Lucian Blaga

 

 

(Romania)

 

&

 

PAUL BOBOC

 

 

(Romania-USA)

 

 

 

Translation – An Exercise in Fidelity

 

 

„I see translation as a bridge between the imaginary gaps that cultures place between themselves, and as one of the best solutions we have to a world grown increasingly divided over squabbles that only our common human heritage – a heritage in which literature plays such a commanding part – can remedy.

 

Every translation is, first and foremost, a political act. Translation is also an act of mysticism, insofar as no language can convey the spiritual nuances of its syntax, grammar and diction – and of its people – into another. Translators of the Bible know this well: walking a fine line between dynamic equivalence and formal equivalence – between figurative and literal translation – often leads them to choose a middle path, which itself is a considerable concession. Where absolute fidelity is impossible, an ostensible engagement to the original universe being translated into another must do.

 

Translating Romanina poetry has been an exercise in fidelity. By fidelity I mean not merely truthfulness to the elusive word, in this particular case obvious to the Romanian but not so obvious to English-speaking reader, but truthfulness to the world of each poet.  In being true to his/her world, I have found translating it into the vocabulary of English both less elusive and more difficult than I had imagined. The richness of English permits countless liberties, but these liberties do not always lend themselves to absolute accuracy. The English language may capture the spirit of a writing, but the spiritual nuances that lie beneath the outward spirit can find only an indirect representation in the English word, no matter how expressive.”

 

 

LUCIAN BLAGA

 

(1895-1961)

 

 

The ninth child of a priest, Lucian Blaga paints his poetry with the wide brushstrokes of Scripture, of the prophet (Cassandra, not Isaiah, since his prophecies never leave him) glancing from afar – usually nostalgically and broodingly – at the happenstance chronicles of the world. In his spiritual agonies we read the Eliot of the Quartets, and in his blending of the erotic and the spiritual we see something of the Orthodox tradition’s mystical reading of the Incarnation. In this, he is quintessentially Eastern European and Romanian.

Blaga’s works were anathematized by the Communist regime, but Ceaușescus death saved him from perdition. His talent had been noticed by Eliade, who nominated him for the Nobel Prize for Literature in the 1950s, but it remained illegal to print his works in Romania until 1990. With Stănescu, he is now generally considered the finest Romanian poet of the 20th century and one of Romania’s most remarkable modern thinkers.

 

 

 

Epitaph for Eurydice

 

Somebody took you by the hand one day, Eurydice,

leading you very far

through the haze that separates.

Since then, you live in my darkness

like a star in a fountain.

When you’re nowhere else,

you’re in me. Indeed, you are a Reminder,

sole triumph of life

over death and fog.

 

 

 

What the Unicorn Hears

 

In the world of stories

The buzzing of news.

In the murmuring of seas

The weeping of countries.

In the world of the real

The song of Eves.

Through the roaring of time

Nothingness chimes.

 

Through the aeon’s gossiping span

The wailing of man.

 

 

 

The Mill

 

I’m like a mill by the river.

Thought’s gotten used

to sleeping in me

eternally.

 

I’m like a mill by the river

by the hill’s base.

My wheels beat on the waves

on time’s shore.

 

My soul

will awaken –

when my stones

walk no more.

 

 

 

Their Looking-Forward and our Looking Backward

 

Enduring in us

more than in graves,

the ancients glance ever-forward

upon their living road beneath the sun.

 

Through the hot darkness

of our evening and our morning sin,

desiring knowledge and eternal life,

the ancients glance ever-forward.

 

Sometimes we go back on the same ways

till we reach the middle of the warm, true

light, which carries in itself snakes

and Eve’s fairy tales.

 

 

 

The Old Monk Whispers to me From the Threshold

 

O youth, you who go through my hermitage’s grass,

Is it long till the sun sets?

I want to yield my soul

With the snakes’, crushed in dawns

By shepherds’ cudgels.

Did I not write in the dust as they did?

