MY EXPERIENCES IN TRANSLATION, with SAMPLES (for bibliography, see this page; for pictures and information about the poets, see this page; for other translations by myself, my own poetry and other compositions, and translations of my own work, see this page.)

Although I taught a university course in “Russian-English translation” eleven times, I had no translation experience for many years. Then I more or less “drifted” into becoming a translator. This is how it came about. See Translation Pictures for the poets’ dates. 

A personal comment. My own pleasure in translating Prešeren in particular, and poetry in general, stems mainly from one simply-stated source — the sense of achievement in meeting the challenge it sets. As is so well expressed by Douglas R. Hofstadter, under the heading “I am not a generous translator”:

When I tackle a translating challenge, it is not in the least because I yearn to reveal to some poor deprived non-speakers of language X the hidden structure and meaning of some passage in language X — no, for me, translating is simply the sheer joy of trying to do something deeply paradoxical: namely, to carry off in medium 2, radically different from medium 1, some virtuoso stunt that someone once carried off with great aplomb in medium 1. . . . I’m not someone who makes translations as gifts. . . ; no, I’m just a selfish translator, someone who translates simply and entirely because doing so is exhilarating and beautiful . . . (Douglas R. Hofstadter, Le Ton beau de Marot. In Praise of the Music of Language. New York: Basic Books, 1997, p. 366.)

Like Hofstadter — although I am not quite such an extremist in this respect — I translate in the first place for myself; if there is an added bonus, in that I give pleasure to someone else, or make some piece of literature available to someone to whom it was previously barred, or because I am going to earn some payment, then so much the better: unlike Hofstadter, I welcome the additional benefit. And I imagine that I would have less success if I approached translation with unselfish motives: for it is the challenge which transmutes translation from a chore into a joy. As Willis Barnstone wrote,

“What is most interesting to translate and most susceptible of success is the impossible, or, even better, the untranslatable. . . . These ‘untranslatables’ . . . stimulate the imagination of the artist-translator, who in confronting the untranslatable cannot be seduced by the surface obvious into producing an unimaginative, mechanical version.” Willis Barnstone, The Poetics of Translation. History, Theory, Practice. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993, p. 49, as quoted in Hofstadter, p. 453.

Anna AKHMATOVA (my publication 1987)

A journal I subscribed to, Journal of Russian Studies, had a regular translation competition; the 1986 issue’s was a rhymed poem by Anna Akhmatova which invited the use of the word death at the end of one line. Could I find enough rhyming words, I asked myself, to fit the sense of this poem? More by luck than judgment (I misunderstood the context of the poem!) I succeeded and actually won a prize, see “Multiple im/person/aliz/ations: Four Attempts to ‘get under the skin’ of Poets,” TranscUlturAl 1 (4) 76-90

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The twenty-fourth drama by William Shakespeare
Is flowing from Time’s dispassionate pen.
But we who take part in this sinister banquet
Would better be reading our Caesar, our Hamlet,
Our Lear by the lead-coloured river again;
We’d be better off at Juliet’s funeral,
With torches and dirges attending her death,
Or peering in fear in at Dunsinane’s windows
Along with the murderer hired by Macbeth —
Oh, anything rather than this play, than this one;
For reading through this one we’re too short of breath!

       Meanwhile, one day in 1986 an editor of the Celovec /Klagenfurt journal Celovški zvon asked me to review a book of translations by Herbert Kuhner of a book of poetry, Kaj je povedala noč, by Milena Merlak and Lev Detela. I was  not impressed and sent in, and had published, an essay with the title  “Kako naj ne bi prevajali pozeije [How  poetry should not be translated]”. I then wondered: how could I dare be so dogmatic when — my only published poem to date being my Akhmatova effort — I had not done any translations from Slovenian myself? So I tried the most straightforward ‘local’ (i.e., Carinthian Slovenian) poetry I could find:

