On Translating Poetry by Katarína Mlichová

27/12/2011 10:12

I am a poet. Occasionally, I also translate verses, songs included. Before I started translating this Italian song, I often asked myself a question. How many letters does a song need to make a human cry? And usually even more questions arrived. How many phonemes does it need to make a man listen to it again and again? How many words are enough for a man to learn the song by heart and sing it on his/ her way home from work? How many verses are enough for a song to penetrate the membrane of human nature and change the way one acts? How many rhymes…? How many lines? How many stanzas? To create a matter sustaining the tones that will once and for all mark one’s fleshly existence.


I have always loved rhythm. Since I was a 3-year-old child and my elder brother made me listen to his hard music in his hardly tidy room... Although I will never be able to play the drums like he does, I often feel that molecules of rhythm circulate in my veins, nestled on my erythrocytes, instead of oxygen. Sensitive to the most absurd impulses, such as squeaks of swings at a playground or a rhythmic opening and closing of the door of a ladies’ room during intermissions between acts of a play in the theatre, they stand up from their red sofas anytime they “feel like to” and start dancing in a professionally anarchistic manner. It immediately echoes in the accelerated activity of all four valves of my heart and, not rarely, in unpredictable jerking movements of my four limbs.


At a very young school age I wrote my first rhymes. They were as young as I was then and nice. They were classical fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood and stories of the sort, worded awkwardly enough to make my parents laugh heartily in those times, and with an abundance of grammatical errors sufficient to make me laugh at them myself today. Since then, my perception of rhyme has changed substantially. It has become an ocean into which I plunge my mind in the state of extreme happiness or in the conditions of dire extremity…  It has become my second lover who at times appears spontaneously to condense an untranslatable state of my psyche or whom I have to search for arduously when my muse and poetic intuition freeze and form a gross iceberg of immovable ideas.


My experience with translating poetic texts is somehow limited, given the short period that has passed since I entered the chaotic order of our earth. Several days ago, however, I came to the conclusion that any expert translator of poetry is inevitably a murderer: he/ she chooses his/her victim, determines the deadly strategy and… Bang!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Now you, in all probability, think I am mad, but I swear it works like that!


Just think about it a bit: the potential victims are meaning, rhyme, rhythm, intonation and formal structure. The translator is a fighter trying to save all of the elements that are present in the poem on his/ her desk. Words are swords. The limits of the fighter’s mind are the deck off which the useful words fall down to the sea of an infinite oblivion. The limitation of the target language is the battlefield and, simultaneously, an eternal source of inspiration…


As you may rightly calculate, to satisfy my heart, I always do my best to preserve rhythm and rhyme intact. An absurd thing is that those two elements are often the best candidates to be deprived of existence…



How many letters does an Italian song need to be allowed to lick several virtual lines of a magazine written by students of the English Department?


Wait a minute, please... (I must figure out the figure.)


Intercultural dialogue – that is 13 letters. Let’s recognize this concept with a nice idea behind and a charming Latino-Greek name “in front” as a fair justification for placing here a humble cross-cultural translation of a song. Yes, you’re right – an Italian one.


La Cura - Franco Battiato (da L'Imboscata,

PolyGram 1996)


I will protect you from the fears of hypochondria

From the turmoils that from now on

you will meet on your way


From injustices


from deceits of your times

From failures that you for your nature

normally will invite

I will relieve you 

from your pains and shivers of your temper

From obsessions with your manias


I‘ll overcome

endless streams of gravitation

Space and light


Not to allow

Let you grow old


And I will heal

Every obscure disease of yours


Because you are a special being

And I


take care of you


I was straying the fields of Tennessee

(How did I get there, who knows?)


Don’t you have white flowers for me?

Faster than eagles

My dreams

Are crossing the sea...

I’ll bring for you

especially silence and patience

We together will follow the routes

Which lead to the essence

The perfumes of love will inebriate our bodies

The calm of August will appease our senses

I will weave

your hair as a plot of a canto

I know the laws of the world

And I will give them to you


I‘ll overcome

Endless streams of gravitation

Space and light


Not to allow

Let you grow old


I will save you from all desperation

Because you are a special being

And I


take care of you



Date: 29/12/2011

By: kate k

Subject: :)

I really like the article and the translation. One would not know what treasures there are in our fellow beings, be it not for this creative space to share them. Thank God for inspired ideas!

Date: 30/12/2011

By: an ambiguity

Subject: Re: :)

"A metaphor is when you take an object, a person or something abstract and ascribe to it a feature you would normally never do in real life. Talented readers then wear away the path from the absurdity to the beauty." (my fb status)
I thank for the same you have thanked for, Kate. Then I thank for talented readers who venture to find artistry in heaps of nonsense :))))
Sparkling New Year :)!!!

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