Monday, June 25, 2007

Metamorphoses I (1997): Chaos

In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas
Corpora. Di, cœptis (nam vos mutastis et illas)
Adspirate meis: primaque ab origine mundi
Ad mea perpetuum deducite tempora carmen.
Ante mare et tellus, et, quod tegit omnia, cœlum,
Unus erat toto Naturæ vultus in orbe,
Quem dixere Chaos; rudis indigestaque moles,
Nec quicquam, nisi pondus iners, congestaque eodem
Non bene junctarum discordia semina rerum.
Nullus adhuc mundo præbebat lumina Titan:
Nec nova crescendo reparabat cornua Phœbe:
Nec circumfuso pendebat in aere tellus
Ponderibus librata suis: nec brachia longo
Margine terrarum porrexerat Amphitrite
[Ovidius. Metamorphoseon, I: 1-14. In Gulielmus Sidney Walker, ed. Corpus Poetarum Latinorum, 1827 (Londini: Apud C. Knight, 1835) 325.]
These are the opening lines of Ovid's epic, taken from a bizarre old book I bought years ago in Edinburgh, which contains the complete works of all the principal Latin poets, printed in incredibly small type on an unwieldy mass of dogeared pages.

Saturn devouring his own children
Here's my attempt at a translation / transmutation, from a poem I wrote in the mid-90's called "Jack's Metamorphoses." The idea was supposed to be to construct a narrative out of bits of other texts, manipulated and retooled in the best postmodern manner. The pieces I chose included the Border Ballad "Thomas the Rhymer," Rilke's "Orpheus, Eurydike, Hermes" and three poems about Theseus and the Minotaur by Jorge Luis Borges, as well as this bit of Ovid.
It still seems like an interesting idea, though possibly carried out on too condensed a scale to do justice to all the meanings (personal and poetic) I wanted to code into it:
In new moves Jack’s muse mutated to tell forms
of bodies. Gods, starts (since by you changed, and others)
inspire me with: first & from birth of world
to my perpetual spin-out era song.

Before sea and earth, and, which covers all, Sky-tower,
united was all Nature’s face in sphere
called Chaos; raw & undigested mass
nor naught which wasn’t weight inert (Les Mills),
not well joined-up discordant seeds of things.
Nor as yet Auckland offered light the Titan,
nor new by growing swelled her horns Marina,
nor circum-harboured hung in air the earth
weight balanced by its: nor arms along long
stretch of shoreline edged out Rangitoto.

- "Jack's Metamorphoses"
[included in brief 15 (2000): 57-62 and brief 19 (2001): 70-79]

Kathy Acker (1948-1997)
The method of translation I was using echoed Kathy Acker's word-by-word transliterations of Sextus Propertius from her classic Blood and Guts in High School (1978):

In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas
In new moves Jack’s muse mutated to tell forms
Corpora. Di, cœptis (nam vos mutastis et illas)
of bodies. Gods, starts (since by you changed, and others)
Adspirate meis: primaque ab origine mundi
inspire me with: first & from birth of world
Ad mea perpetuum deducite tempora carmen.
to my perpetual spin-out era song …

For Rilke I used the aural, sound-for-sound techniques of Zukofsky's Catullus (1969), and for Borges the more traditional method of straightforward verse translation.

I've found these three approaches useful for teaching poetic translation workshops ever since. For more on that, see my entry on the Bluff O6 poetry festival from the earlier pages of this blog.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

To Terezin

Well, thanks again to everyone who managed to come along to the booklaunch on Wednesday - to Scott Hamilton for launching the book with such panache and style (check out his launch speech here); to Peter Lineham for MC'ing, to Leanne Menzies for the superb catering, to Leonie at Bennetts Books for agreeing to host the event in the first place, to Julee Browning for being such a good sport when the printers didn't get her book there in time (so we were confined to taking orders on slips of paper ...), to my parents for coming along and buying a copy, to the brief crew for same, and - above all - to the lovely Bronwyn for being so supportive throughout.

If you'd really like to do me a favour (for whatever reason), it would be absolutely super if we could get a few more orders for the book. It'll cost around $20 in the shops, but you can still obtain it for the bargain price of $15 (+ $2 postage and packing) from Leanne Menzies at the School of Social & Cultural Studies. not a bad price for a slim (90-page) volume of verse with colour pictures and an afterword by Martin Edmond, I reckon ...