Jožica ČERTOV (my publication 1989)

kadar tišina žre večer
in neonska luč žge misli
kadar radiator brni
v večnost
na mizi so knjige samotne
kadar zaplešejo slutnje
v beli puščavi
in v snegu spominčice
za mojim hrbtom mesto
živi noč in dan

in kadar
besede v ledenih slušalkah
in upanja v brzojavnih pismih

when silence swallows the evening
and the neon light burns my thoughts
when the radiator drones on
into eternity
where now
on the table are the books of loneliness
when presentiments begin to dance
in the white solitude
and the forget-me-nots in the snow
are rotting
where now
behind my back the city
lives on night and day

and when
the words in the ice-cold receivers
and the hopes in the telegrams
where now

Anton CHEKHOV (my publication 1990)

Another more or less incidental task I set myself was to translate the short story by Anton Chekhov, “The horsey name.” In this story a character tries to recall the name of a quack doctor, with his only clue “that it had something to do with a horse.” In the Russian, there are more than two dozen guesses that involve the words for “horse, mare, foal, filly” and parts of a horse, parts of a harness, and so on.  I substituted English words for the “horsey” referents, avoiding the normal translator’s practice of transliterating the words, which in this case makes the story far less amusing. It is too long to include here. See Anton Chekhov, “The horsey name” Russian Language Journal 43 (1990) 239-43.

That was successful; so I moved on to something more challenging, the rhythmical and rhyming poems of a Slovenian Carinthian, Milka Hartman. When one poem in particular seemed to translate itself, I was ‘hooked’!

Milka HARTMAN (my first publication 1992)

Zakaj si ti odšel, zakaj?
Ostala sem v samoti sama.
Med nama zdaj slovesa jama
zija, in stoječe v njej črnina,
iz nje krohoče se praznina
kot nenasiten črni zmaj . . .

In vem, ne bo te več nazaj.
Za tabo so pota zarasla. –
V goščavah bom spomine pasla,
bolesti trnje in bodičjeyу
razorje bledo mi obličje,
dokler ne bo vseh potov kraj . . .

Why was it that you left me, why?
I’m left alone in loneliness.
Between us yawns now the abyss
of our farewell; there echoes back
like a voracious dragon black
the emptiness’ exulting cry . . .

 I know it was our last goodbye.
The paths you trod are now o’ergrown. —
I’ll tend my memories alone,
the thorns and thistles of my pain
on my pale face will leave their stain
till all path ends before me lie . . .

In Hartman’s poetry, I had found challenges which I could usually (but not always!) meet. From her collection of dialect poetry I, not knowing any English dialect  very well,was only able to weakly attempt the challenge. Here I use a kind of urban Sussex English:

Da bi le prišva biǝva smrt
v anej dračej odrci,
da boǝme vzava  že pred viǝnahtmi,
da qnǝ bo trebi bondrati.

Pa liǝts še nči prišva biva smrt,
zdaj puntlc sem puvezova,
da bom h ta novmu pavru bondrova,
sa bom pa qej navoduva.

Čtek sa na sviǝti mi gudi,
da mèram zmirǝm bondrati;
za ma niqir ta pravga domu ni,
oh, bo pa qej tam v večnosti.

Just let ‘er come, that ol’ white deff,
she in ‘er crimson scarf an’ all,
let ‘er take me ‘fore it’s Christmastime,
so I don’ ‘ave to move agin.

This year she ain’t come yet, that ol’ white deff,
I’ve packed up me few movables,
I’m off to work fer that new farmer there,
an’ some’ow I’ll get used to it.

That’s what it’s like fer me on earf,
I always mus’ keep movin’ on;
There’s no place righ’ fer me, not anywhere,
But p’raps I’ll fin’ one in eternity.

See my “Koroščina, kajkavica and kaszëbska gådka: The sociolinguistics of  ‘dialect literature’ in minority langauage areas,” Canadian Slavonic Papers 39/ 3-4: 361-383, 1997.  (*I have adapted MH’s transcription to one with which the speakers of Selsko are more familiar.)

Maja HADERLAP (my first publication 1994)

After that, I widened my range, but mostly I restricted my choice to poetry written by Carinthian Slovenians. My next, after a few years, was a poet from a village very close to Sele, Maja Haderlap. I ended up translating all of her poems. Much of her poetry is rather impenetrable: this one, far from opaque, is one of my favourites:

šla sem
po nemirnih dneh
polna razvpitih besed
med macesne.

zemlja je bila
ta dan
nabuhla od sopare.

potna in
s težkimi dihi
da vedno še hodim.

na jasi
se s smolnatim vonjem
v pest si naberem
divjih jagod.

s polnimi usti
tja do večera sedim,
srečna, kot kebri

I have walked
after days without peace
full of words of ill repute
in among the larches.

the earth
this day has been
bloated with a clammy heat.

perspiring and
breathing heavily
I am aware
that I am walking on and on.

in a clearing
I wrap myself
in the smell of pitch,
I pick a full fist
of wild strawberries.
with my mouth full
I sit through till evening,
happy as beetles
in spring.

