Allegorical Nonsense

An allegory. Nonsense. Put them together. Okay, not really.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The King is Dead

My translation of a Chanoch Levin poem entitled "שחמט", posted on Simon Holloway's website at 7:33pm on August 14, 2006:

My son whith'r went, whith'r went my goodly son?
A pawn of black didst strike the lighter pawn
My father shan't return, shan't come my father back
An iv'ry pawn didst strike a pawn of black
Sobbing in the rooms and in the yard serene
The king continues playing with the queen

My son shan't rise again, will dwell'n eternal night
A pawn of black didst strike a pawn of white
My father lies in dark to nevermore see dawn
A pawn of white didst strike the darker pawn
Sobbing in the rooms and in the yard serene
The king continues playing with the queen

My son once in my breast, now does i'th' clouds sojourn
A pawn of black didst strike the lighter pawn
My father warm of heart, now warmth his heart does lack
An iv'ry pawn didst strike a pawn of black
Sobbing in the rooms and in the yard serene
The king continues playing with the queen

My son whith'r went, whith'r went my goodly son?
Have fallen, pawn of black, the lighter pawn
My father shan't return, shan't come my father back
Are absent, iv'ry pawn and pawn of black
Sobbing in the rooms and in the yard serene
Alone on empty board just king and queen

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3 Comments:

At 6:03 PM, Blogger Simon Holloway said...

Overall, this is hugely superior to the translation that I attempted, but there are still aspects of it that I don't like. I don't appreciate the archaic use of language (which I don't think corresponds to anything in the Hebrew), and I feel that some of the lines are forced ("Have fallen, pawn of black, the lighter pawn" and "Alone on empty board just king and queen"). My only other criticism is "the yard serene" which, while it does provide you with a rhyme for 'queen', conveys the exact opposite to the original Hebrew (that there is crying in the bedroom but silence in the yard). This makes it look like there is also sobbing in the yard, a place that is nonetheless serene.

So much for my criticism: well done on managing to make it rhyme! I especially like the way in which you alternated between clauses like "iv'ry pawn", "pawn of white", "lighter pawn", etc. While this does not reflect diversity in the original it enables you to make the poem rhyme and actually adds something to the overall effect.

 
At 1:12 PM, Blogger moo said...

I too was very ready to be critical... You have done a lot for the sake of rhyme. I think the rhyme was less important in the original than the repetition, which you have lost by creating those "equivalent" forms like the "lighter pawn". It also creates some confusion and semantic ambiguity that was not in the Hebrew.

So an interesting attempt, but a little obscure. The repeated forms in the original was too significant to me to throw away.

One point that I found particularly neat was that you moved the chessness of the poem from the title to the word "pawn" in the verse. But in translating "שחמת" etymologically as the "king is dead" rather than "check mate" or "chess", it still loses something... But I guess this is what makes the life of the translator a difficult and lonely one.

 
At 4:08 PM, Blogger Simon Holloway said...

I agree with Moo's last point, but also feel that it's necessary to point out that the Hebrew word for chess is שחמט, not שחמת. It doesn't mean "the king is dead", except etymologically, and a better translation would simply be "Chess" anyway. Incidentally, "Chess" is also phonologically derived from the Persian, only via the Europeans who had difficulty with the second guttural of the word /šaḥ/

 

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