Did I not pounce on the sun as they did?

 

My life was all you want –

Sometimes a beast,

Sometimes a flower,

Sometimes a bell that fought with the sky.

 

Today I am silent here, and the emptiness of the tomb

Sounds in my ears like a clay bell.

I await the end’s cool on the threshold.

Is it long till then? Come, youth,

Gather dust with your fist

And sprinkle it on my head instead of water and wine.

Baptize me with soil.

 

The shadow of the world passes over my heart.

 

 

 

Give me a body, O mountains

 

I have only you, my passing body,

and yet

I do not put white and red flowers on your tresses,

because your dust is weak,

too narrow for the swelling soul I wear.

 

Give me a body,

you mountains,

seas,

give me another body to unload my madness

in full!

Huge Earth, be my stem,

Be the chest to this tremendous heart;

turn it into the haunt of all the storms that crush me,

the amphora to my willful I.

My huge steps would be heard

throughout the cosmos then,

and I would be as free and as

unbridled

as I truly am,

O holy Earth.

 

When I should love,

I should stretch all my seas to the sky

like sinewy, wild hot limbs –

to the sky,

to compass it,

to conquer its core,

to kiss its shining stars.

 

When I should hate,

I should crush poor travelling suns

under my cliff-legs,

and perhaps I would smile.

But I have only you, my passing body.

 

 

 

Metaphysical Sadness

 

to Nichifor Crainic

 

In harbors open to the mystery of the great waters

I sang with fishermen, tall shadows on shores,

Dreaming vessels filled

With foreign miracles.

Alongside the workers dipped in mug-like mail

I raised iron bridges

Over white rivers, over the clean bird’s flight,

Over deep forests

And every arching bridge,

Passing into a realm of legends with it.

I tarried long among cliffs

Near holy ancients (like country soothsayers),

And I waited for a window of escape

To open up

Into powerful evening spaces.

I writhed on roads with everything I had, on shores,

Among cars and in churches.

Near bottomless fountains

I opened the eye of knowing.

I prayed with workers in rags,

I dreamed by sheep with shepherds,

And I waited in abysses with the saints.

Now I kneel in the light

And I weep in the late remnants

Of the star on which we tread.

 

Along with all creatures

I raised my wounds to the winds

And I waited: O, no miracle is fulfilled,

No miracle is fulfilled, is fulfilled!

And yet with simple words like ours,

The world, ghosts, day and fire were made.

With feet like ours,

Jesus walked upon the waters.

 

 

 

Stalactite

 

Silence is my spirit –

And stunned at how I lie, peaceful

As a stone ascetic,

It seems to me

That I am a stalactite in a huge grotto

Whose sky is the dome.

 

Smoothly,

smoothly,

smoothly – drops of light

And drops of peace fall unceasing

from the sky

and harden in me.

 

 

 

Perspective

 

Night. Beneath spheres, beneath the expanses,

the monads sleep.

Compressed worlds,

soundless tears in space,

the monads sleep.

 

Their movement – the praise of sleep.

 

 

 

Plows

 

O friend raised in the city

Mercilessly, like flowers by a window,

Friend who have not yet seen

Field and sun playing beneath flowering pears,

I want to take you by the hand,

come, let me show you eternity’s furrows.

 

On hills, where you return,

There are plows, countless plows

with beaks planted in healthy cornfields:

big black birds

that have come down from the sky to the Earth.

In order not to frighten them,

you must approach them singing –

 

Come— slowly.

 

 

 

Verses written on dry vine leaves

 

I. Hafiz

 

In the beginning – it is known – the stars in the sky had

Their paths drawn awkwardly and randomly;

From the slender arching of your brow

The moon once learned

To shoot its way toward the canopy –

Over the sea.

 

II. The Psalmist

 

When you pass barefoot under the lindens,

the sleeping pigeons on the winnowed eaves

arise, believing

your tiny footsteps are seeds cast

by a hand that is good to them.

