Blesok no. 59, March-April, 2008

“Rapacious or Greedy for Money?”
Or: On the Issues of Translating Poetry from Macedonian to German

Elizabeta Lindner

The job of the translator is not easy at all, and of course it should not be underestimated. He is entrusted not only with the transfer of the contents, style and art of a piece of art from one language to another, but also with the presentation of a culture into another language environment. By all means the translator has the goal to transfer the picturesqueness, power of the word, symbolism, and especially in poetry rhythm and sonority by all means. The one who achieves this, and on top of it creates a readable text is good in his profession.
    Unfortunately there are not many translations from Macedonian to German, to pay them regular attention, to stress their quality, make an analysis of the translatability or – simply – to convey the German critique of the work. One of the reasons for this is of course the lack of translators from Macedonian to German. Lately there has been an increased interest in the Macedonian language and literature, which on one hand is very important for the presentation of our literature in the German language area, but on the other hand it might have a negative effect. The reason for this is that the need for translators from Macedonian is used as a challenge for some amateurs and untalented lovers of the beautiful words to start practicing this work. There are more and more Slavists who try via crash courses of Macedonian or by knowing Bulgarian to penetrate into the “core” of the Macedonian language and crown themselves with their first literary translations. The results of these attempts would be defeating for the authors who could not even imagine the way and form that their work undertook to communicate with the German readership via the translation.

Except the selection of the works, quality translation is also of crucial importance for the good presentation of a country and culture. Since, as I already mentioned, there are not many translations which could be reviewed, I will stick to the translations of poetry by Macedonian poets on the poetry portal
    The list of poets is not long, but the selection of poets and their lyrics is excellent. I hope that the selection will be extended in the future, since Macedonia has traditionally quality poets and poetesses, who deserve to be added and presented in this as well as other portals of the German language area.
    All poems have been translated into German. The translations of Bogomil Gjuzel's poetry by Kerstin Hansel are especially distinguishable; their poetic tone and contents are transferred in a high literary level, fully corresponding with the original. They depict a spotless and fluid poetic expression, a one that should be found in every translated poetry, The same level is found in the translation of Mateja Matevski's poem “Zvona” (Bells) by Ina Jun Broda, which is unfortunately the only translation by this translator. Translations that truthfully transfer the poetic word are the translations of Vlada Urošević's poetry by Holger Siegel and Ranka Grčeva.
    The translations of Mateja Matevski's poetry by Mathias Bronisch at moments show the insecurity of the selection of appropriate words; however, the translation does not lose its flow or expression, although the contents of the original is at times less truthfully transferred (for example Pelin – Apsint, although these two words have completely different connotation in the two cultures). The same problems appear in the translation of Katica Kulavkova's poetry by Michaël Pfister, where the contents, and with Pfister partially the stylistic flow of the poetic tone at moments drifts away from the original. Despite this, these are good translations. The translation of Eftim Kletnikov's poetry by Norbert Randov and Maja Gulevska could improve its flow and closeness of the poetic expression with some stylistic interventions of some German expressions, as the former at times sounds distant and cold compared to the original.
    Unlike all of the above, the translation of Katica Kulavkova'a poetry by Ulrike Ulrike Draesner sounds amateurish, crude, and unfortunately, it does not keep the poetic expression of the original. The translation is something completely different than the original and at moments it sounds like a completely free translation, which is far from the level of the original poetry. In order to discuss the issues of translation, which are general for the translation of contemporary poetry, I will focus on the translation of several poems and verses; analyzing them I will give examples and possible solutions on how it should look.

Chronos of Katica Kulavkova – supreme poetic achievement
Chronos in German – is it poetry at all?

When analyzing the translation I will focus on the poems Chronos 1, 2 and 3, with most details on Chronos 1. The issues that I will mention in this analysis relate to the translations of all Katica Kulavkova's poems made by Ulrike Draesner.

1. Everyday words

In many translations one notices the tendency of the translator to use words that are not poetic at all and which do not belong to poetry. These are words of the spoken language which do not correspond the original word; on the contrary, they make the verses superficial, banal and sometimes they even sound rude.
    Some examples are: The word “цел” (whole, complete) in one place in Chronos [3] is translated by the word “total”, a word which is almost equal to super, cool, etc, despite the existence of appropriate words such as “ganz, völlig, im Ganzen, gänzlich…” which can be used poetically depending on the context.
    Further on, the verses:    Или си ти во мене
                       или јас во Тебе!

    Have been translated as:    Entweder du steckst in mir
                       oder ich stecke in dir!

