Sunday, March 29, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 15.1 (Paul Celan)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Celan, Paul
Joris, Pierre, Tr.

After Breathturn, several years went by before Threadsuns and Lightduress were finally released by Green Integer. I remember constantly checking the Amazon stocks to see if they were finally available. This went on for several years, during which time I bought a couple of other translations to feed my Celan jones -- one by Ian Fairley and one Michael Hamburger. When they finally did come out, I bought them at Talking Leaves.

Threadsuns contains the poem, FRANKFURT, SEPTEMBER, which ends with the famous line: "the glottal stop/sings." Wikipedia defines "glottal stop" as follows:

"The glottal stop, or more fully, the "voiceless glottal plosive," is a type of consonantal sound which is used in many spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ʔ. The glottal stop is the sound made when the vocal cords (vocal folds) are (1) drawn together by muscular action to interrupt the flow of air being expelled from the lungs and then (2) released as pressure builds up below them; for example, the break separating the syllables of the interjection uh-oh. Strictly, the perception that it is a consonantal sound is produced by the release; the closure phase is necessarily silent because during it there is no airflow and the vocal cords are immobilized. It is called the glottal stop because the technical term for the gap between the vocal cords, which is closed up in the production of this sound, is the glottis. The term "glottal stop" is one of rather few technical terms of linguistics which have become well known outside the specialism."

As abstractly appealing as the glottal stop concept is, I have never liked the way the phrase sounds in the poem. At one point in my Celan reading, I tried and failed to teach myself German. I also tried my hand at some rough translations of some of his poems, but eventually gave up. However, I did run the final line of this poem through the Babelfish translation engine, which spit out the following: 

"the caught larynx/sings" 

"Caught" is still kind of harsh, but I like the slant rhyme of "larynx/sings." A slight variation of this became the last line of the last poem in my first book.

Here is original:


Blinde, licht-
bärtige Stellwand.
Ein Maikäfertraum
Leuchtet sie aus.

Dahinter, Klagegerastert,
tut sich Freuds Stirn auf,

die draußen
hartgeschwiegiene Träne
schießt an mit dem Satz:
Zum letzten-
mal Psycho-

Die Simili-

Der Kehlkopfverschlußlaut

And the Joris translation:


Blind, light-
bearded partition.
A cockchaferdream
floodlights it.

Behind it, complaint-rastered,
Freud's forehead opens up,

the tear, hard-
silenced outside,
links on with the sentence:
"For the last
time, Psycho-

The imitation

The glottal stop

And for comparison, Ian Fairley:


Blind, aureole-
bearded hoarding.
A maybeetle dream
illumines it.

Behind, rastered by lament,
Freud's gaping brow,

the lamina-
mute tear
"'For the last
time psycho-

The mimic

The glottal stop

I just found my own translation, which is probably a cobbling together of the other two combined with a little bit of Babelfish.


Blind, light-
bearded backdrop.
A maybeetle’s dream
Lights it up.

Behind it, lament-screened,
Freud's forehead opens,

those outside,
hard-silenced by tears,
fire off for the record:
‘For the last
time Psycho-

The Simili-

The caught larynx

or how about this:

The voiceless glottal plosive


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