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Modern Poetry in Translation (Series 3 No.3) Metamorphoses

Modern Poetry in Translation (Series 3 No.3) Metamorphoses

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Metamorphoses seeks to extend the very idea of translation, and features texts which translators have transformed from a foreign original into something that is peculiarly their own.

Highlights include versions of Akhmatova done by outstanding contemporary poets for Poetry International at the South Bank in 2004, as well as Ingeborg Bachmann’s War Diary, a moving document of her early life in terrible times.

This volume of MPT gives a voice to the unheard and creates living connections across frontiers, cultures, genres, mediums and ages.

Cover by Lucy Wilkinson. Typesetting by Paul Dunn. Editorial by David and Helen Constantine.


Akhmatova on the South Bank Ingeborg Bachmann

  • Karen Leeder: Introduction
  • Mike Lyons: ‘War Diary’
  • Patrick Drysdale and Mike Lyons: Five Bachmann poems

  • Sean O’Brien: A version of Canto V of Dante’s Inferno
  • Cristina Viti: Eros Alesi’s Fragments
  • Sarah Lawson and Malgorzata Koraszweska: Six poems by Ann Kühn- Cichocka
  • Marilyn Hacker: Guy Goffette’s ‘Construction Site of the Elegy’
  • Belinda Cooke and Richard McCane: Six poems by Boris Poplavsky
  • Cecilia Rossi: Poems from Alejandra Pizarnik’s Works and Nights
  • Terence Cave: A memorial note on Edith McMorran and a translation of Aragon’s ‘C’
  • Paul Batchelor: An essay on Barry MacSweeney’s Apollinaire


  • Antony Wood on Angela Livingstone’s Poems from Chevengur
  • Josephine Balmer on Cliff Ashcroft’s Dreaming of Still Water and PeterBoyle’s Eugenio Montejo
  • Paschalis Nikolaou on Philip Ramp’s Karouzos
  • Francis Jones on Jan Twardowski (translated by Sarah Lawson and Malgorzata Koraszweska) and A Fine Line: New Poetry from Central and Eastern Europe
  • Josephine Balmer:Books Received.

    Colette Bryce:Two Poems

    Under a dark veil she wrung her hands…

    Under a dark veil she wrung her hands...
    ‘What makes you grieve like this?’
    I have made my lover drunk
    with a bitter sadness.

    I'll never forget it. He left, reeling,
    his mouth twisted, desolate...
    I ran downstairs, ran into the courtyard,
    managed to catch him opening the gate

    and begged him: ‘It was all a joke, don't leave,
    please... I will lose my mind!’
    But he only smiled, calmly, terribly,
    and said to me: ‘Get inside out of the wind.’


    He was young, anxious, jealous…

    He was young, anxious, jealous.
    His love was like the heat of the sun
    but he killed my white bird
    as he could not bear her singing of the past.

    Sunset. Into the room he strides:
    ‘Love, laugh, write poetry!’ he orders me.
    I buried the bird
    by the well, near the alder tree.

    I promised him I wouldn't cry
    but my heart set to a stone,
    and now it seems that everywhere
    I turn, I hear her sweet song.


    George Szirtes (with Veronika Krasnova): From the Introduction to Six poems

    The first and most difficult task of a translator is, as I see it, to understand the poem. I don’t mean the words, but somehow to see the ghost in the machine, to see what it is that gives that particular form of words life. Without this nothing can be done. I am aware that this sounds far too simple, because the process of reading is also the process of translation, so the life in the original begins to kindle, then overlap with, the life of the developing translation. The translator, if a poet, seeks that life and is used to seeing it develop in his or her own work. Nor is that ‘life’, if I may give the word its proper inverted commas at this stage, independent of all the elements that seem to comprise it. There is compromise and conversation throughout.

    From Neil Philip’s: ‘Twenty-one glosses on poems from The Greek Anthology’ .


    When Tereina was just a child,
    I said, ‘This one will break a few hearts
    when she grows up.’
    Everyone laughed—me too—
    but now it’s all come true.
    Just to look at her
    burns me up,
    and look at her
    is all I can do.
    When I beg her
    to put me out of my misery,
    all she says is,
    ‘I’m a virgin.’
    This will be the death of me.


    Turn into a shower of gold, a swan,
    a bull, a bird? That’s too hard.
    I’ll leave such fancy tricks to Zeus,
    and woo Corinna with a credit card.


    All this stuff you buy—
    exfoliating scrub,
    coloured contacts,
    wash-in hair dye—
    wouldn’t a new face
    work out cheaper?

    From Josephine Balmer’s: The Word for Sorrow: a work begins its progess.

