creative consulting for the art of life by Jason Jenn

creative consulting for the art of life by Jason Jenn

Friday, April 8, 2011

Lost & Found In Translation

So last weekend I presented the production of Cavafy's Caress at the Affinity Gallery, and could not have asked for better audiences or reaction to the piece. I'm thrilled with the outcome and am now considering where to go next with it: I had no idea I would enjoy the process of getting to know Cavafy and his poetry so well. His words have really grown inside me over the past month of reworking the original draft of the play I wrote last year. The biggest challenge of this process was actually trying to figure out how to best present his material in the English language when it was originally written in Greek and many of the translations seem to lack the vibrancy of his original language.

So in honor of Cavafy and April's National poetry month, I present to you some of his works, and a few samples of how things get lost in translation and how I sought to re-discover some of that essence by reworking the poetry to present original translations for the production. I also thank another performer in the show, Larry Levi, for his input. As an outside eye he had many suggestions and we conferred over several word choices. I know that we risked putting much of our own sensibility into the works, but I really wanted a contemporary audience, who likely had never heard his words before, to really understand the poem's meaning and get a good sense of his work.

Here's an example: I present to you 3 different translations of the first verse of the poem "Candles"

1. Days to come stand in front of us
like a row of small lighted candles—
golden, warm, and vivid candles.

2. Days future stretch out before us
like a row of candles, burning brightly ―
vivacious candles, golden and warm. 

3. The days that are to come, they stand before us
like to a row of lighted little candles, —
brilliant, and warm, and lively little candles.

Hopefully that gives a good glimpse into the challenge; how to keep the poetry of the original language alive. Here is the final version I presented:


The days of our future stand before us
Like a row of little lighted candles –
Golden, warm, and lively little candles.

The days of our past fall  behind us,
A mournful line of snuffed-out candles
Still smoking are the closest ones,
Cold candles, melted and drooping.

I don’t want to look at them, their aspect saddens me,
And it saddens me to remember their original golden light.
I look ahead to my still lighted candles.

I don’t want to look back, lest I see and shudder --
How quickly the dark line lengthens,
How quickly the snuffed-out candles multiply.

Here are 2 more examples of the poem "Che Fece...Il Gran Rifiuto" The title comes from Dante - "Colui Che fece per viltate il gran rifiuto!" The refusal to life that is worthy of eternal damnation:

1. For some people the day comes
when they have to declare the great Yes
or the great No. It’s clear at once who has the Yes
ready within him; and saying it,
he goes forward in honor and self-assurance.


2. For some among us there comes up a day
when either the great Yea or the great Nay
must needs be spoken. He who has the Yea
ready within him, straightway stands revealed
and, giving it utterance, passes to his field
of self-expression.

Here is my final presented version - one of my favorite Cavafy poems:

Che Fece...Il Gran Rifiuto
To certain people there comes a day
When they must pronounce the great Yes or the great No.
It is instantly clear who possesses the Yes within,
Ready; and by speaking it, he crosses over 

To a path of honor and his own conviction.
The one who refuses has no remorse. If asked again,
He would say no again. And yet that No –
Such a proper No – weighs him down to his life’s end.

I'll keep you posted about upcoming Cavafy's Caress performances! 
In the meantime, BLISSINGS!

1 comment:

  1. I hope you do more performances of the show Jason!