My English translation of Bella Akhmadulina’s poem “To Boris Messerer” (1974) won third prize in the international translation contest Compass Award 2016:
To Boris Messerer
I later would recall: I was alive,
and it was winter, snowing, and my heart,
consumed with burning, ached, I was in love —
with whom? with what?
In Povarskaya street
(the name has changed) there was a house… The live-
long day, the whole night through I was in love —
with whom? with what?
The house in that old street,
the space that’s called a studio in which
an artist works.
Work lured the artist out
into the cold. Alone, I would await
his steps. Framed by the window, night drew on.
I later would recall: I looked upon
that waiting labor as my being’s aim,
but even then I could not help but pair
the urgency of tender hours that fleet —
with future woes… The house in that old street —
with the unheard-of day approaching fast,
when I’d recall that house, left in the past…
It usually happens unexpectedly
You’d just like this all of a sudden see
The river…and the trees, and the girl
And the way she’s smiling…
It seems you’ve seen it all a thousand times
But this time you’re dumbfounded
How unimaginably beautiful is this girl
And these trees…this river
And the way she’s smiling…
This usually means
That you’ve been overtaken by love
–my translation of lines from a Russian-Soviet 1975 movie “One Hundred Days After Childhood” — to me the best coming-of-age movie ever made. I first watched it as a teenager, and now thirty+ years later I’m as moved by it as back then. Maybe more.
This movie’s a painting. A poem. A waltz.
It’s on Youtube with English subtitles.
Treat yourself to something wonderful.
“Translation matters. It always has, of course… But perhaps right now translation is more important than ever,” says Rachel Cooke.
Some of the best translators concur, and share their secrets.
“Some people love footnotes. They view them as the subtext of the story, an underlying narrative of facts to enrich the plot. To me, they are an enormous distraction. They pull me out of the flow of reading, and when I choose to skip them I feel guilty, as if I’ve just cut a corner. Unless they are funny, or artistic in some way, I’d rather not include them in the first place, or include them as minimally as I feel is possible.
…foregoing footnotes always involves a leap of faith, but so does the act of writing, and so does choosing a career as a translator. One must always trust that people care enough to read, to inquire, to research, and to understand.”
— Yardenne Greenspan
Duly Noted: on Footnotes and their Place in Translation
The Paris Review delves into Anna Akhmatova’s sarcasm.
Here’s my attempt at translating the epigram:
Could to create like Dante Beatrice seek,
Would Laura’s ardent verses cause a riot?
A woman, I taught women how to speak…
But, Lord, how could I ever keep them quiet!
The Russian original:
Могла ли Биче словно Дант творить,
Или Лаура жар любви восславить?
Я научила женщин говорить…
Но, Боже, как их замолчать заставить!
“Cherish details, divine details.”
— Vladimir Nabokov
“I first read Chekhov in Russian, as a student, both short stories and the plays, but the effort to focus so hard on the original Russian, and my lack of experience in life, had left me, as a student, with a somewhat blurred vision of Chekhov himself. I rediscovered him much later, with the ease (and laziness) of reading in my own language, this time through translation. And it was a great gift: at last, through her work*, I could see clearly who Chekhov is as a writer, and why he is incomparable. It’s not really something you can explain; you read the translation, and you know.”
*The speaker refers to translations created by Constance Garnett.
The role of the literary translator in the age of “Ferrante Fever.”
AmazonCrossing accepts submissions.
“…an aspect of the ‘Kamasutra’ that has been lamentably overlooked is its strikingly modern attitude toward the role of women in sexual relations. One reason for this ignorance is that the text is known almost entirely through the flawed 19th-century English translation of Sir Richard Francis Burton.
Burton can be admired for the courage and determination it took to publish the work at all (it was banned in England and the U.S. until 1962), but he robs women of their voices, replacing direct quotes with reported speech rephrased by a man, thus erasing their vivid presence. For instance, the text says that, when a man strikes a woman, ‘She uses words like ‘Stop!’ or ‘Let me go!’ or ‘Enough!’ or ‘Mother!’ Burton translates it like this: ‘She continually utters words expressive of prohibition, sufficiency or desire of liberation.’”
— Prof. Wendy Doniger, author of “Redeeming the Kamasutra” and a translation of the “Kamasutra” (with Sudhir Kakar); The Wall Street Journal, Sat/Sun, March 19-20, 2016