Category Archives: Poems

The Cats will know – Pavese – translation

(My translation of Cesare Pavese’s poem “The Cats will know”)

 

The Cats will know (Cesare Pavese)

 

Again the rain will fall
on your sweet paving stones,
a gentle rain
just like a breath or like a footfall.
Again the breeze, the dawn,
will lightly bloom,
as underneath your step
when you return.
Among the flowers and the windowsills
the cats will know.

There will be other days,
there will be other voices.
You shall smile on your own.
The cats will know.
You shall hear ancient words,
worn-out and fruitless words
like the discarded costumes
of the parties left from yesterday.

You too shall gesture.
You shall answer words –
face like springtime,
you too shall gesture.

The cats will know,
face like springtime;
and the light rain,
the hyacinth-coloured dawn,
which shred the heart
of him who has no longer
any hope of you,
are the sad smile
you smile alone.
There will be other days,
and other voices and awakenings.
We’ll suffer in the dawn,
face like springtime.

Translation: Phillip Hill 2018

Listen to the translation here

Italian original

The cats will know

Ancora cadrà la pioggia
sui tuoi dolci selciati,
una pioggia leggera
come un alito o un passo.
Ancora la brezza e l’alba
fioriranno leggere
come sotto il tuo passo,
quando tu rientrerai.
Tra fiori e davanzali
i gatti lo sapranno.

 

Ci saranno altri giorni,
ci saranno altre voci.
Sorriderai da sola.
I gatti lo sapranno.
Udrai parole antiche,
parole stanche e vane
come i costumi smessi
delle feste di ieri.

 

Farai gesti anche tu.
Risponderai parole-
viso di primavera;
farai gesti anche tu.

 

I gatti lo sapranno,
viso di primavera;
e la pioggia leggera,
l’alba color giacinto,
che dilaniano il cuore
di chi più non ti spera,
sono il triste sorriso
che sorridi da sola.
Ci saranno altri giorni,
altre voci e risvegli.
Soffriremo nell’alba,
viso di primavera.

 

(original read by Domenico Pelini)

 

Commentary

 

I think that the main point in translating this poem is to maintain the feeling of spontaneity. It is desperate but also whimsical. The verses of the poem themselves fall like the light rain of line 3.

In Italian the lines all have a similar length whereas a translation into English makes them much more variable. One could address this by rearranging the English. However, I preferred not to do that since it seems to me that each line has its own identity. In fact I think that one good way of reading this poem would be to pause for a second or two at the end of each line. It is as if each verse is a playing card the poet is turning over ( a few of which have surprising connections) as he sits distraught over a lost love but still appreciating the beautiful little things around him and the humour always in the air (the cats will know).

The most difficult thing to translate in this poem is the expression “viso di primavera” which Pavese uses to address the woman he is in love with. Literally “spring face” or “springtime face”. But in Italian the sound is so much prettier and the words more expressive. “Primavera” (spring) elicits, I think, Botticelli’s painting and this, to my mind, evokes a pale-faced beauty with the purity of spring in her traits and complexion. The English terms are duds by comparison and, I feel, evoke nothing.

The best way I have found to represent the feelings the Italian generates is “face like springtime”.

Evening (Der Abend) by Rainer Maria Rilke – translation

Evening

The evening slowly dons the changing clothes
a rim of ancient trees holds out for it;
and as you watch, before you two lands separate,
one travelling heavenwards and one which falls;

and leave you fully part of neither one,
not quite so darkly silent as the house,
not quite so surely summoning eternity
as that which every night becomes a soaring glow;

and leave you (to ungraspably unravel)
your life – fraught, huge and ripening- so that,
now confined now comprehending, it is
alternately a stone inside you and a star.

Translation: Phillip Hill 2018

Listen to the translation here

 

 

 

Der Abend

Der Abend wechselt langsam die Gewänder,
die ihm ein Rand von alten Bäumen hält;
du schaust: und von dir scheiden sich die Länder,
ein himmelfahrendes und eins, das fällt;

und lassen dich, zu keinem ganz gehörend,
nicht ganz so dunkel wie das Haus, das schweigt,
nicht ganz so sicher Ewiges beschwörend
wie das, was Stern wird jede Nacht und steigt –

und lassen dir (unsäglich zu entwirrn)
dein Leben bang und riesenhaft und reifend,
so daß es, bald begrenzt und bald begreifend,
abwechselnd Stein in dir wird und Gestirn

 

 

Commentary:

This poem seems to be made of coiled springs, all in tension until the final word. 
Rilke uses two words for star: “Stern” and “Gestirn”. “Gestirn” would be, more accurately, “heavenly body” but that is unusable. Therefore, one option, would be to use “star” both in line 8 and in line 12. However, I don’t believe that such a meticulous poet as Rilke would use the same word twice unless he had a clear reason for doing so. In addition, the final “star”, the very last word of the poem, is very strong and feels to me like a firework suddenly going off: “… stone inside you and a star.” Therefore, in order not to dampen the firework with repetition, in line 8, instead of “… becomes a soaring star” I have used “…becomes a soaring glow”. I find this more effective and I believe it gives the sense of the original. 

Another word which is difficult is “unsäglich”: “undescribably”, “ineffably” sound very weak to me and I have decided on “ungraspably”, which gives the sense of mystery and also fits in well with what Rilke suggests is the impossible task of unraveling or separating the diverse portions of our living natures.

