THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY

THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY
April 12, 2016

Monday, April 8, 2013

National Poetry Month 2013: Reading and Discussing Poetry on the Net

Has this ever happened to you: You have a friend. The two of you have a good time together. Your friend is bright, funny, clever.

Then one day you see your friend in action -- doing her work, the thing she loves -- and you say, "Wow. My friend is brilliant!"

I was at the AWP Conference last month with Danuta Hinc, a fiction author, educator, and my good friend. 


Me and Danuta, on our way to AWP.
Danuta gave a talk about reading poetry in translation. (She is a native speaker of Polish and fluent in English.) It made me see poetry in a new light.

Danuta joins us in the TechnoVerse to talk about her favorite Czeslaw Milosz poem and how the Internet helped deepen her understanding of the poem.


Every Language Has Its Own Silence:
"Campo Dei Fiori" by Czeslaw Milosz

by Danuta Hinc (http://danutahinc.com)

Poet Czeslaw Milosz

Being bilingual and reading poetry in two different languages fluently offers advantages and challenges unknown to those who speak only one language. I still remember the feeling of first reading Czeslaw Milosz in English, almost twenty years ago. My first impression screamed: "No! No, this is all wrong!" And only after giving myself enough time to absorb what I was reading in the translation, did I understand my own initial reaction. 

What was wrong?

The “wrong” was the silence that rests between the words of a poem. As I was reading Milosz’s "Campo Dei Fiori" in English I realized that the poem meant to me something only vaguely related to what it means to me in Polish. How is it possible if we are talking about the same poem?

Here is the English translation from a blog, The Hour of Poetry (http://poetshouse.blogspot.com/) that offers its own interpretation of "Campo Dei Fiori," which gives me also an opportunity to see how readers from around the world might view something so intrinsically familiar to me: 

CAMPO DI FIORI

In Rome on the Campo di Fiori
baskets of olives and lemons,
cobbles spattered with wine
and the wreckage of flowers.
Vendors cover the trestles
with rose-pink fish;
armfuls of dark grapes
heaped on peach-down.

On this same square
they burned Giordano Bruno.
Henchmen kindled the pyre
close-pressed by the mob.
Before the flames had died
the taverns were full again,
baskets of olives and lemons

again on the vendors' shoulders.


Campo dei Fiori, from Rome-Roma.Net

Here is my reading in reading in English and Polish:

In English the poem is universal. Giordano Bruno who died 413 years ago represent the death of people in conflicts all over the world—Palestine, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt, Somalia, Darfur, Sudan, South Sudan, Mexico, Pakistan, Malaysia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Yemen, Thailand, Cambodia, Nigeria, and others. The list is long. "Campo Dei Fiori" in English means every human sacrificed in a military conflict. They are all dying lonely, because the rest of us, the rest of the world doesn’t pay attention. In English, you and I are carrying the “baskets of olives and lemons.”  In English, the universal becomes a logos of human existence, of human experience.

In Polish the poem is personal. It is the face of my maternal great uncle, Leon Jank, a priest in his twenties. In September 1939 he was taken from home, and that was the last time they saw him. No one knows when he was murdered, or where his body was buried. He died lonely, and the members of my family were left to live with this thought. Leon didn’t leave even one word, he didn’t say goodbye. Even today, seventy years after the war, I can’t say goodbye at his grave, because the grave doesn’t exist. Since I am the one who was given the “baskets of olives and lemons” to carry, I give him a place of resting between the words of "Campo Dei Fiori." For me, Leon Jank is a myth, an unanswered question. He doesn’t rest in peace. He rests in silence.

And here is Campo Dei Fiori in Polish.

Campo dei Fiori
by Czeslaw Milosz

W Rzymie, na Campo di Fiori
kosze oliwek i cytryn,
bruk okrywały winem
w odłamkach kwiatów.
Różowe owoce morza
sypią na stoły przekupnie,
naręcza ciężkich winogron
spadają na puch brzoskwini.

