at the very first stirring
my airtight, upright
each fragment starting to turn green
even as it falls …
Martii Hynynen, translated from the Finnish by Mike Horwood
Modern Poetry in Translation Third Series, No. 10 is dedicated to the beauty, abundance and plight of Mother Earth. This autumn MPT will be truly internationalist. Work from all quarters, out of as many languages as possible, will demonstrate an obvious fact: on Planet Earth we sink or swim together.
The arguments will be polemical, saying the things that must be said, but also celebratory, so that we see, yet again, what it is we risk losing. Poetry, translated and original, essays, anecdotes, photographs, and illustrations, all of the highest quality, show up wrong attitudes and the deeds they encourage; but also indicate how we might live better in the living world.
Founded by Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort in 1966 and now edited by David and Helen Constantine – based in Oxford; Modern Poetry in Translation is Britain’s most important poetry translation publication.
MPT publishes translations, original poems, reviews and short essays that address such characteristic signs of our times as exile, the movement of peoples, the search for asylum, and the speaking of languages outside their native home.
Bewketu Seyoum, poems, translated by the author and Chris Beckett
Martti Hynynen, five poems, translated by Mike Horwood
Oliver Reynolds, ‘Rosenegg’s Night’
Waldo Williams, ‘Spring 1946’, translated by Jason Walford Davies
Pascale Petit, four poems
Rocco Scotellaro, poems, translated by Alen Prowle
Robert Saxton, sonnets from Hesiod’s Calendar
Anna Lewis, ‘The Wash-house’, from the Mabinogion
João de Jesus Paes Loureiro, two poems, translated by Stefan Tobler
Antônio Moura, three poems, translated by Stefan Tobler
Mary-Ann Constantine, ‘Notre Dame de Port Blanc’, from the Breton ‘Itron Varia ar Porz-Gwenn’
Terry Gifford, Ted Hughes, Translation and Ecopoetics
Pauline Stainer, six poems
Jeff Nosbaum, ‘Cape Weavers’
Siriol Troup, three poems
Dante, Purgatory, Canto 11, 1-36, translated by Mark Leech
Wulf Kirsten, ‘village’, translated by Dennis Tomlinson
Wulf Kirsten, ‘Bleak Place’, translated by Stefan Tobler
Elisha Porat, three poems, translated by Cindy Eisner
Anne Cluysenaar, two poems
Pedro Serrano, ‘Swallows’, translated by Anna Crowe
Anna Crowe, ‘The Mysterious Starling’
Naomi Jaffa, Aldeburgh 2008
Yi Sha, five poems, translated by Simon Patton and Tao Naikan
Antjie Krog, ‘the unhomely’
Farzaneh Khojandi, two poems, translated by Jo Shapcott
Rose Scooler, ‘Mica Parade’, translated by Sibyl Ruth
Tomas Venclova, three poems, translated by Ellen Hinsey
Photos from Durham?
Franz Hodjak, six poems, translated by Peter Oram
Zsuzsa Beney, five poems, translated by George Szirtes
Cesare Pavese, five poems, translated by David Douglas
Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki, five poems, translated by Bill Johnston
Jerzy Harasymowicz, four poems, translated by Maria Rewakowicz, with illustrations by Swava Harasymowicz
Eugene Dubnov, two poems, translated, with the author, by Vernon Scannell, Anne Ridler and John Heath-Stubbs
Cecilia Rossi, on translations of Pura López-Colomé, Dulce María Loynaz and Mercedes Roffé
Paschalis Nikolaou on Richard Burns’s The Blue Butterfly
Belinda Cooke on Sasha Dugdale’s Elena Shvarts
David Constantine on Poems from Guantánamo and two Hafan Books
Josephine Balmer, Further Reviews
Rocco Scotellaro, Poems, Translated by Allen Prowle
Rocco Scotellaro never saw his poems published. In 1954, the year after his cruelly premature death from a heart attack at the age of thirty, E Fatto Giorno (Day Break), edited by his friend Carlo Levi, was published by Mondadori, and was awarded the Viareggio prize. He was the gifted son of a very poor family from Lucania, a mountainous and impoverished region of the Italian mezzogiorno. His parents made great sacrifices so that he could enrol at Rome University to study law, but the war and then the death of his father forced him to leave without completing his degree. He was of that young generation which saw the post-war years as a real opportunity to establish a just and egalitarian society, and to improve the material lives of the poor. At 23, he was elected as socialist mayor of his home town, Tricarico, and became actively engaged in the struggle for land reform. Inevitably, this brought him into conflict with the landowners, many of whom had welcomed his election believing that this son of a shoemaker could be easily manipulated. Victim of a political vendetta, he was imprisoned in Matera. The charges of corruption were spurious and he was acquitted after two months. He resigned as mayor and left for Portici, near Naples, where for some three years he studied at a research centre in agrarian economics. It was in Portici that he died.
