Sunday, 3 May 2009

Heidi von Wright - more poems

A few more minimalist poems by Heidi von Wright from the same collection as before: dörren öppnar rummet (the door opens the room); from a section entitled se fram emot att se tillbaka (look forward to looking back). Compared with some poets, von Wright is relatively easy to translate. There is only one major problem in the fifth poem here. That is that the expression for "nowadays" is "nuförtiden" (one word). But if you space them as "nu för tiden..." it can have the meaning of "time bears / carries...". I haven't fully thought out how to tackle this pun. But, anyway :


in something else than silence

this day is not like others.
this day is another.

how words sound
when words reach


thermal movement

it can happen that something heats up.
it can happen that what is at boiling point bubbles.
it can happen that it erupts.

up into.
up to a surface.
a pillar of steam.


length of life

if I must.
who is it I must.
must prove myself to.


more details

waves beat against the face.
appearance remains intact.

in daylight.
without cutlery.
everyone eats from my plate.


disturbed sense of time

days are night nowadays.
now time bears me forward.

Today is tomorrow nowadays.
now time bears you forward.


possible changed movement

multipying mass by speed seeking inertia.
thinking about the ability to retain movements.

your relative speed is zero.

not to worry.
everything moveable has inertia.
don't worry.

your relative speed is zero.


jets of water

a touch.
breath around a neck.
someone looking through two eyes.
into two eyes.


salt and strings

listening to shortwave radio.
two stones. two eggs.

dreaming in the little room.
in the dream the room is also little.

why don't you let go of me.
is it me who cannot get out.


Translated from Swedish by Eric Dickens


  1. days are night nowadays.
    now time bears me forward.

    Today is tomorrow nowadays.
    now time bears you forward.

    How about 'time keeper' and 'keeps time' - preserves a time-related pun (although not exactly same meaning:

    Days are night's time keeper
    There time keeps me

    Today is tomorrow's time keeper
    There time keeps you

    Other words to play with - time travel/time traveller. I also think there might be some possibilities with anew/renew/new

    Days are nights' time renewed
    Now time renews me

    Today is tomorrow's time anew
    Now time renews me

    Or stands/standing perhaps?

    A tricky one!

  2. I'd suggest that such a play on words is untranslatable. The idea that one can somehow "substitute" one play on words for another in a translation has always seemed to me a dubious one, as the psychological impact of the original wordplay usually can't be replicated in another language.

  3. The other poems come over well, though, I think. I wonder about "hit against the face" - but would "hit the face", or "hit one's face" have the same effect?

  4. Both Anonymous and David raise several interesting questions.

    Is the poem so vital for the suite or section that it is impossible to omit? For instance, I came across the Dutch translation of a suite by Inger Christensen the other day, which was built up on Fibonacci numbers. With such strict composition, you have little room to muck about with numbers of syllables, lines, etc.

    But I do not think that Heidi von Wright's poem here is so intimately interwoven with the rest. So initially, I thought I would leave it out. But I translated it just to see what would happen. And Anonymous has come up with more ideas. Has Anonymous (whoever s/he is) read the original? I did not add it for reasons of space and long-windedness for people who can't read Swedish.

    It goes like this:


    rubbad tidsuppfattning

    dagar är natt nuförtiden
    nu för tiden mig framåt

    idag är i morgon nuförtiden
    nu för tiden dig framåt


    Too much mucking about with the imagery can alienate the translator from the original feel of the poem, but I would be inclined to play around for a while. However, given the fact that I've now spotted (which I hadn't before) that even "i morgon" can perhaps be read in two ways, I might be inclined to adopt David's solution, and leave it out.

    I don't make a habit of hitting faces, but I too wondered about this. The original read:

    vågor slår mot ansiktet

    Hence the "against". I suppose that David's solution would be OK. I think the Swedish for belting someone in the face is "slår någon i ansiktet". So the different preposition made me wonder.

    I have to admit that I wrote the translations straight onto the blog this time, rather than creating a document, then copying them onto the blog. So my haste may not have paid off.

    As for replicating wordplay, I always wonder what Dutch readers who know English well have made of the two-man team's rendering of the whole of (!) "Finnegans Wake" into Dutch. I would never have undertaken the equivalent project. But they were enthused and must have been well-subsidised.

  5. Perhaps "beat against the face"?

    By the way, I've decided to change the settings for commenters - from now on anonymous comments won't be accepted, as I think we need to be able to distinguish between the different commenters, though they are welcome to use pseudonyms or nicknames if they choose to. It means that those who post comments will need to register, or have a Google account.

  6. Maybe the Anonymous on this thread is John, Baron Bonde, writing from the nether world.

  7. Anonymous is a she - and also me.

    I haven't read the original, but given your discussion of the dual use of nufortiden - nu for tiden, took a guess at what the original of that passage was.

    I also posted anonymously on an earlier post of yours (re feudal fields) - merely because I didn't have any of the required accounts. I've now registered (as you can see).

    I'm really glad I found this blog.

  8. Hello, Special, and thanks for registering. I think it's good that commenters have unique IDs - that way there's less danger of confusion.

  9. >>Maybe the Anonymous on this thread is John, Baron Bonde, writing from the nether world.<><

    I was going to tell him to sign himself "Bond(e)".

  10. Well, welcome Special. Now we know you are a she.

    Yes, I think "beat against the face" is OK, as David suggests. I'll change it to that.


Please try to keep comments on topic.