I went this evening to a poetry reading of the poet Robert Haas where he recounts the following pearl worth sharing:
"Robert Pinsky and I were collaborating on a translation of a very great poem written by Czeslaw Milosz in the middle of the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, called “The World.” Everyone was writing protest poems and Milosz wrote a poem in a series of short song-like quatrains, almost like children’s verse, about a family in a Lithuanian village. And in one section of the poem, the mother tells the children a parable, and the poem is called “Parable of a Poppy Seed.” The poem had never been translated because Milosz was convinced that it had to rhyme and sound like children’s verse if it was going to be translated. And so we said, “Let us give it a
try.” I think a literal translation of the Polish would go something like this:
On a poppy seed there was a tiny house.
Inside the house were people and a cat.
Outside poppy-seed dogs bark at the moon,
Never imagining that somewhere is a world much larger"
In my first effort to try to write a naive-sounding poem and make it rhyme I gave myself some latitude. I think it went like this:
On a seed of poppy is a tiny house.
Inside are people, a cat and a mouse.
Outside in the yard, a dog barks at the moon.
Then, in his world, he sleeps until noon.
I thought, “not bad, I’m on my way.” I showed it to Czeslaw Milosz, who would sometimes come around late in the afternoon to see what we were doing. He read it and he said, “Mouse?”"
Here is a literal translation I found on the Internet of the same poem:
On a poppy seed is a tiny house,
Dogs bark at the poppy-seed moon,
And never, never do those poppy-seed dogs
Imagine that somewhere there is a world much larger.
The Earth is a seed—and really no more,
While other seeds are planets and stars.
And even if there were a hundred thousand,
Each might have a house and a garden.
All in a poppy head. The poppy grows tall,
The children run by and the poppy sways.
And in the evening, under the rising moon,
Dogs bark somewhere, now loudly, now softly.
I think this tells you a lot about what translation actually means apropos Latour and the like.