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Maya Fowler

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Translation for the virgin poet: Ingrid Jonker

Recently it occurred to me that translation is a good exercise for the young poet. Find poetry you like and submit yourself to the rigours of putting the words into another language. You’ll learn about rhyme and metre, and you’ll find your mind breaking open with possiblities like a ripe pomegranate.*

And so, rather than turning to writing poetry, I’ve been playing with translation as an intellectual exercise, something to build new synapses in my brain, hopefully enriching my prose.

Here I’ve approached a poem called “Puberteit” (“Puberty”) by Ingrid Jonker. Jonker’s work has been translated before, by distinguished poets including Jack Cope, William Plomer, Antjie Krog and André Brink. I have chosen, while busying myself with this exercise, to remain ignorant of these texts to see what I might achieve in blind translation. This is notebook work, thus, but perhaps the translations might carry a spark of my own creativity. To this end I have allowed myself to stray freely in places, to create a slightly different atmosphere. Translations of this kind I intend for the bilingual reader who may indulge in a side-by-side comparison. See this at work in option 2, where I’ve chosen free interpretation.

Note these five-minute efforts (exercises) are still very rough. Never the less, please let me know which one you prefer!

Here’s the original:

PUBERTEIT

Die kind in my het stil gesterf
verwaarloos, blind en onbederf

in ‘n klein poel stadig weggesink
en iewers in die duisternis verdrink

toe jy onwetend soos ‘n dier
nog laggend jou fiesta vier.

Jy het nie met die ru gebaar
die dood voorspel of die gevaar

maar in my slaap sien ek klein hande
en snags die wit vuur van jou tande:

Wonder ek sidderend oor en oor
Het jy die kind in my vermoor…?

 

Translation 1 (more “true”)

The child in me died silently

neglected, blind and fetter-free

 

sunken slowly in a little pond

drowned somewhere in the dark beyond

 

while you oblivious as a beast

with mirth continued at your feast.

 

Not with crude gesture did your warn

of death or danger in the morn

 

but in my sleep I see small fingers

the flare of  your teeth at night still lingers:

 

repeatedly I shiver and wonder

did you kill the child, put it asunder?

 

Option 2

The child in me died silently

neglected, blind and fetter-free

 

slowly submerged in a little pool

drowned somewhere in the dusky ghoul

 

while you oblivious as a beast

with mirth continued at your feast.

 

Not with crude gesture did your warn

of death or danger in the morn

 

but in my sleep I see the wrenches

the nightly flare of your dentures:

 

repeatedly I shiver and wonder

did you kill the child, put her asunder?

 

These poems are from Jonker’s Versamelde werke, published by Human & Rousseau.

 

*The pomegranate is one of my favourite Jonker images. Take a look:

As jy lag

Jou lag is ’n oopgebreekte granaat

Lag weer

dat ek kan hoor hoe lag die granate

 

When you laugh

Your laugh is a pomegranate split open

Laugh again

so I can hear the laughter of pomegranates

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    March 6th, 2013 @17:49 #
     
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    I like them both, and would probably blend them. Very impressed that you echoed Jonker's AABBCC rhyme scheme. That's where some English translations of her work come adrift.

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  • Sarah Frost
    Sarah Frost
    March 6th, 2013 @21:11 #
     
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    Impressed!

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  • <a href="http://mayafowler.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Maya</a>
    Maya
    March 7th, 2013 @09:10 #
     
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    Thanks Helen and Sarah!

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