What happens next is the last line in a poem of mine called ‘A Leisure Centre is Also a Temple of Learning’ which featured in ‘Forward Poems of the Decade’ and on the Excel A Level syllabus for several years. I chose it as the title for this post because writing and working with writers I never seem to know what is going to happen next. Last week for example ….
… I was struck by a Facebook post on International Holocaust Remembrance Day by my friend Claudio Moras who lives in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia town of Palse. Claudio is a fine poet and a generous organiser of events and opportunities for other poets in his area. Claudio used his Holocaust Remembrance Day post to remember Nicholas Winton, the British banker who supervised the rescue of almost 700 mostly Jewish children from Nazi persecution in Czechoslovakia and arranged safe homes for them in England.
In return, I posted Claudio ‘The Maker’ by Welsh poet R.S. Thomas. Unfortunately Claudio and I have no common language other than our devotion to poetry so we have to use dismally literal google translations when we have something we want to share. My Facebook post was spotted by Elisabeth Anne Gwynn from Teignmouth who very kindly offered to do an Italian translation which would make poetic sense. Now we were three – Claudio, me, Elisabeth Ann Gwyyn and then very shortly four because Elisabeth’s friend Roberto Coda joined the enterprise. Other Facebook friends are suporting us with their comments – fifteen at the last count.
The Maker : R S Thomas
So he said then: I will make the poem,
I will make it now. He took pencil,
The mind’s cartridge, and blank paper,
And drilled his thoughts to the slow beat
Of the blood’s drum: and there it formed
On the white surface and went marching
Onward through time, while the spent cities
And dry hearts smoked in its wake.
And here is Elisabeth and Roberto’s Italian version with fascinating notes about some of the details in the English poem which made translation particularly interesting and/or difficult.
Il creatore : RS Thomas
Allora disse: Voglio creare una poesia.
La faro’ adesso. Prese la matita
E il foglio della mente, la carta bianca,
E adatto’ i suoi pensieri
Al ritmo lento del pulsare del suo sangue.
E li’ si stese sulla superficie bianca
E avanzo’ sempre avanti attraverso il tempo
Mentre le citta’ esaurite fumavano nella sua scia.
Notes: 1) Cartridge is translated by pc as ‘cartuccia’ which is what you load a gun with in Italian. Also drilling is a military term “esercitare”. “Addestrare’ means training. Drum is possibly meant to continue the theme but according to Roberto, ‘tamburo’ does not fit the bill and he thinks ‘pulso’ is better. Also past simple is used rather than present perfect for narrative. “Disse” rather than “ha detto”, etc. The final line is in the imperfect which is significant. Note 2) Just had another update from Roberto: He suggests “adatto” rather than “addestrato” and “al ritmo lento del pulsare del suo sangue”. The mother tongue input is essential! This is just a version!
About the translators : Roberto Coda is a retired teacher of English living in Graglia, Province of Biella, Piemonte. Elisabeth Anne Gwynn is a retired Modern Language teacher who lived in Salussola, Province of Biella, Piemonte and now lives in the UK. Roberto and Elisabeth often collaborate on translations. Elisabeth also performed in the Teignmouth Poetry Festival’s “Poetry in Other Languages”, in Italian, until last year.
‘The Maker’ is about the way a good poem can journey onwards through exhausted cities and worn out hearts. Here in the middle of the global pandemic, which has dried up so many springs of health and healing in our panic-stricken world, a very small poem by a dead Welsh clergyman has done just that. Small only in word count of course. Vast, as are so many of Thomas’s poems, in its poetic reach.
Thank you Claudio, Elisabeth and Roberto.