    One rainy spring day I was working on an initial translation from Tristia using the Perseus site’s on-line Latin dictionary, when an electrical storm required me to log off . Turning to an old dictionary, bought at a village fete as a school-student, I noticed by chance an inscription on its fly-leaf which I must have seen many times over the years and yet barely registered: a name in faded ink and a date, early in 1900. Back on-line a few days later, I ran a search on the name, almost on a whim. The results were impressive: First World War documents and diaries relating to 1/1st regiment of the Royal Gloucester Hussars, posted to Gallipoli in 1915, to the Hellespont, near Ovid’s own place of exile and which, by coincidence, Ovid had just described crossing in the poem I was translating. Following link after link, more and more connections were revealed; old photos of the regiment lined up on Cheltenham Station just before leaving for the east, bringing parallels with Ovid’s famous poem describing his last night before exile. The eye-witness accounts detailing the sickness, deprivations and dangers of the Gallipoli campaign in which 50,000 Allied troops and 85,000 Turkish soldiers died, reminiscent of Ovid’s own powerful laments about his conditions of exile. And so The Word for Sorrow came about, versions of Ovid’s verse alongside original poems exploring the history of the old second-hand dictionary used to translate it.

    From Mike Lyons' Translation of Ingeborg Bachmann's: ‘War Diary’ .

    11 June. L. has fallen in love with an Englishman, he is tremendously tall and gangling and is called Bob. She says he is very rich and was brought up in Oxford. He’s all she can talk about. Yesterday she said she had just one wish, to get away from here and go to England. She’s hoping, I think, that he will marry her. But marriage between Austrian girls and Englishmen is prohibited by the military government. She says the hardships here will never end and that she has gone through too much, can’t take any more, and wants a life for herself. I can understand her only too well but get angry with her too, because she thinks I also ought to marry an Englishman and get away from here.

    Of course I want to get away, but only in order to study, and I don’t want to get married and not even to an Englishman, just for the sake of a few tins of food and some silk stockings. Most of the Englishmen here are very nice and decent, I think. But I am much too young. Arthur and Bill are really very nice and we talk and laugh a lot together. In the garden we often play Tailor, Tailor, Lend Me Your Scissors and Look Behind You . Arthur keeps giving Heinerle chocolate, and a few days ago he called on Mummy, who is still in bed, and put tea and biscuits onto her bedspread. She calls him ‘Redilocks’, because he has such ginger hair, and likes him best.

    I think he also is in love with L., Bill is too, but Arthur more so, and I think too that Arthur is terribly jealous of Bob. Bob is quite standoffish. We once exchanged a couple of words but never again and even then it didn’t amount to much: it was just to thank him for letting L. have the car so that she could fetch Mummy from hospital.

    14 June. My mind is in a whirl still. Jack Hamesh was here again, this time he came in a jeep. Everyone in the village was gawping of course and S. came across the stream twice to look into the garden. I took him into the garden because Mummy is in bed upstairs. We sat on the bench and to begin with I was trembling again so badly that he must have thought I was mad or had something on my conscience or whatever. And I just don’t know why. I no longer know what we talked about first, but then all at once it was about books, about Thomas Mann and Stefan Zweig and Schnitzler and Hofmannsthal.

    I was so happy, he knows everything, and he told me he would never have thought he might meet a young girl in Austria who in spite of her Nazi upbringing had read all that. And suddenly everything was quite different, and I told him all about the books. He told me that he was taken to England in 1938 in a Kindertransport with other Jewish children. Actually he was already 18 years old at the time, but an uncle managed to arrange it, his parents were already dead.

    Now I know too why he speaks such good German. Then he joined the British army and in the occupation zones lots of former Germans and Austrians are now working in the offices of the FSS, on account of the language and because they know the conditions in the country better. We talked till evening, and he kissed my hand before he left. Nobody ever kissed my hand before. I am so mixed up and happy, and when he’d gone I climbed the apple tree in our garden, it was already dark, and I cried my eyes out and thought to myself that I would never wash my hand again.

    Jack comes every day now, and I’ve never talked so much in my life. We talk mostly about Weltanschauung and history. He’s very good at explaining, and I’m no longer in the least embarrassed by him. I always ask him if it’s something I haven’t yet heard about. At the moment we’re doing socialism and communism (and of course if Mummy were to hear the word ‘communism’ she would faint!), but you must have detailed knowledge of everything and study. I’m reading Marx’s Capital and a book by Adler. I’ve told Jack that I’d like to study philosophy, and he takes me very seriously and thinks that is right for me. But I’ve kept quiet about the poems.