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.


Richard said...

I like your translations.

Jack have you seen my entry on or about Alan Sondheim? He was a friend of Kathy Acker - perhaps he was very close - I think and she is one writer who also inspired him - now when I talked about that a bit he backed away - he may have been very very close (but I dont know).

I think his work is immense. It is certainly resistive and not for the faint hearted!.

But please take a look if you get time. I have links etc on my Blog..

I dont know much of Acker's work -I tried to read one of her early novels - & I saw something she did on in the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E mags (that was interesting) ..we talked about this once. But the link to Acker might mean you would be able to to get handle on Alan's work - for my money he is very great writer or "textualiser" or whatever you call him...

You of course may think he is no good. His "melancholia" and so on - his seeming mania (almost) for the internet worry me or sometimes I think he is too obsessed if one can be so) BUT ...there is some interesting (and frequently orginal and innovative) (and or disturbing) writing and images on or in his project; he has and while at times I think he is near madness (I dont think he is but he is certainly very driven) - he is also widely read and very well read in the Continental Philosophers - phenomenology is a big thing with him -but there a re other areas - Derrida of course...and his interest in the "technology of the internet" (all aspects of human communications I suppose) - he helped set up the internet in parts of Canada...

He has also made movies.

I like the work you are doing in translating. Micheal Stevens is translating Vallejo (he has a Blog on MY Space as I do also as well as EYELIGHT)

Richard said...

I rushed into print (re Alan mostly seeing the pic of Acker)) I would also comment that your composite work is great stuff - informed and as sufficiently wild and nearly as tormented as a mad wind on a burning sea...But (screeeech.... of brakes....!!) also witty and wry(!)

Is that in a book ? I am not sure if I have it - I have so many Ross books!

Richard said...

Jack -it must seem I am crawling up or into you (or haunting you!) but no - I wish there were more comments than mine here -

Your reaading of your work the other Monday was brilliant - electrifying, controlled and intense.

That book is right on the nail - hesitations, atmosphere; all built in - one of your best in many excellent works you have done.

The other "extreme" is Giodorno Bruno etc but that is also part of the overall picture.

The Bent Branch said...

Robin Bond, the Associate Professor of Classics at Canterbury, reads Horace Odes Book One, available for downloading from the LATINUM podcast, which you may be interested in taking a look at.

Dr Jack Ross said...

Don't worry, Richard. I don't feel stalked. I always appreciate your input on these posts. And thanks very much for your kind words about the reading last Monday.

Everyone was on form, I thought -- Bill Direen characteristically brilliant, Scott Hamilton in great form with his Ode to Auckland, yourself and Olwyn quietly effective, and some excellent Vallejo translations from Michael Steven.

The highpoint, for me, though, was probably the reading from David Brown's novel ... it sounds like a real gas: terrifying and disturbing and yet somehow lyrical at the same time.

Richard said...

David Brown's novel - or his reading from was great. He is highly talented.