Janko MESSNER (my first publication 1997)

Janko was ‘an institution’ among Carinthian Slovenians. He was 16 years older than I was and had been publishing all kinds of literature since 1970, much of it politically inclined: too socialist for many Carinthians, especially Germanophones, and not socialist enough for Yugoslav Slovenes of the time.

Če se natanko pregleda stvari,
v tabora dva se človeštvo deli:
dvoje marksistov bilo je in bo,
s knjižico eni, a drugi z vestjo.
Enim je delo merilo človeka,
drugi živijo od golega čveka.

Če se natanko pregleda stvari,
v tabora dva se človeštvo deli:
dvoje kristjanov ta božji svet tlači,
eni dejavni, a drugi žebrači.
Eni brez greha boje se pekla,
drugi pregrešno žive od Boga.

Če se natanko pregleda stvari,
v tabora dva se človeštvo deli:
eni so v cunjah, a drugi v škarlatu,
eni v palačah so, drugi pa v blatu.
Eni umirajo lačni brez dela,
druge pa stisne od mastnega jela.

If you look carefully, why, you will find
there are two camps for all humankind:
some dress in rags, the others in silk,
some live in palaces, the others in filth.
Some die of hunger, without any work;
the others of heart disease: butter and pork.

If you look carefully, why, you will find
there are two camps for all humankind:
two kinds of Marxist right from the start,
those from the book, and those from the heart.
For some it is actions only that matter,
For others it’s words — meaningless chatter.

If you look carefully, why, you will find
there are two camps for all humankind:
two kinds of Christian ruling the earth,
some very active, the rest of no worth.
Those without sin live in dread fear of hell;
the others, self-righteously, sin very well.

I visited Janko several times (see Pictures) and stayed with him twice. Both time we discussed my translations and he approved of both of the ones here, in spite of some “looseness”.
Another of Janko’s poems was “Dunajska balada,” about the execution of 13 young people from the Sele area who gave assistance to those resisting the Nazis.

Na Dunaju je siva hiša
v tej hiši temna, temna klet:
pod stropom je preozka niša,
ne pride skoznjo žarek bled.

Sredi kleti je giljotina,
po njo odtočen žleb za kri.
Z njo si je kljukasta zverina
tešila volčji gon, strasti.

Glavé so rezali človeške,
ko da bi zelnjate bilè —
starejše, mlajše, moške, ženske
trdó so padali v čebrè.

Trinajst slovenskih spod Košute,
kot so se dvignile v upor,
še zdaj v trenuktu smrti krute
obtoževalo je umor.

Cigani le v sosedni kleti
in Židje, Rusi, mlad Hrvat
so vsi od groze onemeli,
ko rezknilo je trinajstkrat.

čez dan to tudi te zaklali
in drugi čuli hrup so, rez.
Tako so narode vkovali
v verigo, v trdno, trajno vez.
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  . .  .  .  .  .  . .  .  .
Nasilje spet si svet podreja,
Meduza glavo dviga spet,
A od nikoder ni Perzeja,
da šel bi po verigo v klet.

A Vienna street. A building dark.
Inside, a sombre basement room.
High up, a narrow window stark;
No rays come through to light the gloom.

And in it stands a guillotine.
Beneath it, for the blood, a drain.
With it jackbooted beasts obscene
Their wolfish passions entertain.

They severed thirteen heads all told
Like cabbages, but spurting blood —
Of men and women, young and old,
In turn each dropping with a thud.

The heads of Slovenes who rebelled
And came from ‘neath Košuta’s rock,
Who, as they cruel death beheld,
Themselves placed murder in the dock.

A Croat youth, some Russians, Jews,
And Gypsies in the next-door cell
In horror numbness all suffused
As thirteen times the knife-blade fell.

