Ingeborg Bachmann’s Poetry in translation by Mary O’Donnell


 For Anna Achmatova
He who has never been rendered speechless,
I’m telling you,
whoever merely feathers his own nest
and with words -
is beyond help.
Not by the shortcut
nor by way of the long.
To make a single sentence tenable,
to withstand the ding-dong of language.
Nobody writes this sentence,
without signing up.

Verily is © Ingeborg Bachmann, this translation is © Mary O’Donnell


Our land is the sky,
tilled by the sweat of engines,
in the face of night,
risking dreams—
dreamt from skullspots and pyres,
beneath the roof of the world, whose tiles
were carried off by the wind—and then rain, rain,
rain in our house and in the mills
the blind flights of bats.
Who lived there? Whose hands were pure?
Who lit the night,
haunted the spectres?
Concealed in feathers of steel, instruments,
timers and dials interrogate space,
the cloud-bushes, touch the body
of our hearts’ forgotten language:
short long long … For an hour
hailstones beat on the ear’s drum,
which, turned against us, listens and distorts.
The sun and Earth have not set,
merely wandered like unknown constellations.
We have risen from a harbour
where to return doesn’t count
not cargo not booty.
India’s spice and silks from Japan
belong to the handlers
as fish to the nets.
Yet there’s a smell,
forerunners of comets
and the wind’s web,
shredded by fallen comets.
Call it the status of the lonely,
for whom amazement happens.
Nothing further.
We have arisen, and the convents are empty,
since we endure, an order which does not cure
and does not instruct. To bargain is not
the pilots’ business. They have
set their sights and spread on their knees
the map of a world, to which nothing is added.
Who lives down there? Who weeps …
Who loses the key to the house?
Who can’t find his bed, who sleeps
on doorsteps? Who, when morning comes,
dares to point at the silver stripes: look, above me …
When the new water grips the millwheel,
who dares to remember the night?
Night Flight is © Ingeborg Bachmann, this translation is © Mary O’Donnell

220px-Klagenfurt_-_Musilhaus_-_Ingeborg_BachmannIngeborg Bachmann was born in Klagenfurt, in the Austrian state of Carinthia, the daughter of a headmaster. She studied philosophy, psychology, German philology, and law at the universities of Innsbruck, Graz, and Vienna. In 1949, she received her Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Vienna with her dissertation titled “The Critical Reception of the Existential Philosophy of Martin Heidegger,” her thesis adviser was Victor Kraft. After graduating, Bachmann worked as a scriptwriter and editor at the Allied radio station Rot-Weiss-Rot, a job that enabled her to obtain an overview of contemporary literature and also supplied her with a decent income, making possible proper literary work. Furthermore, her first radio dramas were published by the station. Her literary career was enhanced by contact with Hans Weigel (littérateur and sponsor of young post-war literature) and the legendary literary circle known as Gruppe 47, whose members also included Ilse Aichinger, Paul Celan, Heinrich Böll, Marcel Reich-Ranicki and Günter Grass.
(Wiki Extract )

Poemhunter for Ingeborg Bachmann

Mary O' Donnell

Mary O’ Donnell

Mary O’Donnell is the author of eleven books, both poetry and fiction, and has also co-edited a book of translations from the Galician. Her titles include the best-selling literary novel The Light-Makers, Virgin and the Boy, and The Elysium Testament, as well as poetry such as The Place of Miracles, Unlegendary Heroes, and her most recent critically acclaimed sixth collection The Ark Builders (Arc Publications UK, 2009). She has been a teacher and has worked intermittently in journalism, especially theatre criticism. Her essays on contemporary literary issues are widely published. She also presented and scripted three series of poetry programmes for the national broadcaster RTE Radio, including a successful series on poetry in translation during 2005 and 2006 called Crossing the Lines. Today, she teaches creative writing in a part-time capacity at NUI Maynooth, and has worked on the faculty of Carlow University Pittsburgh’s MFA programme in creative writing, as well as on the faculty of the University of Iowa’s summer writing programme at Trinity College Dublin.

◾Mary O’Donnell

‘Geasa’, le Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill.

Geasa/The Bond
Má chuirim aon lámh ar an dtearmann beannaithe,
má thógaim droichead thar an abhainn,
gach a mbíonn tógtha isló ages na ceardaithe
bíonn sé leagtha ar maidin romham.
Tagann  aníos an abhainn istoíche bád
is bean ina seasamh  inti.
Tá coinneal ar lasadh ina súil is ina lámha.
Tá dhá mhaide rámha  aici.
Tairrigíonn sí amach paca cartaí,
‘An imréofá brieth?’  a deireann sí.
Imrímid is buann sí orm de shíor
is cuireann sí de cheist, de bhreith is de mhórualach orm
Gan an tarna béile a ithe in aon tigh,
ná an tarna oíche a chaitheamh faoi aon díon,
gan dhá shraic chodlata a dhéanamh ar aon leaba
go bhfaighead í.  Nuair a fhiafraím di cá mbíonn sí,
‘Dá mba siar é soir, ‘ a deireann sí, ‘dá mba soir é sior.’
Imíonn sí léi agus splancacha tintrí léi
is fágtar ansan mé ar an bport.
Tá an dá choinneal fós ar lasadh le mo thaobh.
D’fhág sí na maidi rámha agam.

Geasa,  le Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill,  as Pharaoh’s Daughter.  Gallery Press. 1990. This poem is from Pharaoh’s Daughter by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, 1990, Gallery Press (Editor Peter Fallon).  With thanks to Gallery Press for permission to reproduce here.

