Shutting out the torment and the fear
deep into the night’s cold morning hours
I work on my translation.
Improbable, that in another tongue
such lines as these were born,
set down, are vivid on his page
and will not come across to mine.
Two ways to go: the forced rhyme
the flaccid filling phrase
or terse, unrhymed,
trying to capture the meaning
as if that could ever be known.
But something does translate—
a voice from bleak immensities
perfect for nights like these:
the wind’s forgotten murmur,
the war that beggars language
speaking the creole of slaughter.
Tim Jones was born in Grimsby, England, and moved with his family to New Zealand when he was two. He grew up in Southland, lived for seventeen years in Dunedin, and moved to Wellington in 1993. He writes poetry and short fiction, including science fiction, and has recently finished writing a novel.
Full details of Tim’s published short fiction and poetry, with links to work available online, are on his web site. Twelve of his stories are collected in Extreme Weather Events (HeadworX, 2001), and his first poetry collection is Boat People (HeadworX, 2002). When he’s not writing, Tim is a husband, father, web site content manager, cricket fan, advocate of sustainable energy use, and someone who ought to get more sleep.
‘In the early 1990s,’ says Tim, ‘I started a degree in Russian at Otago University, and completed it at Victoria University after I moved north. My final-year project was to translate and comment on 15 poems by the Russian poet of the revolutionary era, Sergei Esenin – a poet who is much loved in Russia, but not as well known as he deserves to be elsewhere.
‘I made word-for-word translations, and then attempted to refine these into good poetry. The word-for-word translations were a challenge, since Esenin uses a lot of dialect words in his poetry, but I think I did a pretty good job. With a couple of exceptions, however, the resulting English-language poems weren’t up to the mark.
‘As the 2003 war in Iraq approached, I was taking another look at my Esenin translations, trying again to make them work as poems. I’d recently read John Crowley’s superb novel, The Translator. And, coming home from a Poetry Society meeting, I had a conversation with Basim Furat, an Iraqi poet now living in New Zealand, which crystallised the pre-war mood for me. Somewhere in the intersection of all these elements, my poem “The Translator” was born.
‘I still intend to get those Esenin translations finished one day, following the example of New Zealand poet Charles Brasch, who (with Peter Soskice) produced a small volume of Esenin translations in 1970. But, even if that never happens, at least those hours of translation have now been put to some use!’