And others heard how all day long
Upon those too the blade was gorged.
They nations thus into a strong,
Enduring chain together forged.
.  . .  .  .  .  . .  .  . .  .
By force once more the world’s subdued,
Medusa lifts her head again,
But there’s no Perseus who’ll intrude
Into the vault to fetch that chain.

In May, 1993, after visiting the Gerichtskammer, where the beheadings had taken place, I was moved to write my only serious poem: see TRANSLATIONS — OTHER..

Gustav JANUŠ (my publication 1999)

Januš was born in Sele but lives in Šentjakov v Rožu/Skt. Jakob im Rosental. He is very well-known for his paintings, less so for his poetry, which I find it gently amusing.

Pred uro in pol
je v vinskem kozarcu
utonil pretepač Vili.
Pravijo, da je prej
se enkrat globoko vdihnil
in potem menda
tako kihnil,
da so mu izleteli
tretji zobje iz ust
in se skotalili
v rdeči PVC – kos.
Tam jih je po dveh urah
našla natakarica Kristina
zavite v smrad
kranjskih klobas
in Villacher Biera.
Osnazila jih je
s kukidentom in
ves večer pela z njimi
narodne pesmi
o pretepaču, ki je utonil
v vinskem kozarcu.

An hour and a half ago
Willi the Brawler drowned
in a wine glass.
People say that before that
he once more deeply breathed
in and then apparently
with such force sneezed
that his third set of teeth
flew out of his mouth
and rolled into
a red plastic basket.
There two hours later
Kristina the waitress found them
enveloped in the smell
of Carniolan sausage
and Villacher beer.
She cleaned them
with Kukident and
the whole evening used them
to sing folk songs
about a brawler who
drowned in a wine-glass.

Francè PREŠEREN (our first publication 1994)

I continued with modern poetry written in Austria until I was approached to collaborate with Henry R. Cooper of Indiana University on the most famous poet of Slovenia, the 19thCentury Francè Prešeren.  We started with one of his best-known, “Zdravljica [A toast]”, the seventh stanza of which became the national anthem of Slovenia after independence (allow me one aside: this is one of the [very] few national anthems which is friendly, not militant, in tone: cf. “La jour de gloire est arrivé!” “Bombs bursting in air”, “Deutschland über alles in der Welt”‘, “Send her victorious”, and so on). For all our translations of Prešeren’s poems, Henry was more responsible for the content, I for the form.

Spet trte so rodile
prijat’li, vince nam sladkó,
ki nam oživlja žile,
srcé razjasni in okó,
ki utopi
vse skrbi,
v potrtih prsih up budi.

Komú najpred veselo
zdravljico, bratje, č’mo zapet’?
Bog našo nam deželo,
Bog živi ves slovenski svet,
brate vse
kar nas je
sinov sloveče matere!

V sovražnike ’z oblakov
rodú naj naš’ga trešči grom!
Prost, ko je bil očakov,
najprej naj bo Slovencev dom;
naj zdrobé
njih roké
si spone, ki jim še težé!

Edinost, sreča, sprava
k nam naj nazaj se vrnejo!
Otrók, ki ima Slava,
vsi naj si v róke sežejo,
da oblast
in z njo čast
ko pred, spet naša bosta last!

Bog živi vas, Slovenke,
prelepe, žlahtne rožice!
Ni take je mladenke
ko naše je krvi dekle;
naj sinov
zarod nov
iz vas bo strah sovražnikov!

Mladen’či, zdaj se pije
zdravljica vaša, vi naš up!
Ljubezni domačije
noben naj vam ne usmrti strup;
ker po nas
bode vas
jo srčno branit’ klical čas!

Živé naj vsi naródi,
ki hrepené dočakat’ dan,
da, koder sonce hodi,
prepir iz sveta bo pregnan,
da rojak
prost bo vsak
ne vrag, le sosed bo mejak!

Nazadnje še, prijat’li,
kozarce záse vzdignimo,
ki smo zato se zbrat’li,
ker dobro v srcu mislimo.
Dokaj dni
naj živi
Bog, kar nas dobrih je ljudi!

Anew the vines have fruited
and borne us, my good friends, sweet wine
to charge our blood diluted,
to clear our heart, our eye define,
to suppress
all distress
and waken hope in saddened breast.

