segunda-feira, abril 20, 2015

Translating at the Limits of Translatability or My Personal Journey with Celan: “Não Sabemos mesmo O Que Importa”/”Wir wissen ja nicht, was gilt”/”We Don’t Really Know What Matters” by Paul Celan, Gilda Lopes Encarnação (translator)

Published 2014

One day I got to my class and after 10 minutes without other classmates arriving, my teacher Winfried Scheulen and I agreed to talk about anything worth our fancy. Being Poetry one of my long-term interests, I asked him who his favourite poet in the German Language was. I was expecting something along the lines of Rilke, Hölderlin, Hesse, but what came out of his mouth was Paul Celan. My journey of discovery regarding Celan started that day. The next day I went out and started canvassing all the bookstores in Lisbon trying to find something with Celan written on the cover, which I did: two wonderful bilingual collections (German vs Portuguese) by one of our most distinguished Professors of German Studies: João Barrento. It was through these collections (“Sete Rosas Mais Tarde”/”Seven Roses Later” with Yvette Centeno and “A Morte É Uma Flor”/”Death is a Flower”) that Celan became instantiated in me: 

Later on I got to read many more stuff in German concerning Celan, but I’ve always been keen on understanding on what it means to translate, especially when we are talking about someone as untranslatable as Celan, and this two collections were where it all started for me.

Celan is for me synonym with Hermetism. One might say this is not a “problem” with Celan but with all Poetry in general. Celan (like Rilke and Hölderlin did before him), transformed (or were transformed by) the German Language to fit their need to explain their Weltanschauung through poetry.

To talk about Celan is to talk about “Atemwende” -, a title very difficult to translate into Portuguese; there were several attempts: “Mudança de Ar”, “Sopro, Viragem” (Barrento’s choice), “Mudança de Respiração”, “Viragem na Respiração” (Gilda Encarnação’s choice) -, which in the beginning eluded me in its difficulty at translatability. This fixation was so great that I ended up translating the all thing using, at the time, my very awful command of the German Language (and with a lot of help from several dictionaries). Incidentally this work is still up in the attic; in an Horatian mode, it’s still waiting for its maturation to see the light of day… It was only when I made the attempt at producing my own version at translating Celan’s poetry (at that time)  that I truly suffered the impact of the task. This grappling with Celan’s poetry resulted in a very impetuous, and uncontrolled approach which was the only way to deal with something that shook me to my inner core. To deal with it I had to migrate the original to my own mother-tongue. Gilda Encarnação’s version made me come back to it:

Du darfst mich getrost
mit Schnee bewirten:
sooft ich Schulter an Schulter
mit dem Maubeerbaum schritt durch den Sommer,
schrie sein jüngstes
Podes, consolado,
servir-me neve:
sempre que, ombro a ombro
com a amoreira, percorria o Verão,

a sua folha mais recente me
(my version)

Encarnação’s version:

Du darfst mich getrost
mit Schnee bewirten:
sooft ich Schulter an Schulter
mit dem Maubeerbaum schritt durch den Sommer,
schrie sein jüngstes
Podes sem receio
Acolher-me com neve:
Sempre que ombro com ombro
Atravessava o Verão com a amoreira,

Gritava a sua mais tenra

Comparing the two versions, my own attempt does not strike too discordant a note.

Now, on to the issues I had with Encarnação’s translation (just a few examples):

1 - "laß es wandern” = “deixa-o errar“ (page 61). “wandern” in its strictest sense means “to go for a walk” (andar, caminhar in Portuguese); upon reading Encarnação’s translation of this verse I was to lead to believe that we were talking about “making mistakes” (“errar” in Portuguese). There’s nothing in the verse that might put us on that particular instantiation of the original;

2 - “Wär ich wie du” = “Fora eu como tu” (“Were I like you”) (page 65). It’s erroneous to say the least.  I’d have used “Se eu fosse como tu” (“If I were you”);

3 - “Bei Wortschein” = “ao luar do verbo” (page 131). I’d have translated this as “à Luz da Palavra” using a very common theological expression, be it Portuguese or, for that matter, English (“at the word’s light”);

4 – “Von Ungeträumtem geätzt, wirft das schlaflos durchwanderte Brotland den Lebensberg auf.= “Pelo insonhado corroída, a terra do pão insonemente percorrida atira o monte da vida ao ar” (page 141). Celan “wants” to express the inability to put into words some sort of violent experience that might be beyond what may be dreamed. To rightly interpret (and translate) this verse one would have to understand the keyword “Lebensberg” (a “gathering of experience” and not “a pile of life”/”um monte de vida” in Encarnação’s version). Using this as a clue I’d have translated “Von Ungeträumtem geätzt” as “corrompido pelo não-sonhado“/“corroded by the undreamed”). This way it sounds like I’m now reading Portuguese and not some kind of Ersatz-Portugiese;

5 - “Ausgeschlüfte Chitin sonnen.  Die Panzerlurche nehmen die blauen Gebetmäntel um, die sand-hörige Möwe heisst es gut, das lauernde Brandkraut geht in sich” = Sóis de quitina brotados do ovo. Os batráqueos blindados põem os paramentos azuis pelos ombros, a gaivota submissa à areia aplaude-o, a vigilante erva-fogo entra em si” (page 231). I’d have used the expression “recém-chocado”/”newly-hatched”. “Brotado do ovo” sounds weird in Portuguese.
My take on this particular stanza:

“Sóis de quitina recém-chocados. Os anfíbios blindados envolvem-se em paramentos azuis, a gaivota dependente da areia responde na afirmativa, a furtiva folha-fogo rumina.”
(“Chitin suns newly-hatched. Armoured amphibians wrap themselves up in blue liturgical vestments, the sun-dependent gull calls out in the affirmative, the furtive fire-leaf stops and thinks”). 

A common expression in German “in sich gekehrt” should have been the clue for this part of the poem…

I could have given a few more examples, but you get the gist. When translating Celan one shouldn’t go for the rhyme. Celan is not a rhyme type of poet. Celan inhabits another space-time continuum…Celan’s poetry needs a translator-poet which I’m not. I think In Portuguese only Vasco Graça Moura who translated Rilke, Gottfried Benn, Walter Benjamin, H. M. Enzensberger, etc. would have been able to render Celan’s German into Portuguese. Alas, he’s no longer among us to enlighten us as to the “details” of Celan’s poetry. We still have Barrento’s renderings into Portuguese, so all is not lost…

Bottom-line: 3 stars for Gilda Lopes Encarnação’s translation, and 4 stars for the afterword “À luz da U-topia”/”In the light of U-topia”/Im Licht der U-topie”, which gives us 3.5 stars. Not bad for an attempt on Celan’s poetry.

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