Category Archives: Poets and their poems

Poems on YouTube

seedlings and hand

I have begun to add readings of poems to my YouTube channel (sidewaysstation). For the time being there are five, but I’ll be adding more over time.

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Poems read aloud

I’ve been recording poems for a while in a new section of the site entitled “Poems read aloud“. Click on the link to go to the index (also on the second line of the main menu at the top of the page).

Giorgio Caproni – Siren Song (Sirena) – translation

Siren song

 

My city with its uphill loves,
my Genoa all full of sea and steps
and, rising from the harbour, whirlpools of living
life all the way up to reach the ridges
of the sheet-metal roofs, now with what
forcefulness inside me, here where each word
has turned to lead, does it quiver once again
with iodine and salt upon my fingertips
which ache on my type-writer’s keys? Oh, the coal
at sky-blue Di Negro! Oh the foghorns,
at night just when one’s eyes have closed,
and in one’s heart the pain of the future
is opened by a roller shutter
crashingly shaken by a closing door.

 

Listen to the poem here: 



 

 

Sirena

 

La mia città dagli amori in salita,
Genova mia di mare tutta scale
e, su dal porto, risucchi di vita
viva fino a raggiungere il crinale
di lamiera dei tetti, ora con quale
spinta nel petto, qui dove è finita
in piombo ogni parola, iodio e sale
rivibra sulla punta delle dita
che sui tasti mi dolgono? …Oh il carbone
a Di Negro celeste! oh la sirena
marittima, la notte quando appena
l’occhio s’è chiuso, e nel cuore la pena
del futuro s’è aperta col bandone
scosso di soprassalto da un portone.

 

Commentary: Giorgio Caproni grew up in Genoa. He spent the second part of his life in Rome and many of his poems are about his love for Genoa.

The title is “Sirena”. Caproni uses the word in line 10 to mean the foghorns he heard in the harbour. But “sirena” also means one of the sirens of antiquity who called out to sailors. I believe the title refers to the ceaseless call of Genoa which he always felt. I have therefore decided to use “Siren song”.

Caproni begins: “my city with its uphill loves”. He explained that when he was young the only place you could be alone with a girl was one of the narrow alleys which climb steeply from the seafront. Thus loves were always uphill (for the girls, presumably, they were downhill).

The second line is “Genova mia di mare tutta scale”. You could read this simply as “My Genoa, on the sea, all steps”. But Caproni uses no punctuation and you could read “di mare tutta” as meaning “all sea”. So all sea and also all steps if one reads the words as compressed together. This, actually, is a feeling one has in Genoa, where the steep climbs mean that you even at a distance you feel and see the sea as right behind you.

Di Negro is a wharf in the harbour where coal was unloaded.

I interpret the last lines as the poet thinking of the cradle-like sound of foghorns (at least in my experience, having lived near a harbour myself) and being brought back to reality by the noise of a metal shutter. The Italian “scosso di soprassalto” (suddenly shaken) mimics the sound, and I felt that “crashingly shaken” could reproduce this effect at little cost since “suddenly” is  understood anyway.

 

 

 

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”.

Missions to the Moon – Ariosto and Calvino

moon

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the age when the world was as yet new
when early humans lacked experience,
without the shrewdness of the present day,
beneath a lofty mountain, with a peak
that seemed to touch the sky, a people, whose
name I do not know, lived on the valley floor
who watching oftentimes the changing moon,
now full now hollow, with or without horns,
travel her natural course across the skies,
thinking that from the summit of the mount
it would be possible for them to reach
her and discover how she waxed and waned,
began, some carrying baskets, others sacks,
to scurry up the mountain slopes racing
each other in their urge to have her first.
Then, seeing she remained forever far,
exhausted they collapsed upon the ground,
wishing in vain they had remained below.
Those on the lower hills, viewing them so high,
believing they could see them touching her,
went chasing after them with hurried strides.
This mountain is the wheel of Fortune
on top of which, the unenlightened crowd
believe that all is peace, and yet there’s none.

Translation Phillip Hill 2017

Listen here: 

This is a section of the 3rd Satire by Lodovico Ariosto (1474-1533), which is generally known as “The Fable of the Moon”. (For the original Italian click here) Anybody who knows something about Ariosto, hearing a mention of the moon, will probably think of his wonderful and very funny epic poem, L’Orlando Furioso, where the moon is presented as the place where all lost things end up. (It would have been wonderful if the Apollo missions had come across a cache of odd socks). When the eponymous hero Orlando goes mad for love, another knight called Astolfo flies to the moon to recover Orlando’s lost wits.

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Haikus for explaneedfuls

monk-tea

Some people (I call them explaneedfuls) need an explanation for everything and often an explanation of the explanation as well. A long time ago I met one of them. I was asked to go to a TV studio in Italy to assist the host of a programme covering the Oscar awards ceremony. I thought I was going to be there to interpret, which is what I usually do, but it turned out that the core of my job was to make sure the Italian host understood the jokes people made during the ceremony.

Jokes are definitely one of the hardest things to translate but in this case the real problem was that the person was devoid  of any sense of humour and the more one took the pieces of the witticisms apart and described how they were supposed to interact the more bewilderment descended on his features. I began to wonder whether he was actually an alien from a race with no jokes who had infiltrated our society to spy on us. They had managed to copy all our bodily components perfectly but they had no idea on how to instil humour into a fake human.

I’m sure you’ve met at least one explaneedful person. I sometimes think about them when I read haikus.

For example,

Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house
casually.

(Issa)

Read more…

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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The Poetry of Google Translate

And the long road ahead, I go to bed
And the long road ahead, I go to bed
 

Google Translate is amazing when it works. Unfortunately, it only works about half of the time. Even more unfortunately, unless you already know the languages you are trying to translate, there is no way of knowing when it is accurate and when it is serving you up something non-sensical, inaccurate or downright offensive.

On the other hand, it is a wonderful machine for playing Chinese Whispers. I have already translated a Turkish menu into English, with what I think are fascinating results. Now, the time has come to see how well Google Translate can generate its own poetry.

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Aloud – John Skelton – To Mistress Margaret Hussey

Pourbus_lady_pomander (1)

Lady with pomander

Whenever I open an anthology of English poetry this is always one of the first poems I turn to. I love its rhythms. I also think that, although we know nothing about Mistress Margaret Hussey, thousands of people down the centuries after having read this poem have thought they would have liked to meet her.




(listen to the poem here)



Merry Margaret,
As midsummer flower:
Gentle as falcon
Or hawk of the tower:
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The Sting in Heine’s Tail

Here’s a literal translation of a very short poem by Heinrich Heine followed by the German original. The first two verses are predictable enough but …

I don’t believe in Heaven,
of which the little priest speaks;
I only believe in your eyes,
they are my heavenly light.

I don’t believe in the Lord God,
of whom the little priest speaks;
I only believe in your heart,
I have no other god.

I don’t believe in the Evil One,
in Hell and the torments of Hell;
I only believe in your eyes,
and in your evil heart Read more…