Now whom for our first tipple
shall we, glad brothers, toast in song?
Our land, us Slovene people
May God endow with lifetime long,
where’er found,
brothers, bound
as sons to mother much renowned!

May our home skies wage warfare,
with thunder strike the enemy!
Henceforth, as were our forebears’,
may Slovenes’ homes be truly free;
let their hands
iron bands
constrict, who still oppress our lands!

May unity, joy, blessing
return, may we be reconciled!
And, brotherhood professing,
close linked be Slava’s every child,
that again
we may reign
and power rightfully regain!

God grant you, Slovene women,
long life, O noblest flowers fair!
To our own kindred maiden
the like is not found anywhere;
from you be
to terrify the enemy!

Young men, our future’s promise,
our hope, we raise a toast to you!
Your love for home and birthplace
may no-one poison, none undo!
In the end
you will tend
the hour to boldly it defend!

Let’s drink that every nation
will live to see that bright day’s birth
when ’neath the sun’s rotation
dissent is banished from the earth,
all will be
kinfolk free
with neighbours none in enmity.

And last, my friends, come hither,
let’s raise unto ourselves a toast!
For we have come together,
the common good we cherish most.
God, we praise,
grant us days
in plenty, for our virtuous ways!

We completed a book containing many of his best­-known poems, including two which were really difficult and required laborious work, his epic poem “The Baptism on the Savica” and his “Wreath of Poems”. From the latter, here is the “Magistrale/Master Sonnet” (on the challenge offered by the whole Wreath, see “Translating Prešeren’s ‘Wreath of Sonnets’: Formal Aspects,” TranscUlturAl Vol 5, No 1-2 (2013).)

Poet tvoj nov Slovencem venec vije,
Ran mojih bo spomin in tvoje hvale,
Iz srca svoje so kali pognale,
Mokrocveteče rož’ce poezije.

Iz krajev niso, ki v njih sonce sije;
Cel čas so blagih sapic pogreš’vale,
Obdajale so utrjene jih skale,
Viharjev jeznih mrzle domačije.

Izdihljaji, solze, so jih redile,
Jim moč so dale rasti neveselo,
Ur temnih so zatirale jih sile.

Lej, torej je bledo njih cvetje velo,
Jim iz oči ti pošlji žarki mile,
In gnale bodo nov cvet bolj veselo.

                  MASTER THEME
For Slovenes I your poet a wreath devise,
Of both my pain, your praise a monument;
Right from my heart these buds incipient,
Poetic flow’rs bedewed with tears arise.

Regions they come from with no sunny skies,
In want alway of breezes provident,
Midst circling mountain-cliffs malevolent,
Inclement home where icy storms chastise.

Commingled sighs and tears these blooms sustained,
Joyless the strength with which they were endowed,
Unlit the hours whose force their power restrained.

Lo, faded now these flow’rs, their stature bowed;
I beg: your eyes’ soft rays be on them trained,
And they will blossom then with pleasure proud.

Miklavž KOMELJ  (my publication 2002)

My experiences with sonnets — always quite difficult, sometimes very time-consuming, but mostly endings with a sense of achievement —  were useful when I was commissioned to translate some of Komelj’s poetry. Some, like this one — which has a sonnet structure, but a simpler rhyme scheme to the one exemplified above — , were extremely pessimistic, but I had enough success not to let them depress me.

Prelep pozdravček, moja ljuba Smrt!
Če sem opeval stanja brezimenska,
bom  vendar tudi tebe, saj si ženska
in že od rojstva vate sem zazrt.

Saj sploh ne skrivam, da se imava rada,
in vem, da bom prestopil skozi tebe
v novo in svetlejšo radost sebe,
še zadnje mučenje mi bo naslada.    

In če bi bil za tabo prazen krater,
bi te še bolj ljubila moja kri,
Čeprav z zavestjo, da se ne zveliča.

Prosil bi te kot ljubico in mater,
da s prsti bi zastrla mi oči
da ne bi nikdar, nikdar videl niča.

A very special greeting, darling Death!
Though I have sung conditions without name
since you’re a woman, I shall you proclaim —
I’ve been obsessed with you since my first breath.

