from The Wake In The House


During the night a knife eased off the face

leaving the insides naked like a seedcake.

A naked fireplace & bare wallpaper,

negative of a picture-frame in dust.

Whose shoulders held this building up? Who

served the tea, the bread & butter, arthritic

hands failing to dust the china dogs or dust

the wedding portrait? The embarrassment

of insides, the preposterous intestines

cooling in the wind. I have seen the great ball

from the wreckers crane swing wide & lunge

through the tenuous wall in the midriff.

& the shock is like a wound & never

again is there anything that permanent.



Un coltello nella notte ha asportato ogni pelle

lasciando le budella nude come una mandorla.

Nudo nido & mura spoglie,

un negativo di istantanea, una cornice nella polvere.

Quali spalle hanno sorretto tutto questo divenire? Chi

ha portato tè, pane e burro, artritiche

mani incapaci di lucidare i cani di porcellana

o spolverare il ritratto di nozze?

Il disagio viscerale, e intestini irragionevoli

congelati dal vento.

Ho scorto la grande sfera della gru demolitrice

oscillare in lungo e in largo, e scattare attraverso

il muro sottile dello stomaco.

& lo shock è come una ferita & mai più

nulla nascerà di altrettanto immortale


Translation © Serena Todesc0


22 thoughts on “from The Wake In The House

  1. Again this is an old poem from my first collection. I’m presenting it here because of the translation by a young Sicilian translator, Serena Todesco

  2. Wonderful poem, thanks Bill. The translation is interesting although it is a bit loose..
    regarding the poem in Lucanian dialect, I’m waiting for Serena to translate it..

  3. Thanks Luca. As regards the translation, I think your comment points to the question: Is it better to produce a faithful translation or to make a new version which is faithful to the spirit of the original? I take your comment to mean that you hold with the first. I believe there is room for both, and perhaps you would agree with me on that. Another consideration is the importance of providing both texts in parallel. Translation is on my mind at the moment for various reasons…

  4. I agree with you Bill. Good translations are the result of a fine balance between pre-serving the text and changing it to mantain what we think is the ‘spirit’ of the original. I personally do not have any theory when I translate. I observe the passage from a language to another and enjoy it.. Every text has its own idiolect, its own problems and difficulties. Every text is, in its very core, impenetrable to any theory of translation. We should start from this impossibility when we begin to translate, I suppose.

  5. Granted. Every translation is approximation – or re-version in the sense that every reader creates a new version. Your qualification ‘what we think is the spirit’ is correct. When we engage with a poem we re-think the poem. Nevertheless the two intentions stand as statements of how translators approach poems, or at least how readers expect them to make that approach.

  6. If I may intrude, I believe an importanto moment of translation is being forgotten here, that is what happens in the ‘receiving’ habitat or, as linguists have it, the TL or Target Language – as if there was something to hit indeed. When I translate (quite rarely, I must say), I always think about Benjamin’s idea that the act of translation must provoke an earthquake in the translator’s language – and also his other idea that translations (differently from original works) are perisheable and live for the moment they are made. I also find Serena’s translation a little loose, or at least too ‘creative’ when I would expect it to be more ‘like’ the text. Still, this is all because I know English, and then this translation to me misses one of its main goals, that is, to grant me access to a text I couldn’t read in any other way. So, what about the translator’s responsibility?

  7. I’m afraid, Serena, I have to defend the translator’s right to ‘make it new’. In a sense all reading is translating. I have been searching for years for a suitable term to use for my own work, which occasionally draws on translation from Gaelic, Latin and Italian. I had an interesting situation recently where a phrase I had ‘borrowed’ from Dante was to be re-translated into Italian and the translator deliberately and knowingly chose to ‘re-translate’ it rather than use the original words of Dante.
    I am reminded also of a Russian version of Shakespeare’s King Lear, which had in its credits, Translated from the Russian by… in reference to the English subtitles subtitles.

  8. That’s quite intriguing! I myself recently found a verse by Dylan Thomas hiding in a poem I was translating. I looked up the Italian translation in a moment of extreme diligence, but in the end translated it my own way – because the existing Italian version was indeed quite horrible. Still, when I found myself in the same situation for some verses from Shakespeare’s Tempest, I chose to use the Italian translation because I wanted my text to resonate of Shakespeare’s as he is read today in Italy. And I used Lombardo’s translation instead of, say, Quasimodo’s or others’, not because it is more beautiful, but because that’s what an average reader would read today (both in the Garzanti and Feltrinelli editions of the plays).
    The translator has always a right to make it new, but I suppose it depends on many issues. A translator like Luca or yourself, who also write poetry on a ‘professional’ level, may find it better to ‘appropriate’ another’s work and, in the end, write his/her own poem. I myself still find the translator’s work to be one of humility and humiliation. When I went translating Namjoshi’s poems, I put my abilities in service of other people – the poet, the readers (in this case, my own students were my ideal reader), etc., so I felt a little like a sort of Cinderella of poetry…

  9. Cara Serena, as a writer I find your approach admirable. And I suppose like most people who propose a theory I am, at least, defending my own practice. I refer back to my original post: there is room for both ways of translating (if not a multitude of ways). Both faithful translations and re-readings enlarge our engagement with the text and the language.

  10. Very interesting comments.. I personally believe that translating is, willing or not, negotiating to a certain extent. If I translate a poem in order to ‘rewrite’ it I need to be fully conscious of that. Equally, if I want totap onto the target language in a non- intrusive way, I need to be aware of it. Compromise,after all,is part of life..

  11. Part of life indeed. And, just to put a pinch of materialism in this quite tasty debate, yes will, there is room for multiple ways of translating, as there are reasons to translate. I suppose my approach has been forcefully shaped out of me by years spent translating professionally and teaching translation to boot – to young students who hoped being a translator could make their life better. Poor them, they still didn’t know that translating is a humiliating job in the sense that it is often an underpaid and underestimated one…

  12. But when the translation is good or superb we should celebrate the translator. Or even when the translation helps us to achieve some kind of symbiosis with the original text. The translation of Dante I prefer is a rather faithful 19C version, tercet by tercet, by Carlyle in the Temple Classics edition. But it was a parallel text! It allowed me to to work through the Inferno (over three years) and somehow internalise large parts of it so that they almost became part of my own experience. Then, one day, reading an essay on Dante by Borges I found that he taught himself Italian using exactly the same edition! I couldn’t believe it. One expects great men to have great libraries (especially librarians!) and here was this cheap pocket edition in the hands of the great Borges on his way to work in a tram in Buenos Aires. I wrote a fiction about it it in which I interview Borges over lunch in a cafe in Cork… I tried to capture that odd sense of connection I felt.
    To return to the subject of translation: here is an example of the re-thinking of a poem that a translation can provide. I, as a reader, discovered my own Dante in a translation that I would never willingly have bought had I been able to afford a contemporary one. As ciraogostini said, negotiation was marked everywhere in the entire process – from my settling for a cheaper edition to Carlyle’s negotiation of what was acceptable to a Victorian audience.

  13. Luca: this is not exactly what I had in mind when I was thinking of a requiescat for Pavarotti, but it is the best I’ve met so far! And, speaking about translation: what happens when ‘e di pensier’ becomes ‘elephants’ (& castle? which by the way is the result of another misinterpretation if I’m not mistaken…)?

  14. А если посмотреть на это с другой точки зрения то не все так гладко получается

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