Sunday, 13 November 2016

Arcadia, or The Land of Milk and Honey

I entered this poem for the Stephen Spender Poetry in Translation Prize 2016 and now that the prize winners have been named and I'm not one of them (sob! - Just kidding), I am at liberty to pop it up on my blog. "Arcadia, or The Land of Milk and Honey" is a translation into English of the poem "Das Märchen vom Schlauraffenland" by Ulrike Almut Sandig (b. 1979) whose poem "Hinemoana" I have already translated on this blog. The version below is very much a loose translation, more of an adaptation to render Sandig's words - which are very explicitly about German culture, history and myth - into an English that would make sense to most English speakers.“Das Märchen vom Schlauraffenland” is a free-verse soundscape of surreal ideas and images, blending modern-day references to the refugee crisis with a childlike, fairy-tale dream of Germany as a land with nothing evil in it, and juxtaposing the two. The first (and boldest) decision I had to take, as do all translators, was whether I wanted my translation to hew closely to the original or to say something striking and dramatic in English – to be fidèle or belle, as Flaubert puts it. I chose the latter, if only because the cultural reference points in German are so uniquely German, so echt Deutsch, that they speak little to us; rendered in English, they do not stir up an understanding of the relationship between modern and mythical in the way the German words do for German-speakers. On the other hand, images of Caliban in Stratford, of Dad’s Army jokes misquoted, of British chat-shows and comedians, help to build up something of the “national mythos” in the case of Britain which Almut Sandig has already done for her homeland. Where she stresses the works of the Brothers Grimm, I have overlaid my version with Alice in Wonderland, The Tempest (how fortuitous, then, that träumte er wieder from the German original translates directly as “he dreamed again”, almost word-for-word one of Caliban’s most memorable phrases) and Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. Where she relies on the iconic Socialist hymn Meine Heimat sung in the German Democratic Republic, I have substituted I Vow To Thee My Country (necessitating an elongation of the stanza in the process, probably the greatest structural alteration). This could be seen not as a translation, but as a companion piece to the original: sufficiently distinct, yet unable to exist without Sandig’s words. But that is what I believe all good translations ought to be: self-sufficient, and yet not self-sufficient.