Proust on Philologists

Classic extract from Proust’s Within A Budding Grove, the Moncrieff-Kilmartin-Enright translation:

The uncle in question was called Palamède, a Christian name that had come down to him from his ancestors the Princes of Sicily. And later on, when I found, in the course of my historical reading, belonging to this or that Podestà or Prince of the Church, the same Christian name, a fine renaissance medal–some said a genuine antique–that had always remained in the family, having passed from generation to generation, from the Vatican cabinet to the uncle of my friend, I felt the pleasure that is reserved for those who, unable from lack of means to start a medal collection or a picture gallery, look out for old names (names of localities, instructive and picturesque as an old map, a bird’s-eye view, a sign-board or a return of customs; baptismal names whose fine French endings echo the defect of speech, the intonation of an ethnic vulgarity, the corrupt pronunciation whereby our ancestors made Latin and Saxon words undergo lasting mutilations which in due course became the august law-givers of our grammar books) and, in short, by drawing upon their collections of ancient sonorities, give themselves concerts like the people who acquire viols da gamba and viols d’amour so as to perform the music of the past on old instruments.

The uncle for whom we were waiting
was called Palamède, a name that had come down to him from his
ancestors, the Princes of Sicily.  And later on when I found, as I
read history, belonging to this or that Podestà or Prince of the
Church, the same Christian name, a fine renaissance medal--some said,
a genuine antique--that had always remained in the family, having
passed from generation to generation, from the Vatican cabinet to the
uncle of my friend, I felt the pleasure that is reserved for those
who, unable from lack of means to start a case of medals, or a picture
gallery, look out for old names (names of localities, instructive and
picturesque as an old map, a bird's-eye view, a sign-board or a return
of customs; baptismal names, in which rings out and is plainly heard,
in their fine French endings, the defect of speech, the intonation of
a racial vulgarity, the vicious pronunciation by which our ancestors
made Latin and Saxon words undergo lasting mutilations which in due
course became the august law-givers of our grammar books) and, in
short, by drawing upon their collections of ancient and sonorous
words, give themselves concerts like the people who acquire viols da
gamba and viols d'amour so as to perform the music of days gone by
upon old-fashioned instruments.

Cavafy’s Rhymed Verse

I’ve been reading Cavafy’s poems and have discovered that most of his rhymed lines are translated unrhymed into English. Rhyming is certainly easier in Greek, but the rhyme in some of the poems has too much force to be left completely unrhymed in an English translation.

Although I’m no expert in the art of poetry, nor even an engaged dilettante, I thought I would have a go translating An Old Man, or Ένας Γέρος, with at least part of the rhyme structure intact. This way, at least something of the original rhyming force is retained.

The Greek original goes AAB CCB DDE FFE etc. I’ve simplified the rhyme structure somewhat in the translation by going AAB CCD EEF GGH etc., and I’ve veered away from pure rhymes to make the structure still simpler to follow.

None of the Greek translations that I’ve read follow any rhyme structure whatever for this particular poem, so compare and contrast how Cavafy’s already been translated with what I’ve come up with below:

An Old Man
In a noisy coffeeshop deep inside
an old man hunched over a table is descried
with a newspaper in front of him, alone.

And in the scorn of old age’s misery
he ponders how little he enjoyed the years so free
when he had strength, reason, looks.

He knows he’s aged much; he feels, he sees.
And yet the time of his youth it seems
like yesterday. So short a time, so short.

And how Prudence played him he ponders sorely,
and how he always trusted her — such high folly! —
the liar who said: “Tomorrow. There’s ample time”.

He remembers the impulses, how he curbed them;
the joy he sacrificed. His senseless wisdom
now mocked by every lost chance.

…Yet from so much thinking and recalling
the old man gets dizzy. He falls sleeping
his head on the coffeeshop table.

Ένας Γέρος
Στου καφενείου του βοερού το μέσα μέρος
σκυμένος στο τραπέζι κάθετ’ ένας γέρος·
με μιαν εφημερίδα εμπρός του, χωρίς συντροφιά.

Και μες στων άθλιων γηρατειών την καταφρόνεια
σκέπτεται πόσο λίγο χάρηκε τα χρόνια
που είχε και δύναμι, και λόγο, κ’ εμορφιά.

Ξέρει που γέρασε πολύ· το νοιώθει, το κυττάζει.
Κ’ εν τούτοις ο καιρός που ήταν νέος μοιάζει
σαν χθες. Τι διάστημα μικρό, τι διάστημα μικρό.

Και συλλογιέται η Φρόνησις πώς τον εγέλα·
και πώς την εμπιστεύονταν πάντα — τι τρέλλα! —
την ψεύτρα που έλεγε· «Αύριο. Εχεις πολύν καιρό».

Θυμάται ορμές που βάσταγε· και πόση
χαρά θυσίαζε. Την άμυαλή του γνώσι
καθ’ ευκαιρία χαμένη τώρα την εμπαίζει.

….Μα απ’ το πολύ να σκέπτεται και να θυμάται
ο γέρος εζαλίσθηκε. Κι αποκοιμάται
στου καφενείου ακουμπισμένος το τραπέζι.

Emiliana Torrini at the Forum on the 2nd of January, 2009

7 out of 10: Endearing Italian-Icelandic folkish lolling

Emiliana Torrini has established a strong following in these antipodean shores: the sweet singer with the Italian name and Icelandic voice managed to fill the Forum on a Saturday night set aside for soothing an aching New Year’s head. Only fourteen months separate her last appearance here at the same venue, and Melbourne’s couples are out in force tonight to hear her perform her adorable songs arm in arm.

Torrini sings liberally from each of her three albums released worldwide, showing no particular preference for any one. The crowd too is just as pleased with songs from eleven years ago as they are two, and they enthusiastically support Torrini’s performance the whole night through.

Much of the electronica from Torrini’s first and third albums are arranged for instrumental accompaniment. Live, the approach pays handsome dividends as songs such as Me and Armini and Unemployed in Summertime are rendered evermore affecting. The sparse, disarming songs of her second album, Fisherman’s Woman, only gain in warmth in the Forum’s ornate, starry surroundings, and perhaps the song she’s most known for in these parts, Sunny Road, is a delight to hear in such a setting.

Torrini does venture off into less salubrious territory, though. On Jungle Drum, the upbeat rhythm and her parum-pa-pum-pumming are completely out of place (although her dancing — a cross between Bjork and Peter Garret — is exceptionally endearing), as is the turn to noisier musical accompaniment more generally the further the night progresses. Torrini is best when everything is stripped back and her voice, so charmingly accented, is left to lilt softly.

This is just as true when there is no music. Torrini’s chats with the audience between songs are a joy. Her manner speaks of a happy-go-lucky soul, winsome, effortlessly prepossessing and surprisingly comical. Upon a crowd member’s wishing her a happy new year, she responded self-mockingly with “so let’s celebrate with another song nobody can dance to” before wishing for a dance beat and proceeding to beat box one herself. Woods, birds, cocktails and breezes are repeated themes in her chats with the audience about her songs and whatever else might pop into her head, all of which is duly lapped up by an appreciative audience.

Torrini is a wonderful performer, a natural singer and a disarming character. For those who made their way to the Forum, the second of January may not have been as raucous as the events of last year’s last day, yet its restrained splendour was a soothing contrast that is much more likely to be remembered.