 

III. Anacreon

 

The grapes in red vineyards seem like the bare breasts

of autumn, which unclothe themselves of leaves

one by one.

Draw them out from their robust trunk

and crush them,

crush the clods of earth

with your mouth – so that I may see your little hands

trembling from abundance

and your fingers moistened by the must.

 

IV. The Mystic

 

Your body and your lofty soul, they are

Like two twin brothers: they are so alike that

You don’t know when it’s one, when it’s the other.

I only know the soul to your form.

Whenever I chance to meet your body, I

don’t suspect it,

I get entangled in bewilderment and think it is the soul.

 

 

 

The Death of Pan

 

I. Pan to the nymph

 

With frog-apparel in your hair you rise up from the rushes.

A wave

Wants to encompass you and sands simmer.

As from an unseen rounded amphora

You spill your bare and twisted body on the grass.

 

And the vessels in my temples kick around

Like the goiter of a lazy lizard

Frying in the sun.

Your swaying breezes forth the murmurings of springs.

I would break you like warm bread;

Your motions fling sweet moments toward my blood.

 

Sands simmer.

Summer,

sun,

grass!

 

II. The god awaits

 

In the stubble

Mice and lambs play,

And the vines

Hold toads in their palms.

I await her coming

With a dandelion

Between my lips.

 

I only want

To carry clean

My scattered fingers

Through her hair,

Through her hair

Then through the clouds

Gather from them,

As from a bunch,

Lightning – as the fall

Squeezes gossamers

Out of air.

 

III. The Shadow

 

Pan breaks honeycombs

in the shadow of some nut trees.

 

He is sad:

The monasteries multiply in forests,

And the brightness of a cross upsets him.

The flying martins

And elm-leaves,

Misunderstanding, ring the bell around him.

Pan is sad beneath the vesper-bell.

On a path a shadow looms –

It is the color of Christ’s moon.

 

IV. Pan sings

 

I am alone, and I’m covered with thistles.

I once possessed a sky of stars

And I sang to the worlds

With a pan-pipe.

 

The nothingness strains its string.

Here in my grotto no stranger sweeps –

Only the mottled salamanders come

and sometimes

 

the moon.

 

V. The Spider

 

Driven away by the crosses planted on the paths

Pan

Had hidden himself in a cave.

The wild sunrays thronged

and elbowed each other to reach him.

He had no friends –

only a lonely spider.

Inquisitive, the tiny one had sown his leather net

inside his ear,

and Pan, by nature good,

would catch mosquitos for this last friend who’d stayed with him.

 

One after another, there passed falls with great falls of stars.

 

Once, the god was chiseling

A flute from an elderflower branch.

The tiny idiot

was walking on his hand.

and in gleams of rottenness

Pan discovered by surprise

that his friend had a cross on his back.

The old god was struck speechless

on that night of falling stars,

and he awoke, grieved

that the spider had become a Christian.

 

On the third day he closed the coffin of his fiery eyes.

He was covered with hoar-frost

And the dusk came down from the sound of the bell.

The elderflower flute remained unfinished.

 

 

Translations and notes by Paul Boboc
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

____________________________________________

 

SHORT BIO

 

Paul Boboc was born and raised in Baia Mare, where he finished the 1st grade. He moved to the United States in 2001. He earned his undergraduate degree in English Literature at Boston College and his MA in English at Brandeis University.

 

Paul Boboc has translated more than 1,000 pages of Romanian literature into English. His largest project, Nicolae Steinhardt’s ‘Jurnalul Fericrii’ (The Journal of Joy), a canonical text of Romanian literature, is due to be published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press in their upcoming ‘Treasures of Orthodox Christianity’ series. He has also translated the most representative works of Romania’s eminent poets (including Lucian Blaga, Tudor Arghezi, Nichita Stănescu, George Bacovia, Nicolae Labiș, George Topârceanu, Iulia Hașdeu, George Coșbuc).

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