore where once it burned
it shall not leave behind love’s memory.
My flame can swim chill waters. It has learned
to lose respect for laws’ severity. 
    This soul that was a god's hot prison cell,
veins that with liquid humors fueled such fire,
marrows that flamed in glory as I strove
    shall quit the flesh, but never their desire.
They shall be ash. That ash will feel as well.
Dust they shall be. That dust will be in love.
Amor Constante Mas Allá de la Muerte
Francisco de Quevedo
Click here to hear me recite the original Spanish

    Cerrar podrá mis ojos la postrera
sombra que me llevare el blanco día,
y podrá desatar esta alma mía
hora a su afán ansioso lisonjera;
    mas no de essotra parte, en la riuera,
dexará la memoria, en donde ardía:
nadar sabe mi llama l'agua fría,
y perder el respeto a lei severa.
    Alma qu'a todo un dios prissión ha sido,
venas qu'umor a tanto fuego an dado,
medulas qu'an gloriosamente ardido,
    su cuerpo dexarán, no su cuydado;
serán ceniça, mas tendrá sentido;
polvo serán, mas polvo enamorado.

Borges: Christ on the Cross (From Spanish)

I think this may be the best poem in the Spanish language about Christ's crucifixion (and there are a lot of Spanish poems on that topic. Few interesting.) 
Borges here portrays Jesus as a simple human being, shorn of the Christian God-made-Flesh that he will be turned into. This enables Borges to do two things:  
(1) By mentioning the future acts committed in his name amid a handful of otherwise terrestrial woes, Borges implies that it would wound this human Jesus greatly were he aware of what ideas and ideologies he would be resurrected as following his death as a person. In a sense he is to be forever on the cross, the nails of historic Christendom ever skewering him in effigy. Jesus is therefore lucky he doesn't know what will become of him as Christ. And if Jesus were divine, and did survive death, then Christian history would be above all else a source of torment for Him as he watched from his non-corporeal vantage point. But now I digress. 
(2) Thus fully humanized as a man and nothing but, he can be a metaphor with which Borges can reveal, or at least intimate, his own suffering in the final lines without arrogance or aggrandizement. After all, Borges is here not comparing himself to a god, but to another human being like himself. Paradoxically this effectuates a kind of textual reverse-kenosis. In ceasing to be God, being truly empty of any godhood, Jesus fulfills the premise of truly becoming Man, the flesh that dwells among us, in a way relatable to the equally human Borges. In this light, we can furthermore see the post mortem deification as what, in the logic of the poem, it would have to be: dehumanization in the fullest sense.

Christ on the Cross
Jorge Luis Borges
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Christ on the cross. The feet touch solid earth.
The three beams made of wood are the same height. 
Christ is not in the middle. He's the third.
The black beard hangs down heavy over his chest.
His face is not the face from the engravings.
It's harsh and Jewish. I do not see him
And will keep questing for him till the final
Day of my steps falling upon this earth.
The broken man is suffering and silent. 
The cutting crown of thorns is hurting him. 
He's unreached by the jeering of the mob
Which has so often seen his agonies.
His or another's. It is the same thing. 
Christ on the cross. Confusedly he thinks
About the kingdom that perhaps awaits him,
About the woman that was never his.
It's not for him to see Theology,
The indecipherable Trinity,
The Gnostics, the cathedrals, Occam's razor,
The purple, the mitre, the liturgy,
Guthrum's conversion by the sword of Alfred,
The Inquisition hallowed, blood of martyrs,
Crusade atrocities, young Joan of Arc
Afire, the Vatican that blesses armies.
He knows he is no god and is a man
That dies with day. To him it is no matter.
What matters is the nails' hard piercing iron.
He's not a Roman. Not a Greek. He moans. 
He has left us some splendid metaphors 
And a doctrine of pardon with the power 
To cancel out the past. (This is a dictum
Written down by an Irishman in gaol.)
The soul seeks for the end, frenetically.
It has grown dark a bit. Now he is dead.
A fly walks up across the flesh in quiet.
What good does it all do me that that man
Has suffered so, when I am suffering now? 

The Original:

Cristo En La Cruz
Jorge Luis Borges

Cristo en la cruz. Los pies tocan la tierra.
Los tres maderos son de igual altura.
Cristo no está en el medio. Es el tercero.
La negra barba pende sobre el pecho.
El rostro no es el rostro de las láminas.
Es áspero y judío. No lo veo
y seguiré buscándolo hasta el día
último de mis pasos por la tierra.
El hombre quebrantado sufre y calla.
La corona de espinas lo lastima.
No lo alcanza la befa de la plebe
que ha visto su agonía tantas veces.
La suya o la de otro. Da lo mismo.
Cristo en la cruz. Desordenadamente
piensa en el reino que tal vez lo espera,
piensa en una mujer que no fue suya.
No le está dado ver la teología,
la indescifrable Trinidad, los gnósticos,
las catedrales, la navaja de Occam,
la púrpura, la mitra, la liturgia,
la conversión de Guthrum por la espada,
la inquisición, la sangre de los mártires,
las atroces Cruzadas, Juana de Arco,
el Vaticano que bendice ejércitos.
Sabe que no es un dios y que es un hombre
que muere con el día. No le importa.
Le importa el duro hierro con los clavos.
No es un romano. No es un griego. Gime.
Nos ha dejado espléndidas metáforas
y una doctrina del perdón que puede
anular el pasado. (Esa sentencia
la escribió un irlandés en una cárcel.)
El alma busca el fin, apresurada.
Ha oscurecido un poco. Ya se ha muerto.
Anda una mosca por la carne quieta.
¿De qué puede servirme que aquel hombre
haya sufrido, si yo sufro ahora?

