Saturday, April 01, 2006

lost in translation

Two translations of Wislawa Szymborska's poetry. These two were my awakening as to what a difference a translator makes. First the version I prefer ... translated by the omnipresent Clare Cavanagh (and Stanislaw Baranczak). I think I mucked up the the line breaks--sorry abt that.

The Terrorist, He's Watching

The bomb in the bar will explode at thirteen twenty
Now it's just thirteen sixteen.
There's still time for some to go in,
And some to come out.
The terrorist has already crossed the street.
The distance keeps him out of danger,
And what a view--just like the movies.
A woman in a yellow jacket, she's going in.
A man in dark glasses, he's coming out.
Teen-agers in jeans, they're talking.
Thirteen seventeen and four seconds.
The short one, he's lucky, he's getting on a scooter,
But the tall one, he's going in.
Thirteen seventeen and forty seconds.
That girl, she's walking along with a green ribbon in her hair.
But then a bus suddenly pulls in front of her.
Thirteen eighteen. The girl's gone.
Was she that dumb, did she go in or not,
We'll see when they carry them out.
Thirteen nineteen. Somehow no one's going in.
Another guy, fat, bald, is leaving, though.
Wait a second, looks like he's looking
For something in his pockets and
At thirteen twenty minus ten seconds
He goes back in for his crummy gloves.
Thirteen twenty exactly. This waiting, it's taking forever.
Any second now.
No, not yet.
Yes, now. The bomb, it explodes.

Then here's the one that I found by Dennis O'Driscoll...almost as if they're two entirely different poems with only the subject matter in common.

The One Twenty Pub

The bomb is primed to go off at one twenty.
A time-check: one sixteen.
There's still a chance for some to join
the pub's ranks, for others to drop out.

The terrorist watches from across the street.
Distance will shield him
from the impact of what he sees:

A woman, turquoise jacket on her shoulder,
enters; a man with sunglasses departs.
Youths in tee-shirts loiter without intent.
One seventeen and four seconds.
The scrawny motorcyclist, revving up
to leave, won't believe his luck;
but the tall man steps straight in.

One seventeen and forty seconds.
That girl, over there with the walkman
... now the bus has cut her off.
One eighteen exactly.
Was she stupid enough to head inside?
Or wasn't she? We'll know before long,
when the dead are carried out.

It's one nineteen.
Nothing much to report
until a muddled barfly hesitates,
fumbles with his pockets, and, like
a blasted fool, stumbles back
at one nineteen and forty seconds
to retrieve his goddamn cap.

One twenty
How time drags when ...
Any moment now.
Not yet.