THREE POEMS BY ANA BLANDIANA, TRANSLATED BY PAUL SCOTT DERRICK AND VIORICA PATEA
PAUL SCOTT DERRICK is a Senior Lecturer in American literature at the University of Valencia. His main fields of interest are Romanticism and American Transcendentalism and their manifestations in subsequent American literature and art. He has published three collections of essays in English and has co-authored a number of bilingual, critical editions of works by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Henry Adams and Sarah Orne Jewett. He is co-editor of Modernism Revisited: Transgressing Boundaries and Strategies of Renewal in American Poetry (Rodopi, 2007) and of The Salt Companion to Richard Berengarten (Salt, 2011) and is coordinating a continuing project to translate Emily Dickinson’s fascicles into Spanish, with a detailed critical assessment of each poem. With Miguel Teruel he has translated Richard Berengarten’s Black Light into Spanish (JPM Ediciones, 2012) and with Viorica Patea, Ana Blandiana’s My Native Land A4 into English (Bloodaxe, 2014).
VIORICA PATEA is Associate Professor of American Literature at the University of Salamanca, where she teaches American and English literature. Her published books include studies on Sylvia Plath, Whitman, and T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (Cátedra 2005). She has edited various collections of essays such as Critical Essays on the Myth of the American Adam (Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca 2001) and Short Story Theories (Rodopi 2012) and, together with Paul Scott Derrick, Modernism Revisited (Rodopi 2007). Her research interests include comparative studies in witness literature of East-European countries. With Fernando Sánchez Miret she has translated from Romanian into Spanish Nicolae Steinhardt’s El diario de la felicidad (Sígueme 2007) and Proyectos de Pasado and Las Cuatro estaciones by Ana Blandiana (Periférica 2008, 2011). With Paul Scott Derrick she has translated Ana Blandiana’s My Native Land A4 into English (Bloodaxe 2014) and with Natalia Crabajosa, Blandiana’s El sol del más allá & El reflujo de los sentidos into Spanish (Pre-textos 2016). Her most recent books are the bilingual edition of Patrizia de Rachewiltz’s poems into Spanish, Mi Taishan (Linteo 2014) and into Romanian, Taishan-ul meu (Scoala Ardeleana 2016).
Our methods of translation are conditioned by the fact that we live in different cities (Salamanca and Valencia). As a result of this distance we collaborate by e-mail, sending consecutive revisions back and forth. Viorica Patea is a native of Romania and is deeply familiar with Blandiana’s poetry, fiction and critical essays. In addition to the English translation, she is also working simultaneously on translations into Spanish with Antonio Colinas (for Patria mea A4) and Natalia Carbajosa (for Soarele de apoi and Refluxul sensurilor). All of the co-translators are poets and have acquired a basic familiarity with Romanian for this project.
The first phase of the work consists of making an initial draft of the poems. As the native speaker of Romanian, Viorica does so for both the Spanish and English co-translators. From that point on, the two of us work together with reference to all three versions.
The second phase consists of ensuring that the sense of the original Romanian text is reflected as accurately as possible in English. This entails, in the first place, literal meanings: making appropriate individual word choices and finding the proper formulae for idiomatic expressions. But it also involves, in a larger sense, reaching an agreement on the reading that we wish to transmit of each poem.
A large number of Blandiana’s poems are written in a deceptively simple and direct language that artfully veils more complex intentions and ambiguities. This kind of deceitful indirection is an understandable consequence of writing for more than 25 years under the threatening gaze of government censorship. We can only approach an adequate transformation of her work when we have made ourselves aware of as many of its dimensions, both open and occult, as we can.
In the third and final phase we attempt to turn the text into a successful, or at least a competent, poem in English. We feel that we are doing Blandiana a disservice if her poems aren’t able to stand on their own and gracefully walk through the world on their new poetic feet. Depending on the level of difficulty we find in each poem, this whole process usually takes between 3 and 6 revisions, with a great deal of sometimes heated discussion and debate along the way. We aim to mimic, as closely as possible, the look of the poem on the page and the feel of the poem in the mind. We both believe that poetry is the purest (or maybe better, the most potent) literary genre because it exercises all of the communicative recourses of language. And this includes the connotative significance of form.
From her first published book, First Person Plural (1964), Blandiana has written in a variety of forms ranging from sonnets to traditionally rhymed quatrains to a looser verse form with irregular or random rhymes to free verse. There are reasons, whether conscious or unconscious, behind the use of these forms. And whether we understand those reasons or not, we feel that the forms should be reproduced. The effect of a rhymed sonnet, for example – its connotative significance – would be strongly altered if it were rewritten (and translation is just one more kind of rewriting) as an unrhymed 14-liner.
Each form solicits a different register. Blandiana’s free-verse pieces are generally framed in a relaxed, informal conversational style that isn’t extremely challenging to mirror in English. Her traditional rhymed forms, however, require a more complicated syntax and lexis and admit a variety of poetic tropes. These present more difficulties in achieving a satisfactory balance – or compromise – between form and content in the target language.
The three poems printed here are all written in free verse, so our objective was to make the language sound natural and unassuming, as though produced by a contemporary native speaker of standard English. No matter how unassuming many of Blandiana’s poems may seem at first to be, they are most usually enriched by a multitude of echoes: not only from figures of Western literature like Rilke, Hölderlin, Novalis and St. Francis of Assisi, but also allusions, references and responses to writers in the Romanian tradition, such as the Romantic poet Mihai Eminescu (1850-1889) and the interwar poet and philosopher Lucian Blaga (1895-1961). Since it would be futile to try to capture the latter in a translation for readers unfamiliar with the Romanian context, we have incorporated echoes and allusions to preceding figures in the English-language tradition.
We want the free-verse poems to be as light-footed and feel as effortless as they are in Romanian. Our two primary models for these qualities in English are Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. If there is a noticeable degree of enjambment in these poems, it is because we usually respect Blandiana’s original line divisions (including enjambments) but are not averse, at times, to modifying them with the kind of jumpy and invigorating line breaks you find so often in Williams or Pound.
The use of enjambment is especially pertinent in “Hölderlin”, where the lines of each stanza rush impetuously forward like “the steeds of madness / That gallop without halt” through the intervening centuries and into the ultimate darkness. This is a good example of what we mean by the connotative significance of poetic form. Through its syntax, its arrangement on the page, as well as its imagery, “Hölderlin” conveys the sense of a mind possessed irrevocably and spurred on by the genius of poetry. Blandiana feels her own possession by poetry and has seen it reflected on the ceiling of Hölderlin’s house. We can only aspire to reflect, at second hand and in another system of expression, that reflected reflection.
The poems selected here come from two earlier collections, The Sun of Hereafter (2000) and Ebb of the Senses (2004) – to be published next year by Bloodaxe in one volume. See HERE for details.
Click on the link to read the poems in bi-lingual format: Ana Blandiana Poems