Changing Seasons: June

June in Canberra.

It’s officially the first month of winter in Australia. Here in this part of the country that’s more wintry than most, many of the trees are leafless, the maximum today is 13, feels like 8, the public servants still run morning, noon and night even when the wind is blowing at 35 knots, and if you’re standing beside the lake taking photos of the landscape, you get wet.

Cardinal Guzman’s ‘Changing Seasons’ challenge: check it out for more seasonal photos.

Southerly

My translation of Claudine Jacques’ Condamné à perpétuité, “Life Sentence”, has today been published by Southerly, the journal of the English Association at Sydney University. The journal is available to purchase in print or digitally.

Southerly is dedicated to publishing new Australian literature. I feel honoured to have had my work selected, given that the author I’ve translated lives in New Caledonia, a French island about two hours off the coast of Queensland. However, I’m Australian and the English is mine. The story has much in it that was familiar to me as a child in Queensland: tropical flora, heat, ocean. But one thing I’m not familiar with is leprosy, the topic. There’s a little island clearly visible from Brisbane called Peel Island, which in the past when anyone asked was always quickly identified as the leper colony. The question was a good conversation killer. All we knew was that those who lived there had been expelled from the mainland. No one actually knew what it was like to be there.

Reading Condamné à perpétuité gave me a bit of an insight into life on an Island of Lepers.

To encourage you to read the translation, I’ll reveal that “Life Sentence” has a happy(ish) ending.

I feel especially fortunate that Southerly has published it since the theme of their current issue is Persian literature! “Life Sentence” is one of the few stories included that are outside the theme. Thank you Southerly.

(Be assured this is the latest issue despite the 2016 date.)

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It’s You

From time to time literary translators seek an analogy to help others see what it is that a translator does with a story. When I hear a great cover version of a song or a piece of instrumental music I see the similarity with translation. It’s a work originally written by one artist but interpreted by another. A composer writes a piece of music and another musician can play it, but no two interpretations of the score will be the same. The player or singer always puts a little of himself into the piece. And so it is with translators.

I have sons who play piano or guitar or sing a cappella in quartets, and when they want to learn a new song, they listen to other musicians performing live or on Internet videos. As I’m listening in the background, I note that the same song can sound so different according to the singers’ skills, their personal histories and their countries of origin.

Here’s a good example of a piece of music interpreted quite differently from its original version, though it is equally entertaining and touching. It was a performance in April when my son Ben competed with a quartet in a contest in Sydney for the Barbershop Harmony Australia association. Barbershop singing has changed a lot since its beginnings and is now less about boater hats and corny gestures than the precision of singing four-part harmony without instrumental accompaniment.

Left to right, Danny, Ben, Geordie and Adam – Fresh Notes – sing It’s You, written by Meredith Willson for the 1957 Broadway musical The Music Man. Fresh Notes came second in the contest.

The lyrics and melody are Meredith Willson’s, but the style and composition for the quartet belong uniquely to Fresh Notes. Remembering this helps me to relax when I’m translating, it reminds me that sometimes the cover version can be as good as, even better than, the original.

Like a musician, a literary translator takes someone else’s composition and performs it in his own special way.

Performing without a Stage
Robert Wechsler

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Weekly photo challenge: Heritage

In Canberra there’s a street that exists because of war. On either side of Anzac Parade there are statues and sculptures to commemorate those men and women who went off to every war that Australia has been part of over the past century and more. At the head of the street is the biggest monument of them all, the Australian War Memorial, not a statue but a building, built to commemorate those who fought in the First World War. Every war has been represented except one. The Boer War in South Africa.

But the need is about to be satisfied for a memorial for the mounted troops that fought there between 1899 and 1902. The sculptor, Louis Laumen, has created four bronze riders and horses for the commission. They are in place on Anzac Parade, but will remain covered in black plastic until the official opening on 31st May.

Until then we’ll be seeing phantom riders at dusk.

Beside the statues, a verse by A. B. Paterson (Banjo Paterson) reminds us of the courage of those who volunteered to fight in South Africa:

When the dash and the excitement and the novelty are dead,
And you’ve seen a load of wounded once or twice,
Or you’ve watched your old mate dying – with the vultures overhead,
Well, you wonder if the war is worth the price.
And down along Monaro now they’re starting out to shear,
I can picture the excitement and the row,
But they’ll miss me on the Lachlan when they call the roll this year,
For we’re going on a long job now.

