Friday 21 November 2014

Translated Polish Poem

My sleeping patterns were thrown off kilter by the busy weekend, and I have been sleeping through my daily Polish Hour. I dreaded what effect this would have on my performance in Polish class last night, but I didn't do too badly. Of course, it helped that the highlight of the class was a translation exercise, and the text to be translated was a beautiful Polish poem I had looked at over supper.

(Note to self: hamburger and booze before class a much better mental booster than coffee at Brew Lab.)

Originally I thought the assignment was to write a Polish poem ourselves, which would be darned challenging, if not actually horribly presumptuous. So relieved was I that all we had to do was translate "Sad, styczeń" (lit: Orchard, January) that I convinced my classmate-partner Roz that we should try to replicate the rhyme and rhythm. 

Here's the Polish first:

Sad, styczeń (Jerzy Harasymowicz)

Oto zimą, jabłonie 
Oto gil w pąsie tonie
Gil ma jak peska serduszko
Gil--zimowe jabłuszko.

Na korę jabłonek głupiutke zajączki
siekazczami nakładają ślubne obrączki
Jest nieruchomo i cicho dokoła
czasem tylko gawron jak marszałek coś zawoła. 

You can take it from me, homesick for snowy landscapes, that this is absolutely beautiful. Wah. Meanwhile, even if you understand no Polish at all, you can see that the ends of the lines have rhyming pairs: AA, BB, CC, DD.

So here is what Roz and I came up with (well, no, I have worked on it since):

Orchard in January (trans. DCM, Roz)

In his winter apple bed
here's a finch drowned crimson red.
His pip-like heart an apple splinter,
Mr Finch, small fruit of winter.

The silly hares do make their mark
with sharp wee teeth upon the bark 
of wedding rings 
and everything's
and silence lies,
till just one rook 
shouts marshal's cries.

If you hate it, don't blame innocent Roz, for I think her one surviving contribution was "the sharp wee teeth". I sort of ran over her, in a metaphorical fashion, the bit being between my teeth. I live for this kind of thing.

Meanwhile, here is a literal translation: 

Orchard, January (trans. DCM)

Here in winter, an apple tree. 
Here a finch in crimson drowned.
The finch has a little heart like a pip. 
The finch -- a little winter apple.

On the apple's bark the silly little hares 
with little sharp teeth put wedding rings. 
It is still and quiet around. 
Sometimes just a rook like a marshal something shouts.


  1. I am in awe - to write so poetically in a first language is amazing, never mind a second.

  2. Oh, thank you! That's very nice because I don't attempt poetry very often.


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