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Literature and Ideas

No Matter

And yet. I may, in vain, try one more time.
For strength and inner strains compel me on.
Your dew-dropped eyes will bind to mine
In sorrow ; be my perfect cockatrice.

If you had cursed me madly, as you do,
Threats for the breadknife or the bodkin-blade,
I would be gone by now, my back bent down
In howls of laughter — debts unpaid.

And yet you make the dirty bomb
From culpatory ducts of tears,
At which my futile spears are thrown.

Please take me at my word: I tell
you that I am your serf, and fall
Back on your mortal breast.
Kaj tamen. Vane ja, se mi por risko
Kaj streĉo de la fortoj min instigas,
Okuloj viaj larmaj min alligas,
Mia malĝoja, bela bazilisko.

Se krius kaj malbenus vi delire,
Minacus per ponardo kaj veneno,
Mi ridus, kaj mi irus for sen ĝeno,
Facile, gaje, fajfe, ŝultrotire.

Sed ho, teruran havas vi armilon:
En la okul' akuzan larmobrilon:
Jen, kontraŭ kio vane mi batalas.

— Pardonu min, jen via sklav' katena
Mi krias, kaj al via sin' venena,
Kiel en propran tombon, mi refalas.

Kolomano Kaloĉajo
(Kálmán Kalocsay)

Commentary

I chose to translate this poem both for its intrinsic value and for its rarity value, coming as it does from Esperanto. I was not aiming to make political points about European or global unity in translating from this language, though others are certainly welcome to bring those, and other, perspectives to their readings. Esperanto has never really been considered a literary language: it wasn’t intended as such by its creator, Ludwik Zamenhof, who wanted a functional, auxiliary language to cross traditional linguistic boundaries — in part, a Latin for the 19th century and beyond, a more democratic Latin. With its simple grammar and lexicon, it’s possible to argue that the language doesn’t lend itself instinctively to literature, or, more pompously, to high art. However, the poet was an Hungarian Esperantist (though a doctor by day) who devoted himself to the task of forming a unique, native Esperanto culture. He was clearly an artist.

The poem comes from a larger sequence (hence the Roman numerals in its untranslated title), and is quite simply a lyric poem about a man’s fraught, conflicted love. Is love ever anything but? Interestingly, the original is in iambic pentameter, that most English of metres, and I have, of course, retained this in my translation; my concluding lines have at least one fewer foot to emphasise the ending. I have also retained a clear, though not identical, rhyme scheme. To my (perhaps limited) knowledge, there is no other English translation available. The original poem is, in places, unremittingly rageful, so I have tried to temper this a little in translation. My title is a reference to Beckett’s famous quote, from Worstward Ho, about failing better. It is fitting that such universal themes of love, hate and the inevitable intermingling between the two have been captured in the universal language. As Catullus put it, in Latin, a little more than two millennia ago, “odi et amo”.

This translation was originally written for entry into a competition, hence the short accompanying commentary.

Stephanus_Coombs

1

Congratulations on being willing to translate from Esperanto. An entirely workable language unfairly sniffed at by many.

editor

2

*Salve, Stephane.* I appreciate your kind comment and, of course, agree wholly with what you say. I haven't translated from the language before, but learnt the basics in a few weeks when younger; I'm sure there must be much more material hidden away worth translating.

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