Wednesday, August 20, 2008
The poet and translator himself.
Pity the Elderly Gray Translator
by Vladimir Nabokov
Pity the elderly gray translator
Who lends to beauty his hollow voice
And - choosing sometimes a second-rater -
Mimes the song-fellow of his choice.
To sacred sense for the sake of meter
He is seldom traitor as traitors go,
But pity him when he quakes with Peter
And waits for the terza rima to crow.
It is not the head of the verse line that'll
Cause him trouble, nor is it the spine:
What he really minds is the cursed rattle
That must be found for the tail of the line.
Some words by nature are sort of singlish,
Others have harems of rimes. The word
"Elephant," for example, walks alone in
But its Slavic equivalent goes about in a herd.
"Woman" is another famous poser
For none can seriously contemplate
an American president or a German composer
In a viable context with that word for mate.
Since rime is a national repercussion
(And local holiday), how bizarre
That "skies-eyes" should twin in French and
Such boons are irrelevant. Sooner or later
The gentle person, the mime sublime,
The incorruptible translator
Is betrayed by lady rime.
And the poem from the Persian
And the sonnet spun in Spain
Perish in the person's version,
And the person dies insane.