Clementina Arderiu: Song of the Beautiful Trust (From Catalan)

Since I haven't translated anything from Catalan in a while

Song of the Beautiful Trust
By Clementina Arderiu
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

I’ve given my lover
all my keys,
and I have got his
and we are at peace.
But there’s still one room
where deep things begin,
and not for one second
dare we go in.
So many a musing
and secret power
flee into it with each
passing hour!
It isn't worth it
to pry at the lock:
the uproar would blast you
harder than rock.
The echos and shadows
will do just fine.
Let him keep his accounts
and I’ll keep mine.


The Original:

Cançó de La Bella Confiança

A l'amat he donades
totes les claus;
jo tinc totes les seves,
i fem les paus.
Però resta una cambra
al fons del fons
on entrar no podríem
ni breus segons.
Tantes forces ocultes,
tants pensaments
allà dins són escàpols a tots
moments!
Bé seria debades
sotjar-hi un poc:
l'aldarull colpiria
més que no un roc.
Contentem-nos d'una ombra
o d'un ressò.
Que ell es digui els seus comptes
com me'ls duc jo.

Guillaume Apollinaire: The Mirabeau Bridge (From French)

This poem functions as a touching record of the end of Apollinaire's long love affair with Marie Laurencin, as Apollinaire himself wrote in a letter to Madeleine Pagès: "Le Pont Mirabeau est...la chanson triste de cette longue liaison brisée..."
The familiar lyrical themes of time's passage and the end of love are linked symbolically with the river's flow in a confessional poem whose self-revelation is masked under the merest hint of irony and philosophical generalization. The unstoppable movement of events passing by the man fixed in his unhappiness is brilliantly conveyed by the refrain, as well as the structure of the poem whose first line is also its last, whose beginning is also its end.
The development of the poem's typographical presentation between its appearance in Les Soirées de Paris and in the Les Alcools sheds light on Apollinaire's concern with the visual display of poetry. Lines 2 and 3 of each stanza originally in the printed version formed one line, giving a stanza of three monorhyme lines. The breaking up of the single line into two lines of unequal length gives a more interesting visual pattern. The removal of all punctuation also gives a more fluid and ambiguous flavor to the poem.

The Mirabeau Bridge
By Guillaume Apollinaire
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click here to hear me recite the original

Below the Mirabeau bridge there flows the Seine
As for our love
Must I recall how then
After each sorrow joy would come again

Let night come toll hours away
Days go by me here I stay

Let us stay hand in hand face to face
While down below
The bridge of our embrace
Roll the waves weary of our endless gaze

Let night come toll hours away
Days go by me here I stay

Love goes away the way the waters flow
Love goes away
How life is long and slow
How hope of life can deal so strong a blow

Let night come toll hours away
Days go by me here I stay

The days the weeks are passing from our ken
Neither time passed
Nor love can come again
Below the Mirabeau bridge there flows the Seine

Let night come toll hours away
Days go by me here I stay


The Original:

Le Pont Mirabeau

Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine
Et nos amours
Faut-il qu'il m'en souvienne
La joie venait toujours après la peine

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

Les mains dans les mains restons face à face
Tandis que sous
Le pont de nos bras passe
Des éternels regards l'onde si lasse

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

L'amour s'en va comme cette eau courante
L'amour s'en va
Comme la vie est lente
Et comme l'Espérance est violente

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

Passent les jours et passent les semaines
Ni temps passé
Ni les amours reviennent
Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

Osip Mandelstam: Notre Dame (From Russian)

Notre Dame
By Osip Mandelstam
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Russian

Here where barbarians knelt in Roman court
Stands the basilica: original
As joyous Adam, stretching nerves, the tall
Groined archway bunches muscle as for sport.

But things outside betray
 the secret plan:
A pact of arch and buttress here forestalls
The heavy mass from flattening the walls
In deadlock with the bold vault's battering ram.

A well-turned maze. Primeval wood and stone.
The Gothic spirit's rational abyss.
Egyptian brawn and Christian timidness.
Reed next to oak. The plumb-line takes the throne.

But, stronghold Notre Dame, the more acutely
I studied your great ribs' monstrosity,
The more I thought: a time shall come for me
To likewise make grim bulk a thing of beauty.




The Original:


Notre Dame
Осип Мандельштам

Где римский судия судил чужой народ —
Стоит базилика, и — радостный и первый —
Как некогда Адам, распластывая нервы,
Играет мышцами крестовый легкий свод.

Но выдает себя снаружи тайный план,
Здесь позаботилась подпружных арок сила,
Чтоб масса грузная стены не сокрушила,
И свода дерзкого бездействует таран.

Стихийный лабиринт, непостижимый лес,
Души готической рассудочная пропасть,
Египетская мощь и христианства робость,
С тростинкой рядом — дуб, и всюду царь — отвес.

Но чем внимательней, твердыня Notre Dame,
Я изучал твои чудовищные ребра,—
Тем чаще думал я: из тяжести недоброй
И я когда-нибудь прекрасное создам

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