A.B. Paterson 1902

The war memorial building and Anzac parade have National Heritage listing to ensure this tribute to the sacrifices by many generations of Australians is recognised and protected.

Thanks WordPress for prompting me to think about heritage for the photo challenge.

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Weekly photo challenge: Danger

My father captioned this photo in 1942 ‘Dud bombs’. But judging by the rubble almost covering the small building at the bottom right, some earlier bombs had done the job they were made for.

It’s an odd photo that seems to have a part of another photo laid over it; the man looking at the dud bombs is transparent! The hill of rock behind him is visible through his face…

The WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge this week is to find an image that evokes danger, so I immediately thought of this one from Dad’s war album of photos from Egypt and Libya. I don’t have a clue about bombs, exploded or unexploded. But these dud bombs were probably a source of danger.

Dud bombs, North Africa c1941/1942

Changing Seasons: May

May in Canberra.

I could show you the maple tree in my back garden, every one of its leaves orange, and little helicopter seedpods hanging here and there.

I could show you two learner sailboats trying to make their way across Lake Burley Griffin in a total absence of breeze under a perfect blue sky.

I could show you the view across the lake to Parliament House with orderly plantings of trees turning red and yellow amid the green pines on the foreshore.

But this shot sums up May in Canberra. The sky is blue, the sun is still warm if you’re directly under it, but the air is cold in the shade. Cold in our houses. Canberra has a reputation for cold houses. So at lunchtime today I went out to sit on our back deck in the full sun – absolutely delightful. But my poor neighbours, their house catches no sun front or back. They had two options: turn on the heating or sit on the roof.

Is it comfortable up there, I asked. No, they said, but the view is great.

Cardinal Guzman’s ‘Changing Seasons’ challenge: check it out for more seasonal photos from bloggers.

Changing Seasons: April

April in Canberra.

In many parks and gardens, autumnal trees flaunt their red and yellow leaves or let them drop onto a thickening blanket of colour.

My back yard is scattered with leaves from a crepe myrtle and ornamental grape, plants so beautiful in colour yet so sad as the branches strip off their leaves, remaining bare and to all appearances dying.

But looking at the trees lining Anzac Parade today I saw only the green of our native trees that don’t hibernate for the winter. On the lush lawns of the Australian War Memorial the white chairs are all in place for the Anzac Day services which more and more people are attending every year. On the day, Tuesday 25th April, great numbers of visitors will fill the chairs, and those who stand on the roads behind will watch and hear the services on huge screens. I popped down there this morning while the crowd size was navigable. And with the weather forecasters predicting an 80% chance of rain on the actual day, I realised that today (with about 0% chance of rain) was better suited for photographing April in Canberra for Cardinal Guzman’s ‘Changing Seasons’ challenge.

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Weekly photo challenge: Surprise

Yesterday, Easter Sunday. Perfect weather. All I needed was coffee and water. The former to drink, the latter to gaze on. With most cafés closed for the public holy-day, I walked for some time through the town of Queanbeyan before finding the open doors of the Central Café with its sign written in Coca-Cola calligraphy. Now with my take-away coffee and cake I headed for the Queanbeyan River where the grass is lush and even and green, a rare treat.

Down on my haunches beside the water, I was quietly photographing ducks when they spotted me and all began swimming my way. I tried to focus on one or two individuals, keeping the camera and myself still as still. Suddenly there was a loud flapping and sploshing of water, but I didn’t allow myself to be distracted from the task at hand. Then the image on my camera screen changed as a huge dark bird came in from the right. Without moving, I clicked several times until the splashing stopped. When I looked up, a black swan was coming to rest amid the froth of disturbed water.

Quelle surprise!

Thanks WordPress for the photo challenge.

Weekly photo challenge: Dense

Dense growth in a garden attracts birds. This morning, passing one of my Hakea trees, I heard munching sounds and looked into the branches. There, right in front of me, not afraid of me, was this Gang-Gang Cockatoo eating Hakea seedpods. It’s a rare treat for anyone in Canberra to see one up close. Higher up in the tree there were sounds of his mate cracking open some pods but she was disguised by leaves. I’ve read that Gang Gangs are left-handers, and indeed the little birdy is eating with his left hand!

By an unpleasant coincidence on this same fine morning when I was enjoying my foresty garden, a government man came to my door to tell me that an Ash tree with a split trunk growing on our nature strip (footpath) has to be cut down. Nooo!

