Touch of Vertigo:
by Sabina Naef
Translated by Mischa Lucyshyn and Helga Michie with the author
Sketches on Translating Sabina Naef s Poetry
by Mischa Lucyshyn
Writing about literature puts an amateur like me at risk to say things
that will be either too rigid or too shallow - or both.
Translating a piece of literature, a task that, if taken seriously, will need
to go beyond what could be termed the information content of a text,
is a very strange activity - and some argue one where "success" is
impossible. (Robert Frost is alleged to have been one of them.)
Translators can but offer us a vague equivalent;
their language is necessarily full of echoes and associations.
What Virginia Woolf writes in The Common Reader about Greek will perhaps
hold true as well for any journey a text is undertaking when traveling from
German to English. Indeed from any one language to any other - let alone
from any one language at one point in time and place to any other language
at another point in time and place: The work of the translator wont be more
than a vague equivalent.
And what can this mean: One language?
From German - but which German?
To English - but which English?
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg notes in his Sudelbuecher, writings that
went across the channel just to arrive as Waste Books, of all translations:
Ist es nicht sonderbar, daß eine wörtliche Übersetzung fast immer eine
schlechte ist? und doch läßt sich alles gut übersetzen. Man sieht hieraus,
wie viel es sagen will, eine Sprache ganz verstehen; es heißt, das Volk
ganz kennen, das sie spricht.
Isn t it strange, that a verbatim translation almost always is a bad one?
yet everything can be translated well. This goes to show what it truly means
to fully understand a language: it means to know the people using it.
Certainly, I am in a fairly poor position to begin with a translation of Sabina
Naef s poems. Hence, I might have thought, no one else could be better suited
to attempt it - regardless. Perhaps I am thus following H.C. Artmann s
Sabina Naef is Swiss.
I am Austrian.
Thus much in answer to the question: Which German?
How much do I know the people who use English?
Yet these are minor obstacles compared to a difficulty two lines in one of
Sabina Naef s poems hint at:
if the poem would stop
I could go aboard
Poetry - in sharp contrast to prose, I think - does not stop.
It does not allow us to go aboard.
We might be able to wander through novels to meet and join Huck Finn or
Esther Summerson. Yet reading a poem for me seems to bear far greater
resemblance to resonance than to a walk.
Nikola Tesla perceived the earth as a conductor of acoustical resonance.
Transposing this magnificent line near the end of Jim Jarmusch ́s
Coffee and Cigarettes, I like the idea that readers of poetry can be
perceived as conductors of poetical resonance.
(It is for a reason that Jarmusch chose to use Mahler s
I am lost to the world in this scene.)
Translations, particularly those we have done, can be read in this vein.
The language used is necessarily full of echoes and associations.
Translations in this sense can not be right.
It is fairly likely that, by any so called standard, they are mostly wrong.
'I beg your pardon? Alice said with a puzzled air.
'Im not offended, said Humpty Dumpty.
A magnanimity like that is of course much more than we can wish for.
from A Touch of Vertigo
if only the gaze could write
that whispering sound of wind
in the trees
if writing only were blind enough
for that soaring
touch of vertigo
she shuts her eyes
like a sailor
in sheet lightning
in a smoking break
scratching the blue from the sky
on the roof terrace
where time stands
just birds ́ twitter
snowflakes on my lashes
as way back outside the heel bar
when I heard your voice for the first time
and knew it and didnt know whence
the slow motion steward
waits on the last patrons
and wins the affections
of a tulip
the moon wears a blindfold
in autumn leaves ought to fall out of books
Ramón Gómez de la Serna
leaves fall into my handbag
once the ship has withered
if the poem would stop
I could go aboard
could fold the lake
and pull out
the day smells
like a new pencil
not yet sharpened
even when turning
winks at us
black and white
lavatory of a café
on the white washbasin
a black walking stick
as if somebody all of a sudden
had unlearnt going
have eyes for the unseen
an assay of snow in the crook of the arm
from Presumably Swapped
rain fashion is
tailored to my body
my comb is lacking
if nobody calls
I am at home
no light at the blind man ́s
nobody to visit me
my shoes stand in the middle of the room
it happens that I give them a shine
and put them in the window
the child ́s jacket
stuffed with marvels
wrapped in paper
with expiry date
the chair outside
the hat on the head of
the man on the chair
to collect hints
head and feet
what has been devised first
parasol or -pluie
all I know is
today 79 poppies are blooming on the roof