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Metamorphoses XI (1820): Midas

Ovid in English. Edited by Christopher Martin.
Poets in Translation. London: Penguin, 1998. 308-09:

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley:
Midas: A Drama in two acts. 2: 83-120
[from Metamorphoses 11.106-30] Midas’s epiphany

Mid. (lifting up the cover) This is to be a king! to touch pure gold!
Would that by touching thee, Zopyrion, I could
transmute thee to a golden man;
A crowd of golden slaves to wait on me!
(Pours the water on his hands)
But how is this? the water that I touch
Falls down a stream of yellow, liquid gold.
And hardens as it falls. I cannot wash —
Pray Bacchus I may Drink! And the soft towel
With which I’d wipe my hands transmutes itself
Into a sheet of heavy gold. — No more!
I’ll sit and eat — I have not tasted food
For many hours, I have been so wrapt
In golden dreams of all that I possess,
I had not time to eat; now hunger calls
And makes me feel, though not remote in power
From the Immortal Gods, that I need food,
The only remnant of mortality!
(In vain attempts to eat of several dishes)
Alas! my fate! ‘tis gold! this peach is gold!
This bread, these grapes, & all I touch! this meat
Which by its scent quickened my appetite
Has lost its scent, its taste, — ‘tis useless gold.

Zopyrion. (aside) He’d better now have followed my advice
He starves by gold yet keeps his asses’ ears.

Midas. Asphalon, put that apple to my mouth;
If my hands touch it out perhaps I eat.
Also! I cannot bite! as it approached
I felt its fragrance, thought it would be mine,
But by the touch of my life-killing lips
‘Tis changed from a sweet fruit to tasteless gold.
Bacchus will out refresh me by his gifts,
The liquid wine congeals and flies my taste.
Go, miserable slaves! Oh, wretched king!
Away with food! its sight now makes me sick.
Bring in my couch! I will sleep off my care,
And when I wake I’ll coin some remedy
I dare not bathe this sultry day, for fear
I be enclosed in gold. Begone!
I will to rest: — Oh, miserable king!

(1820, pub. 1922)

Written two years after Frankenstein; or, The New Prometheus (1818), Mary Shelley's two-act drama "Midas" wasn't published in full until 1922 (though the short lyric "Arethusa" her husband Percy Bysshe wrote for inclusion in it has become a fabourite anthology piece).

What was it that attracted her in the theme? Frankenstein has been linked to everything from fantasies of the Shelley's first child, Clara, who died shortly before that famous "haunted summer" on Lake Geneva, to sexual jealousy of her half-sister Claire Clairmont, lover of Lord Byron (cast as the Bride of Frankenstein?) It's hard to escape the idea that Midas is, somehow, a version of her poet husband.

Consider the parallels: a man who turns everything he touches to gold, but who thereby renders himself impervious to human touch. Midas is finally cured by immersing himself in a river, thus passing on his gold-bearing gift. Shelley's own trial by water proved less favourable. He drowned at sea in 1822.

Walter Crane, “King Midas and His Daughter Who has Turned to Gold” (1892)

The book I borrowed this extract from, Ovid in English, is one of the excellent Penguin Poets in Translation Series. To date the following volumes have appeared. If you see them in a secondhand shop near you (strangely enough, they seem to go out of print almost as soon as they appear), don't buy it - leave it for me instead ...

I've marked in italics the ones I don't yet own (and have therefore had to consult in library copies):

1. Homer in English, ed. George Steiner & Aminadav Dykman (1996)
2. Horace in English, ed. D. S. Carne-Ross & Kenneth Haynes (1996)
3. Martial in English, ed. John P. Sullivan & Anthony J. Boyle (1996)
4. The Psalms in English, ed. Donald Davie (1996)
5. Virgil in English, ed. K. W. Gransden (1996)
6. Baudelaire in English, ed. Carol Clark & Robert Sykes (1998)
7. Ovid in English, ed. Christopher Martin (1998)
8. Seneca in English, ed. Don Share (1998)
9. Catullus in English, ed. Julia Haig Gaisser (2001)
10. Juvenal in English, ed. Martin M. Winkler (2001)
11. Dante in English, ed. Eric Griffiths & Matthew Reynolds (2005)
12. Petrarch in English, ed. Thomas P. Roche (2005)
13. [Rilke in English , ed. Michael Hofmann (overdue from 2008)]

Peter Sharpe, “Midas” (1999)