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Το Τραγούδι του Ποιητή (Οδυσσέα Ελύτη)

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Dear friends of the Translations section!

This beautiful poem by Odysseas Elytis I would think is just a pleasure to read and that should be a sufficient pretext for posting (It has not been put on music as far as I know, but maybe will who knows?).

In addition, it would be nice to get a second opinion from some people who might have time and interest to contemplate an interesting case I would say even a psychological case of how we perceive and listen.

I am posting the original poem and two translation versions: 1) my own and 2) from the book Collected Poems translated by Jeffrey Carson and Nikos Sarris. The main issue is not whose translation reads better but whose understanding of the Elytis poem is more correct (of course, regarding my humble translation attempt I am open to criticism as always).

Το Τραγούδι του Ποιητή (Οδυσσέα Ελύτη)

Πρώτη φορά σενός νησιού τα χώματα

Δύο του Νοεμβρίου ξημερώματα

Βγήκα να δω τον κόσμο και μετάνιωσα

Τα ζόρικα που λεν αμέσως τα νιωσα.

Μύνες εννέα πριν την πρώτη μέρα μου

Δούλευα για το σπέρμα του πατέρα μου

Και πεντακόσιους τρείς κατά συνέχεια

Μετά για την ψευτιά και την ανέχεια.

Δύσκολο δύσκολο της γης το πέρασμα

Και να μη βγαίνει καν ένα συμπέρασμα.

Μέσα στον εαυτό μου τόσο κρύφθηκα

Που μήτε ο ίδιος δεν τον αντελήφθηκα.

Ώσπου μια μέρα το φερε η περίσταση

Κι αγάπησα χωρίς καμιάν αντίσταση

Αλλά και στην προσπάθεια την ελάσσονα

Πάντοτε βρε παιδια μου τα θαλάσσωνα

Πρώτον διότι κυνηγούσα το Απιαστο

Και δεύτερον γιατήμουν είδος Αμοιαστο.

Εφ ω και αφού την τύχη μου σιχτίρισα

Πίσω στον εαυτό μου ξαναγύρισα.

Song of the Poet

First time my lot was on an island drawn

on November 2nd in the morning dawn.

I saw the world and instantly resented

because what they call tough I sensed.

Nine months before that day Id worked to feed

and nourish in the dark my fathers seed.

Five hundred and three months without break

again I toiled for pack of lies and worries sake.

The course of life had been extremely hard.

What for? Solution could not find my heart.

Retreated deep inside, I hid my face:

Even myself forgot and lost its trace.

Until one day the fate has brought it out.

Ive given in to love without doubt.

It did not go far all was in vain.

My friends, I messed it up, I sunk again.

First, since the Elusive I was prone to chase,

Then Im the Dissenter kind within my race.

Thats all my wretched luck I cursed in pain

and back into myself returned again.

The Song of the Poet

(translated by Jeffry Carson and Nikos Sarris)

November second the first time on an

Aegean islands soil at crack of dawn

I went outside to see the world but I

Repented when I felt it all awry.

Nine months exactly before my first day

For my fathers seed I labored away

And kept on so for five-hundred-and-three

Against all falsehood and all poverty.

Our passage here on earths so difficult

And brings no satisfactory result.

Within myself so deeply I would hide

That even I didnt know how deep inside.

But brought one day by circumstances insistence

I fell in love and put up no resistance.

Yet even in the least attempt I made

I messed up again, friends, I am afraid.

First because I chased the Intangible

Second because my kinds Original.

And cursing thereupon my fortunes lack

I turned around and to myself came back.


The story started from the book of English translations of Elytis having opened by itself on the page showing this poem. (A part of the long dialog-poem Maria Nefele). I found the original and ventured on a translation of my own (how much a success is a different matter). Essentially, the books translation sounded to me a bit too dry and more ironic than Elytis shoud be a matter of taste, maybe. Just to say briefly, that my idea of translating poetry is based on an urge to convey more a deep meaning and less the wording. (Again, strictly subjective, but not yielding).

To my not small surprise I noticed two points in the books translation that I consider misreadings.

It felt strange - since a native speaker, a Greek, participated in the translation. After having carefully checked with different dictionaries, I disagreed with them on the following two points within the text of these four lines:

Δούλευα για το σπέρμα του πατέρα μου

Και πεντακόσιους τρείς κατά συνέχεια

Μετά για την ψευτιά και την ανέχεια.