We love each other, I don’t hide the fact,
and this I know: through you I shall migrate
into a newer, brighter, joyful state;
Pure bliss will be my final painful act.

And if a chasm gaped behind, above,
my blood would love you more and prize,
though knowing its redemption was destroyed.

I’d ask you, as my mother and my love,
to cover with your fingers both my eyes
that I could never see into the void.

Kajetan KOVIČ (my first publication 2002)

I considered my feelings of success justified when I was commissioned to translate a selection of sonnets by Kovič, one of the ‘grand old men’ of Slovenian poetry. I loved this poem, maybe because I too have memories of places and people in Europe (cf. the poem by Pavle Golia below). “Il faut savoir” means “One must know.”

IL FAUT SAVOIR              Spominu Tonija Trsarja
Posluša Aznavourja in prestavi
se v dni, ko na postaji Montparnasse
dekletom sta po krokarski zabavi
delila pomaranče v zgodnji čas

in sta potem, prijatelja, v kavarni
srebala čaj in brala časopis
in zunaj je po trgih in bulvarjih
šumel prebujajoči se Pariz.

Il faut savoir prenesti, da se zdi
preteklost le še oder in kulisa,
da mnog prijatelj v grobu že leži

ujet v dve letnici življenjepisa
in da je vedno krajša vrsta dni,
ko ne bi komu nekrologa pisal.

IL FAUT SAVOIR               In memory of Toni Trsar
The voice of Aznavour can still remind him
of Montparnasse, the metro station, morning,
an all-night drinking party just behind them,
and giving oranges to girls, and yawning.

and later in a café both the friends,
while they were reading papers, sipping tea
would hear on boulevards and squares the sounds
of Paris waking from its reverie.

 Il faut savoir how we’re to bear the past
appearing just as scenery and stage,
that many friends lie in their graves at last —

 two dates the sum of youth and of old age —
and that we realise we shall outlast
our peers on the obituaries page.

Also in the early 2000s I was persuaded by my colleague Klaus Detlef Olof to meet Tone Stojko, well-known Ljubljana photographer who also produced stage performances and CDs featuring his wife, singer Neca Falk. Klaus had translated, into German, Maček Muri, the extremely popular children’s book of poetry by Kajetan Kovič, namely the twelve songs on the CD Maček Muri in Muca Maca [Mury the Cat and Matzie-Catsie]. Tone and Klaus easily persuaded me to put them into English (note: I avoid the term ‘translated in this instance, for I deliberately made the songs appealing for — as instructed — North American children, and made not much more than token efforts to adhere to the precise meaning of the originals, see “Multiple im/person/aliz/ations: Four Attempts to ‘get under the skin’ of Poets,” TranscUlturAl 2011). I enjoyed the task immensely: most was tackled under the old apple tree in front of the farmhouse “Pri Užniku” in Sele.

Ko zapoje zvonček v uri,
prebudi se maček Muri.
S taco si oči pomane,
vzdigne rep in hitro vstane.
Mačjo posteljo prezrači,
mačjo suknjo pokrtači
in na zajtrk se odpravi
Tam ga čaka stalna miza
in točajka muca Liza,
ki prinese lonček mleka
in še mačji kruh od peka.
Ob jedači poglobi se
Muri v mačji časopise,
vse prebere brez razlike
tudi vejice in pike.
Potlej plača in čez cesto
gre na sprehod v mačje mesto.

For Neca Falk singing this song, in the original, go to:, and in my translation:

Listen now, the clock is striking,
Time for Mury to be waking.
With one paw he rubs his eyesies,
Waves his tail and quickly rises,
Shakes the dust out of his cat-sheet,
Wipes his jacket, combs his cat-feet,
Goes for breakfast, with a “miaowie”,
At the café HAPPY COWIE.
There he sits and looks real busy
And is served by Kitty-Lizzie:
Brings him milk and warm cat-muffins
That she’s taken from the oven.
While he eats he reads the papers,
Checks each page for kit-cat neighbors:
Fall and winter, spring and summer,
Reads each period, every comma.
Then he pays, and Mury-Kitty
Goes off strolling through the city.

