Quote Of The Day: Sleeping On The Wing

Quote Of The Day #70

Finally, I find a translated poem that I really like. If you are one of the millions and millions of non-native speakers, you will understand why I dislike translated poem; you would have noticed how bad your favorite poem sounds like when it is translated into English. It is probably marked as being translated by a poet, or somebody as famous or infamous as Ezra Pound. It doesn’t matter. It’s all bad. The translation butchered the rhyme, twisted the structure to the point that the immediacy of the phrases is nowhere to be found.

Poems from other languages just can’t fit in the unwritten requirements of English. If it rhymes well, it can be considered corny; if it says something too openly, it is unsubtle. The beauty of expressed phrases is like a cliche; the candid words sound naive. The worst of all, many poetic exaggerations smack of arrogance.

So I am quite surprised at finding a translated poem I really like. It’s about a young man, Vladimir Mayakowsky, the poet himself. He is waiting for Maria to come. He waits and waits. She eventually comes, after many delays. She arrives and says to the poet that she is getting married, not to the poet, but to somebody else. And the poem describes his feelings so well that even after the translation, you can still feel how good it is.

First when he is waiting for her, he is quite a happy and proud young man, beloved by his mother, admired by his sisters.

Shaking the world with the might of my voice,
I go by –a handsome
twenty two year old

And he is happily whining and writing his love poems

I glorify men as stale as sickrooms
and women as battered as proverbs.

As he continues to wait, his mood changes

The evening fled from the window
into the terror of the night

I melt the glass with my forehead.
Will there be love?
And what kind–a big love or a crumb of love?

Midnight, running loose with a knife,
caught up, slashed, got away!
Twelve o’clock fell
like a head from the chopping block.

Then Maria knocks on the hotel door. She comes in and says, “I am getting married.” And he says:

It’s nothing. I can take it. See how calm I am!
Like the pulse
of a corpse.

They stole you…
I will gamble again in love.
Homeless hobos sometimes find
shelter in burnt-out houses!

Are you teasing?
Pompeii perished
when they teased Vesuvius!

He calls his mom

Mamma? Your son is gloriously sick!
His heart is on fire.

Then his mind dwells on various objects of his life, seeing them all on fire. He especially points out books, which are useless since they cannot solve his real life problem. Then he thinks Maria and women like her torture him, “their hatpins stuck into my eyes.”

I will take my heart,
spattered by tears,
and carry it
like a dog
a paw run over by a train
back to its kennel.

Although the poem is describing a painful episode, its passion is so effusive that it obscures the sadness. One actually feels that it is a relief or a catharsis, which is very necessary for our life. In real life, we often feel that we need such a catharsis, or we need a good cry, which will take us out of the boredom of everyday routine.

And now I am happy to go back to cook, fold laundry, and tidy up …

8 thoughts on “Quote Of The Day: Sleeping On The Wing

  1. I’m monolingual but I’m trying to learn different types of languages so I won’t have to read someone’s translation of something. Translation is an art, therefore subjective and translated with the person’s ideas and cultures attached. I won’t understand it like the person who lives in the original, but I will be close.

    Liked by 1 person

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