I have added poet Medbh McGuckian‘s translation at link

‘The Pharaoh’s Daughter ‘, Gallery Press,1990.

The Bond, by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, translated by Medbh McGuckian.

Rendevous , by Elisaveta Bagyrana.

I discovered your footprints in the sand and to get there sooner
I ran legs sinking at the knees, and fell from exhaustion,
and when I climbed the hill – in astonishment I was calling,
as if I’d seen you for the first time on that unforgettable evening.

You filled the entire horizon, for then you seemed enormous,
with hair in the clouds,  feet on the shore.
And you saw me and reached for me -
as if you sought to embrace the universe – everything …
Listen to my heartbeat, see the tears in my eyes
and remember – no  one has ever embraced me like this,
nor have I embraced anyone ever- like this.
And if at this moment my joy lowers the scales
and God wants to shorten the thread of my days,
I shall extend my arm to Him asking for supreme grace. 

1927, Elisaveta Bagranya,  Trans  Belin Tonchev.
from Elisvatea Bagyrana , Penelope Of the Twentieth Century. Publ. Forest Books 1993.

Máthair Chréafóige, by Helen Soraghan Dwyer.

Earth Mother

for Firoana.
The plains of Romania
Under thirty degrees of heat
Stretch to the poplar trees
At the edge of the earth.
A weathered peasant lady
Offers me water,
Her toothless smile
Mothers me
As I rest in the shade.
She is a daughter of this soil,
Of sun and sweat and toil.
I am from a city
She will never visit.
As I return her smile
And sip her water
She is every woman’s mother,
I am every woman’s daughter.

from Still, by Helen Soraghan Dwyer.

Máthair Chréafóige

do Firoana
Machairí na Rómáine
I mbrothall an lae
Síneann go poibleoga bhána
Ar imeall an domhain.
Bean chríonna tuaithe
A thairgeann deoch dom,
Miongháire mantach
Dom mhúirniú
Istigh faoin bhfothain.
Iníon chréafóige í,
Iníon allais is gréine.
Ón gcathair nach bhfeicfir choíche
Is ea do thángas.
Aoibh ormsa leis
Ag ól uisce,
Iníon cách mise,
Máthair cách í siúd.
as Faire, le Helen Soraghan Dwyer. Lapwing Publications, Belfast 2010.
Note about the Book.
I picked up this book and another volume of women’s poetry on Saturday, in my local bookshop. The poetry section is well-balanced and stocked. As I have not asked permission to advertise the shop,  so I won’t name the wonderful proprietor yet. Suffice it to say that she also does  some excellent internet ordering ,  and has some  independently bound essays which are virtually impossible to get in Ireland. I shall edit this with a link to catalogues in the near future.

Máthair Chréafóige – Earth Mother  by Helen Soraghan Dwyer. From Still – Faire. Trans, Bernadette Nic an tSaoir Lapwing Publications 2010.

Two Book Versions of Julian of Norwich’s Revelation

Julian at Norwich Cathedral

Middle English is not so Difficult…

I thought I had found a treasure today whilst browsing in my local bookshop and coming upon a ‘modernish’ version of the Revelations (shewings of ) Julian of Norwich.  Not so!! The book is a 1987 imprint which seeks (or sought) to bring the writings of the Anchoress at Norwich Cathedral to a wider audience, whilst sacrificing the beauty of her poetry to a clunky co-option of her unique expression. I am not opposed to the book per se, but would question the use of an editor (or set thereof) rather than working from the beautiful editing of the definitive book on Julian which captures her voice in all its sublimity,

Julian of Norwich, A Revelation of Love. University of Exeter Press, Ed Marian Glasscoe.

I thought for a while about how I would present what is my opinion on the matter of loss in translation, and in how wide dissemination of literature can sacrifice so much in what is an attempt to frame a book and reach an audience that may be unused to the language of Julian. It is highly beneficial for the reader to attempt to read some work in the original.

 The Glasscoe version has an excellent introduction and glossary , which aids in one’s ability to work through this highly original work of a woman from the Middle Ages. The clunky and appalling book which I actually bought and will not name here had somehow managed to take the light right out of this seminal work of literature, so I am not going to name the version, editors or imprint. There are two pieces on Poethead about Julian already, both of which I will attach as link at the end of this piece. One is a discussion on the use of the word Shewings, which is how Julian of Norwich described her visions (in the language of the mid-wife), the other is an excerpt from the Glasscoe. To demonstrate the cause of the headache the book caused in me, I am excerpting two short pieces here. The first are from the UEP (Glasscoe Edition, 1976), the second is a modernist version of Julian which fills out her words to accomodate a modern audience who may not want to bothering themselves with attempting to read in the original adapted version.

And when I was thirty yers old and halfe God sent me a bodely sekeness in which I lay iii days and iii nights ; and on the fourth night I tooke all my rites and wened not a levyed till day. And after this Iangorid forth ii days and ii nights. And on the iii night I wened oftentimes to passyd and so wened they that were with me. And in youngith yet, I thought great sweemeto dye; but for nothing [that] earth that me lekid to levin for .”

Revelation 3, Julian of Norwich, A Revelation of Love. University of Exeter Press, Ed Glasscoe,

Then when I was 31 years old God sent me a physical illness and I lay in its grip three days and three nights. On the fourth night I received all the rites of the holy church and did not expect to see the next day. I Lingered on for two more days and nights and on the third night I was convinced that I would die and so were all those around me.”

The example is not the best because it is not her visions but the structuring of the editing of the second version is pretty obvious. The first link attached herein gives a longer excerpt of Julian’s writing :