Saturday, March 3, 2012

on Geoffrey Brock's "Alteration Finds"

In the latest translation issue of Poetry, Geoffrey Brock translates three poems from three languages into a single unit that is at once translation and original poetry. It is interesting to me that Brock reads only one of three of these languages (French). The German and Greek are gleaned from other translations and dictionaries (an activity sneered at by academic translators but common in the recent issues of Poetry). The poems are transmuted into an amalgam whole, the Rimbaud and Rilke whittled down to fit in the formal constraints of the Seferis. To the critics of imitation or loose translation, borrowing or stealing, I ask what it matters if accuracy is achieved if the result is poetry.

ALTERATION FINDS


1. DELIRIUM, AFTER RIMBAUD

How many hours I kept
that vigil by your side—
entire nights, eyes wide,
as you so sweetly slept.

What I was wondering:
why you yearned to evade
the real. No one has prayed
harder for anything.

It wasn’t for your life
I feared, but for mankind.
Did you, in the end, find
secrets for changing life?



2. DEFACED, AFTER RILKE

The head we cannot know,
nor its bright fruit, the eyes.
And yet the body has
its gaze: a lamp turned low.

Or else the breast would cease
to dazzle, the hips fail
to curve into that smile
that begets more than a kiss.

And flesh would lose all life,
not flare till there’s no blind
it can’t see you behind.
You must change your life.



3. DENIAL, AFTER SEFERIS

The afternoon grew hotter
along our secret shore.
We thirsted in the glare
but couldn’t drink the water.

On golden sand we traced
your name beside the sea.
The wind came like a sigh;
our writing was erased.

How passionate our life,
how full of sex and song,
spirit and heart—how wrong!
And so we changed our life.

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