Monday, 17 November 2014


"I do like my own wildly inaccurate translations" wrote John Ashbery of mid twentieth century French poetry, but went on to add "but not the originals".

I am not in a position to judge the original poems by Maciej Woźniak but they sounded wonderful in the original Polish.  Last week I wrote about the excellent Scottish Poetry Library translation workshop.  This week I thought I would post my English versions - I hesitate to use the word translations (it sounds too dependable!) - but I hope I have kept the spirit and some of the form and content of the originals. 

Some background

Maciej said he wanted to describe in the first poem a little epiphany which came to him on a dreary wet day while chopping wood to feed the large tiled wood-burning stove which heats the house he shares with his partner. 

The second poem was a list of startling metaphors to describe the paradoxical nature of the poet's heart.  It was a real challenge to find English words for the taut contradictory tensions.  There was a great subtlety in the Polish words used.  For example, the adjective describing the midwife in the first line was literally translated as "hazy" or "muddled", but Maciej said it was like Shakespeare's use of "rosy-fingered" to describe dawn.  That made me think of those straight rays from the sun which are called the fingers of God.  So I translated the word as "divine-fingered" - something you wouldn't expect a midwife to be.  "Lord of the Flies seaside rock" was my version of Maciej's "Wuthering Heights candy" - the latter sounding too much like the souvenir shops of Haworth to be sharp enough.

English versions of two poems by Maciej Woźniak

Mandala z kropli i szczap

Creating a mandala from drops and scraps

Damp down the nape of my neck.  Splitting wood.  A log crushes my foot
and pain runs back up my spine.  That’s the moment
I pick up the signal from home.  Drizzle all morning, but now by the shed roof
a message in a shoal of raindrops.  Love doesn’t do anything.  It just is.

Piosenka do serca

Song: for my heart

Pert waitress with your new moon tray, divine-fingered midwife,
wet-nurse madam with no make-up, my return key, my control + x,
my clutching at razor-edged straws, Fonteyn in a boxing ring,
Rita Heyworth in Bergman films, Baader Meinhof aspirin,
Lord of the Flies seaside rock, ping-pong on a pool table,
a Castrol tear for a star’s dynamo, all muck and no roses,
a funeral cheerleader, Thumbelina lured to the mole’s bed,

my Hildegarde from nowhere, in the rear-view mirror my Euridice.

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