Tuesday, April 5, 2016

This / narrow sign between walls

I don't have any German, but I do have a bilingual edition of Paul Celan's selected poetry checked out from the library, and just now when I read, in "Anabasis", the lines that Michael Hamburger renders as
leased, re-
deemed, ours.
my curious eye traveled across to the facing page and read, in whatever sense one can read a language one knows roughly how to pronounce but not how to decipher, the corresponding lines
gelöst, ein-
gelöst, unser.
and while I'm not saying anything new by saying that translation is a very peculiar thing, it's just a very peculiar thing that the way Hamburger renders the lines has the effect of making me feel the reness of these words, and of making me think about why it is that to re-lease means to release, why to re-deem means to redeem, where Celan's lines — presumably — would have the effect of making one feel the gelöstness of the words (neither of which (google suggests) possesses any reness)... which, intriguingly, I suspect also would make one feel the changing prefixes with a similar kind of newness and focus as Hamburger's version lends to the unchanging prefixes. (I would bet the German emphasizes the past tense of these verbs more as well, but I feel on even shakier ground there.)

These are, then, of course, as we all know already, different poems. The one in English strikes me as very fine, though (and as) it largely escapes me; I can't speak for the one in German.


Jeff said...

In his biographical study of Celan, John Felstiner spends a fair bit of time working through these kinds of problems in relation to specific poems, explaining his own translation choices. There's a section of the poem "Psalm" that can be translated:

Praised be your name, No one.
For your sake
We shall flower.

Felstiner points out that the word translated here as "towards" can also mean "against"...

Ethan Robinson said...

Interesting! In general I always feel that prepositions (along with damned conjunctions) are some of most fraught, dictatorially meaningful yet completely arbitrary words in any language -- in this specific case it's easy to see how "towards" and "against" are in many ways essentially synonymous, but still yield almost opposite meaning when actually used...

In a fascinating little discussion of the lines I quoted in the post a German-reading twitter friend suggested an alternate, very loose translation - remember, of these same lines! - as "We set it off/ as we were bound to/ Ours." Languages! Meaning! What even are they?