Tu, na tym własnie placu
spalono Giordana Bruna
Kat płomień stosu zażegnał
w kole ciekawej gawiedzi.
A ledwie płomień przygasnał,
znów pełne były tawerny
Kosze oliwek i cytryn
Nieśli przekupnie na głowach.

Wspomniałem Campo di Fiori
w Warszawie, przy karuzeli
W wiosenny weiczór pogodny,
przy dźwiękach skocznej muzyki.
Salwy za murem ghetta
głuszyła skoczna melodia
i wzlatywały pary
wysoko w pogodne niebo.

Czasem wiatr z domów płonących
przewiewał czarne latawce,
chwytali skrawki w powietrzu
jadący na karuzeli.
Rozwiewał suknie dziewczynom
wiatr od tych domów płonących,
smiały się tłumy wesołe
w czas pięknej warszawskiej niedzieli.

Morał ktoś może wyczyta,
że lud warszawski czy rzymski
handluje, bawi się, kocha
mijając męczeńskie stosy.
Inny ktoś może wyczyta
o rzeczy ludzkich mijaniu,
o zapomnieniu co rośnie
nim jeszcze płomień przygasnął.

Ja jednak wtedy myślałem
o samotności ginących,
o tym, że kiedy Giordano
wstępował na rusztowanie,
nie było w ludzkim języku
ani jednego wyrazu,
aby coś zdołał powiedzić
ludzkości, która zostaje.

Już biegli wychylć wino
sprzedawać białe rozgwiazdy --
kosze oliwe i cytryn
nieśli w wesołym gwarze.
I był już od nich odległy,
jakby minęły wieki,
a oni czekają chwilę
na jego odlot w pożarze.

A ci, ginący samotni,
już zapomieni od świata,
język nasz stał się im obcy
jak język dawnej planety.
I wszystko będzie legendą.
A wtedy po wielu latach
na wielkim Campo di Fiori
bunt wznieci słowo poety.


Danuta Hinc holds an M.A. in Philology from the University of Gdansk.  She completed three years of postgraduate studies at the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences under the direction of distinguished Professor Dr. Maria Janion.

She is the author of To Kill the Other, (Tate Publishing, 2011) the fictionalized life story of one of the 9/11 hijackers. In January 2010 Hinc started her regular online presence on a literary website (http://danutahinc.com), which has become a popular platform for international exchange and communication.

Hinc has published short fiction in the Little Patuxent ReviewThe Muse, Litteraria, and numerous features in the newsletter of the Polish Library in Washington, D.C.

She is a Lecturer at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she teaches Professional Writing. 

She is currently working on a fictionalized memoir, Angels in the Forest, which is based on the life of her grandfather, Joseph King and World War II. She is also working on a collection of short stories based on people and events in her family and the history of 20th century Europe, titled, Europe Without a Name. Hinc lives in Ellicott City, Maryland.

Related links can be found here: http://www.pw.org/content/danuta_hinc

To Kill the Other
Order the book from Tate Publishing.

Despite studying French for six years as a teen, English is my only language. I'm fascinated by Danuta's experience of reading a poem in different languages. What would it be like to take a poem by Rumi, or Pablo Neruda, and search the web for varying translations?

Here is an NPR clip of Robert Hass discussing Milosz's work after his death in 2004.

Tomorrow in the TechnoVerse, Carol Munro writes poetry with a friend via email.

2 comments:

Linda at teacherdance said...

I read French, but have lost much of it over the years without practice. I try every once in a while to read some poetry, but am never sure I am understanding much. I should try to see if I can read a favorite English translation, then switch to see how it is. It may be the same feeling that you have, Danuta, when you see this Milosz poem in English. Thanks for the interesting query & discovery.

laurasalas said...

Interesting post. I couldn't really tell whether Danuta found the poem more personal in Polish and universal in English because of her very personal experience with this particular topic, or because of something about the pauses and phrasing and wordings about the two actual languages. I only speak English, and it's so interesting to hear people discuss translations. I just listened to this the other night: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/audioitem/3856--a Poetry Lecture podcast about Polish poets in translation.

Thanks, Laura and Danuta!