Saturday 30 July 2011

Seven Dresses for Visibility

by Pia Tafdrup

I am sewing a dress that can be worn
proudly by one who is born with
an expectant spark in the heart’s vessels,
it will perfectly fit large and small,
is spun strong by the bow of the rain
it can be enjoyed a whole life long,
if the cloth is looked after well.

I am sewing a dress that can be worn
silently by new victims of fear,
it can fit large and small,
does not hide vulnerability
as droves of birds are hunted
out of the tree's dense crown,
the fabric flutters in the wind.

I am sewing a dress that can be worn
lightly by new victims of hate,
it is coloured red by blood
and has thunder-black borders,
it can fit large and small,
those who least of all will think
that one should change before the night.

I am sewing a dress that can be worn
by the victims of a cold cynicism
it can fit large and small,
its crazy fabric is made
of fire no downpour will quench,
it will be a reminder that the earth
may open up at any time at all.

I am sewing a dress that can cover
dried blood on the victims of death,
it can hide large and small,
it is shaped by the deep furrows
of tears across the cheek,
the cloth matches the walls of the dark,
the peace in each grave on the planet.

I am sewing a dress that can be worn
in a misty haze of sorrow’s
victims, designed for relatives
and friends of the deceased,
it can fit large and small,
anger’s first light is visible
between lead-grey threads of pain.

I am sewing the dress that can be worn
securely by one who knows hope,
woven in are the laughter of friends,
quiet tears of joy, the desire
to wake up in spite
of life the disaster took
– it reflects the rays of the sun.


Jeg syr en kjole, som kan bæres
stolt af den, der fødes med
forventningsgnist i hjertets kar,
den passer fuldendt stor og lille,
spindes stærkt af regnens bue,
den kan nydes hele livet,
hvis der værnes godt om klædet.

Jeg syr en kjole, som kan bæres
tyst af frygtens nye offer,
den kan passe stor og lille,
skjuler ikke sårbarhed,
som flokkevis af fugle jages
ud af træets tætte krone,
flagrer stoffet op i vinden.

Jeg syr en kjole, som kan bæres
let af hadets nye offer,
den er farvet rød af blodet
og har tordensorte kanter,
den kan passe stor og lille,
den, der mindst af alt vil tro,
der skulle skiftes tøj før natten.

Jeg syr en kjole, som kan bæres
af en kold kynismes offer,
den kan passe stor og lille,
kjolens vanvidsstof er gjort
af ild, som ingen skylregn slukker,
den skal minde om, at jorden
når som helst kan åbne sig.

Jeg syr en kjole, som kan dække
størknet blod på dødens offer,
den kan skjule stor og lille,
den er formet efter grådens
dybe furer over kinden,
klædet matcher mørkets vægge,
freden i hver grav på kloden.

Jeg syr en kjole, som kan bæres
i en tågedøs af sorgens
offer, viet til en slægtning
og til venner af den døde,
den kan passe stor og lille,
vredens første lys er synligt
mellem blygrå smertetråde.

Jeg syr på kjolen, som kan bæres
trygt af den, der kender håbet,
vævet ind er venners latter,
stille glædestårer, lysten
til at vågne op på trods
af liv, som katastrofen tog
– den reflekterer solens stråler.

translated from Danish by David McDuff


Danish dog said...

A very nice translation, Mr. McDuff! I'm a teacher who's lived in Denmark for 25 years, and I pride myself on accurate and fluent translations from Danish to English, so this is no mean praise.

You have an impossible task though when it comes to translating the variation in the first line of the final stanza, where N is sewing 'on' ("syr på") the dress, rather than just sewing a dress, which actually has the sense that she is working on it less strictly than before, less making something from scratch and more working on something she's already got, with a suggestion too of perhaps also improvising. Really, totally absolutely impossible to translate with the form at hand.

And the word “trygt” in the final stanza is also impossible to render well in English. It means "with a feeling of being safe and secure". But “securely” is the best there is for that in the space available.

Norway and Denmark have a similar language and culture, and thus Pia Tafdrup is close enough to identify with what the country is going through, yet at just enough of a distance to be able to seee the big picture. Quite a remarkable poem the more I think about it. My guess is that the Norwegians themselves will need more time before they can express anything quite as considered as this.

On an earlier post you wrote: "The Danish text of the poem is on this page of Politiken's e-edition (left-hand page, right-hand column, click to enlarge)":

I have translated Politikens Thomas Bredsdorff’s note that came after the poem to:

“We are born with great expectations. And these can be so cruelly dashed by events such as those on Utöya and in Oslo on Friday. The poet, Pia Tafdrup, has a great knack for connecting violent events in the world with the simple symbolism of the fairytale - which also involves promises. Fear, hate and cynicism must finally yield to hope once more. May reality match the poem.”

This point about the fairytale is useful in order to see “where the poet is coming from”. The seven stanzas of seven lines each underline this fairytale feel. Fairytales with their archetypes are a useful way of tackling big issues. They can speak to our sense of humour even when things have turned really nasty.

Duncan Gillies MacLaurin

David McDuff said...

Hello, Danish dog. Thank you for your interesting comment. During the work on the translation I did indeed raise the point about "syr på" with the poet herself, and her view was that while in the Danish text the phrase certainly conveys a sense of incomplete action, so does the use of "syr" in the other six stanzas of the poem. I had suggested translating "syr" (in stanzas 1-6) as "sew" and "syr på" (in stanza 7) as "am sewing", for the distinction exists in English, too, and the difference is not quite untranslatable. However, on the grounds that all the sewing in in the poem is incomplete, we left the English version as it is.

Thank you also for your translation of Thomas Bredsdorff's note.