Walking near the Roman Forum

Listen to the poem here

IMG_1235
Below,
next to our feet,
the present
just about to turn
into the past.
The plastic bottles,
and the beer cans
from last night.
The cigarette butts
impacted in between
the cobble stones

And next to them
the newly sprouted seedlings
thrusting upwards
like minute berserkers
insanely charging
our enormous flattening
human tide
trying to turn
everything back
to forest once again.

Below
the surface
which we tread,
bus tickets not yet
decomposed,
someone’s grandmother’s
favourite brooch,
a pen which wrote so
wonderfully
that there was a person
who still rued its loss
the day they died.
And here and there
lost coins which might have
saved who knows how many lives.

Below,
the years crushed
into millimetres.
Beams, tiles, mortar,
and porcelain and building
stones and bric-
a-brac;
and midden, midden, midden
through metres down to
the ancient centuries

Below,
with the remains of empire:
columns, undiscovered
temples, mosaics and
everywhere that’s else
the ruins of a million
not once remembered lives.

Above,
around my shoes,
the future imminent,
constantly undoing
my oh so carefully
tied laces.

 

,

Phillip Hill 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

The winter starlings

© Copyright Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
© Photo Copyright Walter Baxter 

Listen to the poem here

 

In early winter every year
the starlings in their hundred thousands
come to Rome.
They populate the branches of the trees
from where their shit rains down
in abundance and unceasingly.
Umbrellas must be opened
as you rush across the road,
weathering their excremental storm.
They whistle, grate and screech hysterically.
I’ve always wondered whether
it is the overwhelming thrill of being a horde
which causes them to shed
so many city-stopping droppings or whether,
conversely, it’s the collective defecation
which drives them to this state of frenzied ecstasy.
But then, at once and all together, they
take off. They fly as if
a giant hand were stirring up the sky
and they were swirling foam upon it.
Great swarms arching
at breakneck speed
across the air
splitting and recombining,
in balls, bursts, spirals and abrupt
departing arrows,
Birds flying in all directions inside
one greater common course
so that it would not be hard to believe
that skiddily those flocks are shaping,
too swiftly for our earthly eyes,
the secret letters
of a text of revelation
high above our heads.
It is magnificent.
It is, it is.
A pity then that these displays,
at some point have to end;
the starlings all regain their trees
and at that very instant,
if you are thereabouts,
a sudden truth descends:
shit – it strikes you –
sometimes outdoes magnificence

Phillip Hill 2017

 

Airport security in 2041

hedge

A frisker-bush hedge

(Listen to the poem here)

 

The bottle collectors,
the metal detectors,
the boarding pass checks,
the ID inspection.

Past the scanners, the guards,
through the frisker-bush hedges
The trackers, the scopers,
the seven-armed gropers.

Then the dumbstunner pistols
which
make
all your
electronics
electroffics
for the duration of your flight.

The tattoo inferencer,
the Rorschach blot sequencer.
The flocks of pecker pigeons,
and the crazed sniffer-dog packs

which howl at the scent of imaginary moons.
Then the accent locator,
the who-are-you-reelies,
the get-down-and-kneelies,

the just-calm-down-misters,
the testicle twisters.
The yardsticks, the metrics,
the inchers, the ouchers,

The enhanced question-session
when you’re spun centrifugal,
plus the 9-Richter quaker
and the upside-down shaker.

Then the emoji-faced probot
whose five eyes are bloodshot,
but whose smiley gets brighter
the deeper it probes you.

Last, the 50 ml syringe
which puts you to sleep,
(when you checked in you chose from six classes of dream).
Then you’re into
your casket,
the hopper,
the loader,
and your slot in the bunk.

And click, whirr …

Ding …

Ding …

Ding …

Ding …

Ding-ding

(here’s the lock)

CLUNK!

 

Phillip Hill 2017

More often not

(Listen to the poem here)

 

 

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The day comes every day.
It brightly knocks upon your door
Sometimes you answer and
sometimes you don’t.
Sometimes you leave a message
to say that you’re not in for life
right now.

The night comes every night.
It sits upon the ground
and everywhere
it plays its silent flute.
Sometimes you listen
and sometimes you won’t.

The hours come every hour
upon the hour.
They bubble up and.
jostle at your window
looking in.
They’re always there.
And you –
more often not.

 

Phillip Hill – 2014

L’Infinito by Giacomo Leopardi (Infinity)

infinito manoscritto

Giacomo Leopardi is generally described as the greatest Italian lyric poet but you don’t really need to know anything about him to appreciate his poem L’Infinito. I see the title often translated as The Infinite, but I am not sure that means anything in English, so I am going to opt for Infinity. Here then is my attempt at rendering some of its sound and meaning in English.








Infinity

I always have felt fondness for this lonely hill
and for this hedge which screens off
such a large part of the furthermost horizon.
But as I sit and gaze, in my thoughts I envisage,
beyond it, boundless space and utter silence
and deepest still, so that it almost makes
my heart take fright. And as I hear
the rustling of the wind among these plants,
I start comparing that unending silence
with this noise and I am reminded of
eternity, and seasons gone and dead and
of the season now alive and of its sounds. And so
in this immensity my thoughts sink and drown
and shipwreck feels sweet in this ocean.

(Translation by Phillip Hill)

(Listen to the translation)



And here is the Italian original –

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