2005: Francè BALANTIČ (my first publication 2002)

Translating Maček Muri was for me a joy, for the songs were so light-hearted and I revelled in, for once, not being overly concerned with adherence to meaning. Both Komelj, above, and Balantič — particularly the latter —  brought me back to earth, for the collections I dealt with (Balantič almost exclusively) included extremely pessimistic poetry, and I was careful to keep as precisely as I could to the meaning of the words they used.

Nekje pokopališče je na hribu
brez križev, rož, grobovi sami
in prek razpadlega zidu rumena trta
ki išče luč z ugaslimi rokami.

Ležim v globini tiho, tiho
v dolini mrzel je večer in pust.
Pri meni noč je in mi sveti.
Oj, lep je molk s prstjo zasutih ust!

Upon some hill there is a cemetery
with neither flowers nor crosses, only graves,
across the ruined wall a vine grows, yellow,
which with its lifeless arms the daylight craves.

I’m lying deep all silent, silent,
the evening in the valley bleak and chilled.
Here I’m in night, yet lit. Oh, lovely
is silence when the mouth with earth is filled!

Cvetka LIPUŠ (my first publication 2007)

It was Klaus Detlef Olof who first introduced us, so to speak, on his and my “pilgrimage” in Northern Spain in 2003 (see Travels): he recommended her poetry to me, and she got in touch in 2004. That year she sent me her first four books of poetry; eventually four of my translations were published on 2007 and two more in 2009; we continued corresponding about my translating efforts and four more were published;  for all, see Translation Bibliography. Then in 2016 I agreed to tackle first some, then all of the poems in Kaj smo, ko smo.The result was published in Edmonton in 2018: What We Are When We Are.

Aprilsko mesto. Sončno pomlajeni pločniki,

za spoznanje mehkejši od toplote. Izložbe pordele
od razprodajnih napisov, zabojčkov jagod, letne
robe. Asfaltno valovanje se razpotegnjeno zrcali
na gležnjih nebotičnikov, njihovi vrhovi sinje
zlitne. Drevesa, neveste steklenemu gozdu.
Pisano prašijo gladke fasade, zloščene limuzine,
čevlje sprehajalcev na opoldanskem odmoru,
ljudi, ki sedajo na klopi, s štanicljem malice na
krilu. Cvetno barvajo prste, ustnice, hrano, da
se oddihajoči čudno razneženi vračajo v dvigala.

The April city. Sun-rejuvenated sidewalks,
recognizably softer than the warmth. Window displays reddened
by final sales notices, little boxes of strawberries, summertime
wares. The asphalt undulation has elongated reflections
on the ankles of the skyscrapers, their summits tempered
blue. The trees, brides for the glass forest.
A motley powder on smooth façades, polished limousines,
shoes of pedestrians on their lunch break,
people sitting on a bench with paper bag snacks
on their laps. With fingers, lips, food colored like flowers,
now rested and strangely spoiled they return to their elevators.


Pesem, ki bi rada šla na fešto,
se zazre na papir in vpraša:
A je to vse? Skozi zid udarja
bas, na sosedovem balkonu
se gnetejo kadilci, na stopnišču
se opotekajo parčki, zadeti
od hormonov, zakaj jaz večer
za večerom zrem trdno, trajno,
skorajda večno v nebo, merim
utrip vesolja, zvezdni prah na
obrveh nočnih prividov? Nehaj
me plesti v kitice; raje me
pregani v papirnat avionček
in spusti skozi okno.  

Pesem, ki noče na svetlo,
se brani papirja, kakor še
dremav otrok hladne obleke.
Okleva na konici jezika, postopa
v odročni kamri zavesti, medtem
ko ji prigovarjam, jo pazljivo
priganjam: Spusti se v besedo,
v gnezdo, polno zvočnikov in
šumevcev; z veščimi dlanmi te
bodo zgnetli v obliko, da boš
zakorakala dol po vrsticah kot
manekenka na modni stezi.
Poslovi se od klepetavega srca
in se izseli iz mene. Morda
bom že jutri nekdo drug in
ti ostaneš v temi.         

