A New Translation of Two Poems by William Carlos Williams

Essay and translation of poems by Konstantinos Plisiotis. The original English version of the poems is provided at the end of the post.

Η κίτρινη καμινάδα

του Γουίλιαμ Κάρλος Γουίλιαμς 

Είναι μια τολύπη
χλωμού σα δέρματος
καπνού ψηλά στο γαλανό

ουρανό. Τα ασημένια
δαχτυλίδια που
δένουν την κίτρινη

δέσμη των τούβλων σε
αραιά διαστήματα λάμπουν
μέσα σε τούτο το κεχριμπαρένιο

φως ̶ όχι
του ήλιου όχι του
χλωμού ήλιου αλλά

της γεννηθείσας αδερφής του
της
φθίνουσας εποχής


Γυναίκα μπροστά σε τράπεζα

Η τράπεζα είναι ζήτημα κιόνων
όπως  η σύμβαση,
όχι η εφεύρεση· μα τ’ αετώματα
στέκουν εκεί στον ήλιο

να σβήνουν την καχυποψία των
επενδύσεων ‘στέρεων
σα βράχο’ ̶ που πάνω τους ο κόσμος
στέκεται, ο κόσμος του χρήματος,

ο μόνος κόσμος: Εκεί ακριβώς,
μιλώντας με μιαν άλλη γυναίκα καθώς
κουνά ένα παιδικό καροτσάκι
πίσω μπρος στέκεται μια γυναίκα με

φόρεμα ροζ βαμβακερό, με πόδια
και κεφάλι γυμνά και τα πόδια της
δυο κίονες που βαστούν ψηλά
το πρόσωπό της, σαν του Λένιν (τα αφημένα

ατάκτως μαλλιά της αφειδώς ξανθά) ή
του Δαρβίνου και
να:
μια γυναίκα μπροστά σε μια τράπεζα


This is Just to Say

I have eaten the plums… writes William Carlos Williams in his homonymous poem. Why does the poet feel the need to express his «sin»? Is it a metaphor? Is it literal? Do plums symbolize a distorted apple from the garden of Eden? Was the poet allergic to plums?

No matter how much trivial or absurd the above questions may seem, the translator of poetry should have the mental capacity, along with the absolutely essential research skills, to dig deep into the poem and drag everything that’s hidden. The translator of poetry should be able to come up with an answer to these questions and many more, which will occur during the translation process. Why is the poem structured like this? Are all these alliterations integral for the poem? What about rhyme scheme and rhythm?

The translator of poetry is not only expected to translate poetry, but also be able to produce it. This genre demands that the translator reach up to the electrical wire that separates the author from the translator and carefully examine the structure of the «edifice».

Theory is good and all, yet there is a point when we need to move forward and that is the very moment of actually translating poetry. Last year I was generously asked by poet Panayiotis Ioannidis to translate two of William Carlos Williams poems, to be read in an event dedicated to the poet, organized within the framework of the World Poetry Day and the «Me ta logia (ginetai)» poetic encounters at the amphitheater of the Hellenic American Union.

The Yellow Chimney and A woman in front of a bank were my mission. Both poems are characterized by a subtle rhythm that highlights them without any overloading. Attention is paid to sound, although the meaning and the image is what prevails. The use of internal rhyming and alliteration render the poems greatly rhythmical and one can understand that the above is not a matter of luck, but a result of fine-tuning. Thus, it should be treated as such. I tried to cater for all relevant instances and wherever possible I did so. In my opinion, it is not always possible to be absolutely fair to the original poem. A possible solution to this is to respect the norms and rules of the poem and try to apply them wherever possible, even if you alter some parts or add an alliteration where there isn’t one.

Lexis works in a similar manner. Therefore, I tried to grasp the lexical choices of the poet not only by paying close attention to the specific poems, but also by making myself familiar with the rest of his works. Getting to know the poet proved essential to the translation process, as I made conscious choices concerning which words to put in Williams’ mouth and which not.

Imagery is another important aspect. It is formed both by sound and lexis and in order for the translator to grasp the imagery, it is important that they think like architects or painters. I tried to picture the setting, the characters, the whole environment surrounding the images and this was not done solely by trusting my instinct and responding to my own personal reactions and imagination. What needed to be done was to grasp the feeling universally produced, the feeling of the poet.

The choice of the translator is what followed. My choices were not made on the spot and were not on a first-come, first-served basis. The translations required a series of thoughts and fine-tuning and it was after several drafts that I felt content with the result. Of course, I am almost unable to feel absolutely certain about any result and this is one of the most common «curses» of the translator.

At least, I did not have to face the almighty question of why Williams chose to eat the plums after all.

-/-

The translation of the poem «The Yellow Chimney» was first published in Books’ Journal, Issue No. 50, December 2014.

Both translations were prepared for a reading in the poetry series «Me ta logia (ginetai)» [Words (can do it)], organized by Panayotis Ioannidis.

Konstantinos Plisiotis is a graduate student in the Master of Arts in Translation (MAT) offered by Hellenic American University in cooperation with Hellenic American College


The yellow chimney

 There is a plume
of fleshpale
smoke upon the blue

sky. The silver
rings that
strap the yellow

brick stack at
wide intervals shine
in this amber

light-not
of the sun not of
the pale sun but

his born brother
the
declining season


A woman in front of a bank

The bank is a matter of columns,
like . convention,
unlike invention; but the pediments
sit there in the sun

to convince the doubting of
investments ‘solid
as a rock’ —upon which the world
stands, the world of finance,

the only world: Just there,
talking with another woman while
rocking a baby carriage
back and forth stands a woman in

a pink cotton dress, bare legged
and headed whose legs
are two columns to hold up
her face, like Lenin’s (her loosely

arranged hair profusely blond) or
Darwin’s and there you
have it:
a woman in front of a bank

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