Monday, August 04, 2008

C. Day Lewis, Virgil's Georgics

Very odd video montage, but what a classic reading...

and from a newish translations of Virgil's Georgics by Kristina Chew. Here's an excerpt from Book III

The best look for your cow is
fierce
an ugly face
a lot of neck
dewlaps should hang from chin to shank
a good area of rib, long as may be.

Everything should be
big
the feet by all means
and furry ears set under
horns that curve inward.

I'm not one to be put off by a cow
spotted dark and white
who refuses the yoke
is occasionally rough with her horns
has a face more of a bull

She's to be
of general good height

and when she walks
she sweeps aside her hoofprints
beneath her tail's swing.

Chew's translation is dizzying, fragmented, thoroughly influenced by contemporary Language based poetics and fresh, fresh. Here's a classical text, and here's a classic, familiar beginning:

What makes the cornfield smile; beneath what star
Maecenas, it is meet to turn the sod
Or marry elm with vine; how tend the steer;
What pains for cattle-keeping, or what proof
Of patient trial serves for thrifty bees;-
Such are my themes.

Here is Chew's beginning:

How
to make fields fertile.
Under what star
it is right to turn the earth
and join vines and elms.
What the care
of cattle,
what the regimen
for keeping herds.
How much expertise
you'll need for thrifty bees.

MAECENAS

from here
I shall begin to sing.

Not being a
classics scholar I can't give accurate account of the success of this recent translation of Virgil's Georgics by Kristina Chew except to say that I've been enjoying it immensely.
If in rich soil
you'd measure out your fields,
plant them close,
in closely planted land
the wine god's not the slower
to abound with fruit;
or,
gradual mounds
up in and sloping hills,
stepping
if in ground

indulge your vines with r o o m a m i d t h e r o w s.
Oh, the treacheries of translation. The wrath! Here a bit of a review from one Professor Cummings, Queens University, Kingston:
Chew says her translation is "an American Georgics", and her avoidance of "corn" will be welcome to North American readers for whom "corn" usually means "maize". Chew's Blakean "what the care / ... / what the regimen" is undeniably awkward, however. She delays "Maecenas" too much and gives it an emphasis far from the subtlety of the original [it is also centered on the page], but at least has it, unlike Day Lewis. Metrically and structurally, her version has little to do with Vergil's.

The beginning of the invocation of Augustus at 1.24-28 ["tuque adeo, quem mox quae sint habitura deorum / concilia incertum est, urbisne inuisere, Caesar, / terrarumque uelis curam, et te maximus orbis / auctorem frugum tempestatumque potentem / accipiat cingens materna tempora myrto" (all Latin quotations will be from Mynors, whose text Chew uses)] is a crucial moment in the prologue. The modern reader recoils at such language and a translator must make them sound sincere:

And yes YOU CAESAR who are still unsure if you wish to go and see the City's care or that of lands besides (the council of the gods is presently to be convened); and whether the greatest of the spheres shall receive you as originator of Earth's fruits and master over storms wreathing you upon your temples in your mother's myrtle;

Compare Wilkinson:

And you above all, you of the unknown future-- Whether some council of the gods will soon Receive you, Caesar; or whether you may choose To visit cities, succour lands, and be Acknowledged over this wide world (your brow Bound with a wreath ancestral, Venus' myrtle) Author of fruits and potentate of seasons;

and Day Lewis:

You too, whatever place in the courts of the Immortals Is soon to hold you--whether an overseer of cities And warden of earth you'll be, Caesar, so that the great world Honour you as promoter of harvest and puissant lord Of the seasons, garlanding your brow with your mother's myrtle....
Chew's version reads the least like a translation, but also the least like the original.
But doesn't all translation bear the mark of the poetics of its time? Shouldn't it? I think of Caroline Bergvall's "Via" (or 48 Dante Variations) of course. You can hear those here. And for those of you who believe that translation doesn't say more about the translator and the moment of translation than it does the originary moment, what can one make of CD Lewis' re-ah-ding... How, well, how 1940s, no?

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