One hears in these poems a voice, or rather, voices that had scarcely reached the ears of any public, let alone one given to reading poems. They narrate an archaic rural way of life dominated by the seasons, the harshness of place and weather, the need to feed one’s family, but the sense of timelessness is sometimes disrupted by poems which relate contemporary events, such as the political defeat of 18 April 1948, the discovery that the agrarian reform plan had handed the peasants largely uncultivable strips of rocky ground, the death of his brother-in-law in the Greek expedition, the retreat of campaigning field- hands from the bosses’ bully boys. Scotellaro, political activist that he was, is no populist poet. He lets us share his ambivalence towards a moment in history when the past and the possible future are in contention. He was never able to commit himself utterly to an intellectual environment where reform and political change were debated; emotional ties to an ancestral past, whose limitations and inertia so frustrated him, frequently brought him back from the city. The muleteer’s daughter was ultimately more difficult to leave than the city girlfriend. His poetry is encamped in that border country where Raymond Williams also lived: pitched between attraction and repulsion, affection and irritation. The quarrel with others would have inspired, as Yeats claimed, a discourse of rhetoric, something Scotellaro no doubt kept for the hustings and public meetings. It was out of the quarrel with himself that he wrote many of the most telling poems in E Fatto Giorno.
The violets are children with bare feet
The leaves are fresh on the almond trees,
spring water rains from stone walls;
trotting lightly, the donkeys choose
the friendlier of the river’s banks;
the girls with the darkest eyes
clamber on the squeaking cart, aloof.
March is a baby, laughing already, in its swaddling clothes.
And you can forget the winter,
who, bent by bundles of wood,
have told your beads,
mile after freezing mile,
to roast your face by the fire.
Now ticks come back to the horses,
in the stables flies stir the air,
and children with bare feet
charge upon clumps of violet.
Already you can smell the apples on the air
Already you can smell the apples on the air
and you can sleep the deepest sleep,
no moth flies in
to flutter round the lamp.
But I have never heard, in late October,
so many unfamiliar voices
reach me from the street;
my father was strapping up my trunk,
my sister repairing my clothes,
and I was having to leave to study
in a city which I did not know!
I felt my spirit turn to milk
when my friends spoke consoling words,
not moving, lonely and shy, from their doors.
Perhaps now I ought to leave in silence,
without a backward glance at anyone;
I’ll seek some trade or other.
Here, a rag flutters on its threads,
and leaves from the apples scenting the air
are settling on my head.
Forlorn cuckoo, your call keeps us awake
All round the brown mountains
your colour has crept back,
our old September friend.
You’ve settled in among us.
When, fleeing the burnt stubble
of our fields, castaway crickets
screech at the doors,
our women have heard you quite close.
From the vaulted ceilings hang
strings of dried figs and green tomatoes;
there’s a sack of hard wheat,
a heap of felled almonds.
keeps us awake:
Yes, we’ll trudge back along the paths
and, tomorrow, get down to work,
when water streams yellow again
under the furrows,
and the wind billows
our coats in the cupboards.
To the muleteer’s daughter
I cannot live beside you any longer,
something stifles my voice.
You are the muleteer’s daughter
and you take away my breath.
Because below us, in the stable,
A version of Dante, Purgatory canto xix, 1-36
Dante’s dream encounter with the Siren is a sudden lurch in the otherwise upward progress of the Purgatorio. Standing alone, it captures the nightmarish quality of humankind’s addiction to its own destruction – yet at the same time offers some hope of escape. This version was written alongside similar re-imaginings of several Old English poems. Like many translations, it is an experiment in bringing the perspective and authority of a particular text directly to bear on a modern problem, and vice versa, while keeping the framework of the original vision intact.
When the day had given up the world
to the hard moon, thrashed by Earth
or Saturn, or some other punisher
the hour that prophets foretell the rising
of great stars out east down roads
that flare with falling shells
a woman came staggering to me
eye-pained, foot-bound, hands
yellowed with a cancer.
My gaze upon her membraned flesh
jerked her straight, as from a morgue
her tongue slopping free
her body stiff like one about to fall.
Her face washed in a flood of colour –
some lust, or blood, had burst its banks.
So her story was released, and she
keened a note that held me closer
than any prayer-built hope:
‘I the Siren, sweet in my throat,
sweet on the sea, bring crude men
to ruin, spilt on rocks and currents.
Wandering Ulysses was trapped in my slick:
any man who’s burned for me is caught –
no engine can undo my grip.’
At her pause a lady, cold, stepped
between us. Her icy breath thinned
the Siren’s spell to air, invisible.
‘She’s got him! He’s bending to her lips!’
My guide was closing in, eyes fixed
on her white shroud. He grabbed the Siren
and laid her open, the belly slack,
stinking, choking me, waking me
with poisoned air. My eyes fell
on my guide. ‘Three times I’ve called on you
to wake!’ he said. ‘Now rise: this path
will take us on to lighter skies.’
the mules are restless, though asleep,
and your father, snoring nearby,
has not yet clambered on his cart
to beat away the stars with his whip.