Δύσκολο δύσκολο της γης το πέρασμα

Και να μη βγαίνει καν ένα συμπέρασμα.

The books translation says the following:

Nine months exactly before my first day

For my fathers seed I labored away

And kept on so for five-hundred-and-three

Against all falsehood and all poverty.

Our passage here on earths so difficult

And brings no satisfactory result.

Point 1. Δούλευα

για την ψευτιά και την ανέχεια.

Hey! Where is against in the original? It says για for.

It seems that the translators have silently admitted that the author was fighting against the falsity and poverty although the poem did not say explicitly figting.

But they just assumed the fighting stance of the author without a second thought (why not? A poet must be a fighter? But Elytis is a poet of peace I hear a discord, even without looking at the grammar). He did not fight he WORKED FOR - for something that in reality turned out to be a bunch of lies and worries, that is his work was in vain. And thats why he retreated into himself.

A psychological trick: how often it happens that you speak with someone, and he says: Oh, I know what you mean before making a real effort to understand? Even if it is your native tongue you understand before the phrase ii finished.

Point 2. να μη βγαίνει καν ένα συμπέρασμα

This second disagreement is less obvious. What would you say?

brings no satisfactory result. Is it right? According to the dictionary, συμπέρασμα means conclusion. να μη βγαίνει καν ένα συμπέρασμα would rather mean: we cant come to a definite conclusion, cant make two and two together (one dictionary gives such less formal version). I took liberty to put it as solution could not find my heart.

The books translation brings no satisfactory result sounds incorrect to me.

Thats it for now. Thanks for reading. Especially to those who might want to comment.

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Impatient Dove Song

A while ago in the morning dawn

translation of a poem was by me drawn.

I don't mind if no one is interested in me.

But being deaf to a great poet, how can it be?

Oh people! Are you just voices or are you alive?

If you are deaf, what's in your music drive?

What do you listen to? It's a mystery, I admit -

a bunch of lies or a truth, at least a bit?

If you are deaf, there's no shame at all

in being sick - just make that doctor's call.

Please hurry up, ask him to clear your ears

from cruelty, indifference and fears.

Then go back and read the poem of Elytis

in spite of minor problems such as tonsilitis.

The main thing is to have your ears open to the truth,

your heart forgiving - and your common sense to use.

Dalaras will be proud and of course

he will the forum with new songs endorse.

Look! Did you see the dove with an olive branch

a while ago on his mission launched?

He's flying back and forth, he's here, can't you see?

How's your vision? Is an eye doctor free

to check your eyes immediately today?

How sick you are! I pity you, Oy-wey!

Let's laugh a bit - it'll do to all us good.

Tell me that you are not deaf, blind or mute.

And someone proud who's lost their humor sense:

ask me for a binocular with a reverse lens.

It's fun to use, I can assure you.

Take it! And take a break, long overdue.

As soon as sense of humor will return

all other senses will be back in turn.

You use your eyes to read the poem and you use

your ears to enjoy the music of the truth.

Then you look further and retrieve your voice.

Of course, to write or not will be your choice.

But hope dies the last as you might know.

Before I join Elytis, write, don't be slow.

Who said I am impatient? I am not!

And all my life I've worked, I haven't fought.

I've worked for peace and I refuse to die

before a solution will be ready to repel the lie.

The lie that people have nothing but conceit,

that all goodwill is met with miserable defeat.

The space and time will twist before I die

without showing that it's a lie.

Inside of me I won't retreat - thanks very much,

whoever wants it - Russian, French or Dutch.

You don't read my lines - that's fine with me, OK.

Let's read together what Elytis said one day:

the world is misery and poverty, he said.

So why to this our own should we add?

This letter is so long because I waited long.

And song won't come, it went away, the song.

It went to places where the people are good.

They don't count words, they don't shoot

beyond front lines into a friendly trench

and from another hand the song they don't wrench.

Where is this country? Tell me, I can't wait.

A ticket I've got bought without date.

Without date and city - an empty piece

of paper that is saying: fill me, please!

I'm filling you right now - that's the address:

Dalaras Forum, Cyberspace, God-blessed.

Oy-wey: it's now late, my vision's blurred.

I stop - but hope is here, undeterred.


P.S. An olive branch was ready for the post

It did not work - but it exists, not lost.

HTML is not my cup of tea -

use you imagination, I must plea. :D

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Thanks everyone who loves poetry for your help.

My doubts have been solved - in my favor (Elytis would have been glad)

And for a little bonus - here is another poem by the Great Poet.

