Monday, April 24, 2017

Gratitude for Stanislaw and Clare

A couple of my friends write poetry from time to time.  I have some poems of my own on my Kirbyvariety web site.  One of my lifelong favorite poets is Ogden Nash.  Another is Wislawa Szymborska, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996.  The weekly newsletter by Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, mentions Szymborska today and got me thinking of her poem The Joy of Writing.  The first two stanzas of the poem go like this:

Radość pisania (Polish)

Dokąd biegnie ta napisana sarna przez napisany las?

Czy z napisanej wody pić,

która jej pyszczek odbije jak kalka?

Dlaczego łeb podnosi, czy coś słyszy?

Na pożyczonych z prawdy czterech nóżkach wsparta

spod moich palców uchem strzyże.

Cisza - ten wyraz tez szeleści po papierze i rozgarnia

spowodowane slowem "las" gałęzie.


Nad białą kartką czają się do skoku

litery, które mogą ułożyć się źle,

zdania osaczające,

przed którymi nie będzie ratunku.


The beauty, the arresting cleverness are hidden for those of us who can't read Polish so we need help from translators Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.  They give us this:


The Joy of Writing (English)

Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?

For a drink of written water from a spring

whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?

Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?

Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,

she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.

Silence - this word also rustles across the page

and parts the boughs

that have sprouted from the word "woods."


Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page,

are letters up to no good,

clutches of clauses so subordinate

they'll never let her get away.

I imagine the Poles, like the Americans and the Koreans and the Uruguayans, think that a person should learn their language.  Sure, they should but they can't learn them all and they won't.  So, deep thanks for those who can stand on the border between two of the world's languages and help us know what is on the other side.


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