Monday, March 26, 2007
They say translation is like kissing through a veil, and I say translation poetry is like kissing through a veil behind a window. A great poem can be less than ordinary when translated, especially when it is translated literally, and that's why I really can't read translated poems. I prefer reading them in their original language if I can, I feel it is like a disrespect to try and appreciate a translated poem in another language.
But sometimes there are a line or two of a poem (or in special cases the entire poem) that break this rule and become something (like an emotion) that can be appreciated in any language and in any environment.
The other day I read a poem of Mutanabbi, one of the greatest Arab poets in history. Like most of his work, it struck me for its beauty and elegance, so much so that I didn't get his intended meaning right away. But when I got its meaning later on, I became so obsessed with it that I started thinking of breaking my rule and translating it!
The poem was:
وزائرتي كأن بها حياء فليس تزور إلا في الظلام
My humble translation of it to English was:
She only comes in darkness
like a visitor with shyness
and my more humble French translation was:
Elle me vient en obscurité
comme une visiteure avec timidité
Although something was still lost in translation, I found both translations to be as beautiful. Since I am a big believer that a poem must rhyme, I had to tweak both of the translated ones to rhyme, even on the expense of meaning.
Anyway, like the English and French ones, the one in Arabic would seem to be about a female lover that only visits him in the night. As sweet as that is, I believe the real intention is even sweeter! What Mutanabbi meant with this female visitor is none other than the common cold (the one that gives you fever and makes you bed-tied.)
I get so many colds every year, no matter what I wear and what of my mum's recommended remedies and preparations I drink/eat/sniff. And looking back, I found it incredible that almost always I feel the wrath of the cold in the night. I'd be working/studying/playing during the day, and then feel the affects of the cold in the night.
That just made me appreciate this poem even more. Like a cold that only strikes slowly in the night, the lovely girl comes shyly only in the darkest part of the night.
Next time I am sick and bound to my bed, I will just remember this poem and pretend that the cold is nothing but a pretty girl that only spreads her magic in the night. That might get me to feel better quickly!
Picture courtesty of flickr