(of course, comments appreciated).

By the way, It goes very well with the melody of Δακρησμένα Μάτια


Καλημέρα θλίψη

Γεια σου θλίψη

Καλημέρα θλίψη

Έντομο που φωλιάζεις μέσα μου

Κι ολονυχτίς καραδοκείς πότε θανοίξω μάτι...

Στην αρχή σέχω λησμονήσει

Κοιτάζω τις γραμμές του ταβανιού-

’ξαφνα πατείς και μπαίνεις

Στη συνέιδηση.

Έρχεσαι να πικράνεις το πρωινό καφέ

ναποσπάσεις κάτι απτην ελάχιστη χαρά

του χεριού μου στο πόμολο του παραθύρου

Φέρνεις ανωμαλίες στο νερό του μπάνιου

Προκαλείς το πρώτο δισάρεστο τηλεφώνημα

Είσαι τέρας

Μικροσκοπικός Μινώταυρος που ζητάει τροφή

και συντηρείται με το ελάχιστο...

Τρως τρως Μινώταυρε

Είναι σάρκες αυτές δεν είναι αέρας

Έτσι που πας δε θαπομείνει τίποτε.

Γεια σου θλίψη

Καλημέρα θλίψη

Έχιες εγκατασταθεί μονίμως μέσα μας

Είσαι χειρότερη από τους ιούς και τους βακίλους

Οι φιλόσοφοι σεξετάζουν στο φασματοσκόπιο

Έχεις δώσει λαβή σε μιαν εζαίρετη λογοτεχνία


Hello, melancholy

Hello, melancholy

How are you, melancholy?

An insect nesting in my heart.

An insomniac, you are watching me to open my eyes

At first, I am not taking notice,

I am looking at the scribblings on the ceiling

And all of a sudden you step in and appear

In my conscience.

You arrive and add bitterness into my morning coffee,

wring away a bit from a smallest joy

of my hand on the windows handle,

fiddle with my bathing water temperature,

fetch that first unpleasant phone call.

You are a monster,

A microscopic Minotaur who is hungry for food

And survives on just a little.

Eat, eat, you Minotaur

Its all flesh, not air.

So, nothing will be left where you go.

Hello, melancholy

How are you, melancholy?

Youve installed your permanent dwelling inside of us

You are worse than vermin, bacilli.

Youve been examined by philosophers through their spiritoscopes*

and dissected in masterpieces of literature.


Note: φασματοσκόπιο means actually spectroscope but I took liberty to make up a new word spiritoscope (because φασμα also means spirit). I wish I could have consulted Elytis about that

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Getting close to the Tragoudi tou Poihth made me change my mind about translation in general. I used to think that poetry is untranslatable. It was a biased opinion - resulting from many diappointments. But statistics not always works - not for everything. Now I think that every language has a sufficient flexibility in grammar and vocabulary for translating any thought or impression from another human language. It's not easy, but possible. I still think that a good translation (at least correct one) is rather an exception than a rule - in the same meaning that love is an exception, not a regular occurrence in the peoples' life.

I am saying this because love is what needed for a translation - as well as for anything else to be done right. Love as an effort in understanding, an effort to get THERE from HERE. And what helps in translation of poetry is, I think, love of poetry - not just love of this poet or of that poem. And love of poetry is much more than these three words say: it includes love of many other things that make the poetry what it is (what I think it is - would be a more than reasonable distraction).

The point is that it should not be very surprising to someone with a little experience in life's tricks of ambiguities to see how a native speaker could hastily misread a line or two that can be comparatively easily understood by someone else with a limited fluency in the language. The point is that we often times listen only to a half phrase - then jump to conclusions. We lack attention that love needs - even love of skating, much more love of poetry. We give up, we get tired, disappointed, distracted - and other very human problems interfere with our translations. Mutual help is one solution - for those who are able to make an effort to listen: to the poetry that includes many other things, otherwise it's just words, words, words.

More interesting thoughts come to mind regarding the SONG as an amazing result of human efforts in understanding each other: does the music help to understand better the words or does it distort the meanings? Music in a song could be an explosive: it helps and it destroys, depending on the use. Or it could work as a dynamite charge that unexpectedly opens an undiscovered deep deposit of precious minerals? Or - a thought that I like - does the song's tune many times intentionally twist the words, working on the imagination, allowing us to reconstruct a 3-dimensional moving picture from a flat image on the wall? Warrants more discussion - maybe, in a different place.

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