Sixteen years ago when we moved into this house, I rang the government tree people and requested a street tree. Very soon after, they planted a young sapling and I’ve watched it grow into this lovely big tree. Its canopy is green and lush, and birds frequently fly into its branches for safety.

After the man left this morning, I went for a walk and in my absence he came back and sprayed this yellow mark of death on the Ash trunk.

So my morning was bittersweet. I’m so glad I saw the Gang Gang with his wispy red crest enjoying the Hakea trees. And I’m very glad their trunks aren’t marked with a yellow spot.

Thanks WordPress for the photo prompt.

Turgenev translation comparison

Once, I read two sentences that had a silent “Oh wow” effect on me; they were by Turgenev, in his story “The Tryst”. I had never read Turgenev, but now I wanted to know him better. I met Turgenev through Rebecca McClanahan in her very useful book, Word Painting. She quoted from “The Tryst” to illustrate description-by-negation, or rather she quoted from Isabel F. Hapgood’s translation of Turgenev’s story, without crediting Hapgood. But she should have, for without the translation she would not have known about Turgenev’s skilful repetition in “It was not … not … not”, describing the sound of rustling leaves. Ivan Turgenev’s sketches of provincial Russian life are stories I’ve read and read again in English. Not only are they compelling vignettes of a country I’ve never been to, but his descriptions of closely observed Russian hunters and other forest frequenters hold my attention from beginning to end.

“Turgenev Hunting”, Nikolai Dmitriev-Orenburgsky [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wondering whether the beauty lay in the translator’s words or the author’s, I went searching for other translations of the same passage. Here are four versions of Turgenev’s description, followed by the translator’s name:

The leaves faintly rustled over my head; from the sound of them alone one could tell what time of year it was. It was not the gay laughing tremor of the spring, nor the subdued whispering, the prolonged gossip of the summer, nor the chill and timid faltering of late autumn, but a scarcely audible, drowsy chatter. (Constance Garnett, 1897)

The leaves were rustling in a barely audible manner overhead; from their sound alone one could tell what season of the year it was. It was not the cheerful, laughing rustle of spring-time, not the soft whispering, not the long conversation of summer, not the cold and timid stammering of late autumn, but a barely audible, dreamy chatter. (Isabel F. Hapgood, 1903)

The leaves scarcely rustled above my head; by their very noise one could know what time of year it was. It was not the happy, laughing tremolo of spring, not the soft murmuration and long-winded talkativeness of summer, not the shy and chill babblings of late autumn, but a hardly audible, dreamy chattering. (Richard Freeborn, 1967)

The leaves were whispering faintly over my head: you could have told the time of year from their whisper alone. It was not the gay, laughing shiver of spring, nor the soft murmur, the long discourse of summer, nor the cold, frightened rustling of late autumn, but a scarcely perceptible, drowsy converse. (Charles and Natasha Hepburn, 1992)

 

Which is the best?

 

Garnett: Her choice of ‘not … nor … nor’ is as good as Hapgood’s ‘not … not … not’. Each word in the two sentences is individual, and most consist of one or two syllables.

Hapgood:  While it’s the translation chosen by Rebecca McClanahan to illustrate the suspense in ‘not … not … not’, it would be better if Hapgood hadn’t used ‘barely audible’ in two consecutive sentences. And ‘rustling’ and ‘rustle’.

Freeborn: Yes, he uses ‘not … not … not’, but there are too many words of three or four syllables, like ‘long-winded talkativeness’. But then ‘The leaves scarcely rustled’ is more concise than Hapgood’s ‘The leaves were rustling in a barely audible manner’.

The Hepburns: They repeat ‘whispering’ and ‘whisper’ in the first sentence, and later in the same sentence their choice of ‘you’ is less literary, less poetic, than ‘one’ which keeps the reader at a distance. Also, ‘could have told the time’ at the beginning of this clause had me thinking of hours; I had to read it again.

 

So, for this little exercise, Constance Garnett is the better translator, and the one I admire. Or is it Turgenev I admire? Since I can’t read Russian, I’ll never really know. What I do know is that comparisons of translations often send me back to Constance Garnett.

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P.S. I’m writing this in autumn, but not in Russia. There are no shy and chill babblings nor is there a cold, frightened rustling. It’s a stunningly beautiful day here in Canberra where the only rustling is from the currawong, shifting branches as he eats my figs!