Poems from the Mabinogion
This sequence is drawn from the story of Blodeuedd, found in the Mabinogion, the major collection of Medieval Welsh tales. Blodeuedd is often thought to represent the natural world in human form; connections and tensions between humans and the natural environment run throughout the story. The sequence is told from the imagined perspective of Blodeuedd’s maid. Blodeuedd is created from wild flowers by magic, to be the bride for a young nobleman, but begins an affair with another man, who encourages her to kill her husband and appropriate his land. Their attempt at murder fails when her husband transforms into an eagle, and flies out of sight. Blodeuedd’s husband is later reinstated by his uncle, a magician, who then pursues Blodeuedd, and turns her into an owl as punishment for her disloyalty.
Autumn shakes into winter,
and we all settle down to our snow-pace:
slow hours under candle-light, patching and darning
the woollens, salting and curing small game.
I don’t see so much of the girl –
her husband away, she keeps her door bolted,
won’t meet my eye when we pass in the halls.
But we’ve had her pegged, in the wash-rooms and kitchens,
since the first snowdrop came shouldering up through the frost;
since the daffodils, all statuesque and deep blonde,
and the plum trees, scattering petals
over the still-rigid ground.
It gets no warmer,
sunlight shallow and brief on the field.
Her door bangs at midnight, and again before dawn;
she sleeps later, talks faster, flagrant
as the clematis limbering over her window.
João de Jesus Paes Loureiro
Translated by Stefan Tobler
João de Jesus Paes Loureiro was born in a small town in Pará, in the eastern Amazon region, and is a poet and professor of aesthetics, the history of art and Amazonian culture at the Federal University of Pará (UFPA). His first collection Tarefa was published in 1964, just before the military coup that brought a dictatorship to Brazil. Tarefa was confiscated and Paes Loureiro imprisoned for months. A prolific poet, his collections include the trilogy Cantares Amazônicos which has been translated into German and Italian. The focus moves from the Amazon's indigenous culture and history in the first book Porantim (1979), via increasing rural and cultural devastation in Deslendário (1981) to a large Amazonian city, Belém, and the many dispossessed who end up there, in Altar em Chamas (1982), the collection from which 'A Criminal Recipe' and 'Workers' are taken.
A Criminal Recipe
Let him be born.
The bed of poverty
is a good measure . . .
He’ll grow up without milk
and without greens.
The mud below the house’s stilts
is bound to give him
the tides’ inheritance of worms.
It’s a good thing he’s got the samba groove.
He won’t have schools
nor a childhood.
And youth, would be better it didn’t blossom
because the stem of his love
has been castrated.
The day on which he goes out
partner of the moon
(revolver in his belt
and a decision in his eyes)
he’ll be meat, peppered with bullets.
Translated by George Szirtes
Zsuzsa Beney, Hungarian poet, essayist and surgeon, was born in Budapest in 1930. Her first book of poems, Tüzföld (Fire-earth) appeared in 1972 with an introduction by Sándor Weöres, one the greatest Hungarian poets of the century. She produced a book of essays the next year and the first of her two novels in 1974. Her 1993 book of essays, Szó és csend között, was published in the UK by Mare's Nest as Between Sound and Silence, translated by Mark Griffiths. The essays in it are mainly philosophical and mystical meditations following the death of her husband. Her poems are contemplative, often preoccupied by suffering and the borders of existence and non-existence. She continued as a surgeon to her seventieth birthday. She died in July 2006.
Through what sluices has it swept
before it finally reached my home
of clay soil and carved its crumbling bed?
Eternity humming from its dark source.
The non-transparent water shows time
only its wrinkled silk surface.
Mirror images of sparkling light.
Waves sliding one under the other.
Broken tiles in the mirror,
cracking, and still another glass,
between was and will be, I became / I’ll not be,
running water’s burning catharsis.
There’s nothing I hate more than dust
in corners of the room, in understanding.
But I can no longer clean everything.
I’ve strength enough for work, but not for cleanness.
I live in half-light. Literally half-light.
My eyes no longer tolerate the sun.
My heart can’t manage all your empathies.
I don’t look into death’s eyes unafraid.
Because there are no gates of death, just slow
gatherings of dust. Mud and dirt cover our lives.
They gather in the corners of our souls.
We can’t step into the light for fear of drowning.
Into the spider’s web…
God entangled in the spider’s web
becomes immobile, a dummy,
woven into easily-broken
glittering threads of thought.
His trembling wings drop off, those lights,
those phosphorescences that reflect each other.
He sinks into the darkness of our twilight,
into the harbours of despair.
For just one minute liberate yourself,
erupt from our minds if only for a moment.
Let it be you that leads us through the gates
of death to the unknown far side of being.