Pesem, ki me vara že
od samega začetka, prispe
odeta vsa v črno, da se
prikupi žilici, ki je udarjena
na mračno stran. Primem
jo za laket in povedem
na plesišče papirja, kjer jo
občasno oprezno zavrtim
v rimo, da resnobni dami
ne skuštram prispodobe.
A gospa nenadoma bije
v drugem ritmu. Preden
se zavem, vodi ona in jaz
lovim korak s tujimi zlogi. 


The poem that would like to go to a party

looks at itself on the paper and asks:
So is this all? Through the wall comes the sound
of a bass, on the neighbor’s balcony
smokers are crowding together, down the staircase are
staggering the twosomes, high on homones,
why is it that I evening after evening keep
looking fixedly, without stopping, almost
for ever at the sky, measuring
the pulse of the universe, the stardust on
the eyebrows of night-time mirages? Just stop
weaving me into verses; rather,
fold me into a paper airplane
and launch me out the window.

The poem that shuns the light
shrinks away from the paper, like a still
sleepy child shrinks from cold clothes.
It hesitates on the tip of a tongue, loiters
into remote chambers of consciousness, while
I try to convince it, carefully
urge it: drop into a word,
a nest full of voiced consonants and
sibilants; with expert hands you will be
kneaded into shape, so that you will
parade down the verses like a
mannequin on a fashion runway.
Say goodbye to the chattering heart
and move on out of me. Perhaps
I shall be somebody else tomorrow and
you will stay in the dark.

The poem which has deceived me right
from the very beginning, arrives
dressed all in black in order to
worm your way into a vein that has moved
to the dark side. I take it by
the elbow and lead it onto the
the dance-floor of paper, where I shall
from time to time carefully twirl it into
a rhyme, so that I do not ruffle
the metaphors of the serious lady.
But she suddenly strikes up a
different rhythm. Before I know 
what is happening, she is leading and I
match my step to other syllables.

2008: Pavel GOLIA (my publication 2008)

The Slovenian Academy of Arts [SAZU], through Kajetan Kovič, commissioned from me the translation of 68 poems by 11 poets who were or had been SAZU members. (Marta Pirnat-Greenberg translated the non-literary sections, Tim Pogacar the literature selections; I “did” all the poetry.) Most of the poems were of great interest, although with respect to one poet I checked with Kovič: “I do not understand his poetry,” I wrote. “Nor do I,” he wrote back. For a list of poets see my bibliography. For here I could not but choose the following poem. At the outset I wondered: Could I successfully capture Pavel Golia’s rhythm and rhyme scheme and the internal rhymes (-ster, -é in the original)? To my surprise and joy, they appeared, almost without any effort from me! This poem, like Kovič’s Il faut savoir, resonated with ancient memories.

Utihnil je orkester,
godci so se razšli,
o Ester.
In še drhti nekje in še nekje zveni,
o Ester,
pesem mladih teles
ter vžiga mlado kri.
Moj Bog, kak bil je pester
opoj teh zadnjih dni,
o Ester.

Končan je ples narcis in aster
pljusknil je čas ter
jih odnesel. Kam? Sam, Bog ve,
In še nekje drhti in še zveni nekje,
o Ester,
o Renée,
pesem mladih teles ter
vžiga mlado kri,
da vre, da se pení.

v ljubezni srca še gorijo,
nekje, Renée.
V samotnem parku mrtve sanje spijo,
za vedno spe,
o Ester, o Renée.

Nekoč smo bili v maju,
sedaj je vse pri kraju,
o Ester, o Renée,
le vaju
pozdravlja čez vode in čez gore
zamišljen mož, ki v negotovost gre.

The orchestra’s at rest,
adieu to each last player,
O Esther.
And muted, vibrant notes still play somewhere,
O Esther,
a song of youthfulness
to make the young blood flare.
My God, how bright the lustre
of those last days’ besotted air,
O Esther.

Done is the dance of daffodil and aster,
time just splashed and fast
away it took them. Where? Only God can say,
And muted, vibrant notes still somewhere play,
O Esther,
O Renée,
a song of youthfulness to
make the young blood flare,
to boil, to foam with fire.

in love hearts still burn deep,
somewhere, Renée.
In a lonely park the dead dreams sleep
and sleep away,
O Esther, O Renée.

Once May was all we knew,
and now all time is through,
O Esther, O Renée,
just you two
are saluted over land and sea
by a pensive man who walks  into uncertainty.