    Which is not only stylistically wrong, but also in terms of contents and grammar (verb is on the second place); therefore, it is not poetic. The selection of the verb “stecken” is unfounded. The verb means to stick, to insert, to put, etc, and it is widely used in the everyday verbal language phrases (ich stecke fest, ich stecke immer noch im Büro, in der U-Bahn, im Stau fest, ich stecke mir einen Apfel in die Tasche…), thus the whole expression is rough and not poetic. The solution is actually very simple, because the identical expression as the original can be used, including the verb to be, i.e. sein:
       Entweder bist du in mir
       Oder ich in Dir.

    To stress the expression one could also use: lauern, wohnen, leben (lurk, live) etc, but in no way “stecken“.
    Another example is the noun Anstrengung, which is mostly used to mark physical, corporal effort, as well as the verb sich anstrengen, and especially the everyday usage of the adverb anstrengend: Die Arbeit ist anstrengend (work is tedious). Or its adjectival usage: anstrengender Mensch (tedious/boring man), which are always used in prose. Poetic words for напор (напорен) would be: Mühe, Mühsal (mühsam).
    The original verse: се обидувам, не без напор, да те сфатам!
    Translation: versuche, nicht ohne Anstrengung, zu fassen dich!
    This verse, in which the last part (zu fassen dich) is also grammatically incorrect, which is not because of the poetic style (see below), should be:
    versuche, nicht ohne Mühe, dich zu begreifen!

2. Unknown words

Very often we find words and contexts in the translation which were not understood at all by the translator and therefore she opted for a solution, such as in the example in the next verse of the poem Chronos [1]:
    Овде сум на една топка-вртелешка
of this verse is obviously an unknown word for the translator because she interpreted this verse in this way:
    Auf einem Ball stehend kreise! (ich gefalle mir selbst,)

    That is, in Macedonian: Стоејќи на топка кружам! (си се допаѓам сама на себе,)
    She equalizes the word “вртелешка” with turning, circling; however, the usage of the verb in first person singular without a personal pronoun sounds odd and unclear in German. One can not talk about an ellipse, because in this case it does not improve the style. A better solution would be to leave out the verbal adjective stehend and only leave the verbal adjective, i.e. the participle 1 of the verb kreisen – kreisend
    Auf einem Ball kreisend

    Which is stylistically better; however, it would not be the best solution since it misses the contents of the original.
    To alleviate or miss the mistake of the whole verse, or maybe for her personal insecurity, the translator adds an exclamation mark, and she stylistically and grammatically links the verb (circle) with the subject (I) of the next sentence after the exclamation mark; the sentence does not sound like this at all in the original and it is one verse below.
    If there is really a need of elements to improve the style, expression or meaning of the translation, it is by all means fully legitimate to add an punctuation sing, a new word, row lower or elevate the verse or one of its parts; however, in this case there is an attempt to find a solution for what has not been understood, while completely ruining the verse of the poetess.

3. Wrong selection of words

The part of the verse  which is moved and attached to the upper verse in the translation has a common subject (I), despite the punctuation sign. If this is not the case, then this is incorrect grammar. Via the following analysis we shall try to see what the reason is for such a solution.
    The original is: (Овде сум на една топка-вртелешка)
          горделива, среброљубива, властољубива

    The original verse contains a beautiful selection of adjectives, which, despite their negative meaning are filled in with poetic sonority; in the translation they become a rough description of the subject who is speaking:
       (Auf einem Ball stehend kreise!) ich gefalle mir selbst
       gierig nach Geld, hungrig auf Macht

    that is:
       (Стоејќи на топка кружам!) (јас) си се допаѓам сама на себе,
       алчна за пари, гладна за моќ
I think that there is no need to comment the selection of words in this verse, since they speak for themselves. However, it is a fact that the German language has a vast selection of adjectives, especially the ones that are combined of two words (such as the original); therefore, this reckless selection of words is unclear. The question is, to what extent are these verses in this form actually Katica Kulavkova's?
    A solution for the translation to refer to the verses of the original would be:
       Hier bin ich auf einem Karussell-Ball
       selbstgefällig, goldgierig, machtgierig

    where even the звуковноста and гласовноста support the contents of what is said, like in the original, Neither the sense nor the form and poetics are lost, as is the case of the translation that is found on the portal. Of course, there are other possibilities in the selection of words and it depends on the translator, but the selection made by the translator Draesner is inappropriate and rough and simply wrong.

4. Ignoring sonority

Poetry has its strong feature of melody and sonority, which is expressed in many different ways. It is not simple to find appropriate words in the language of translation, which would correspond to the meaning, melody and sonority of the original; however, solution is possible to be found.
    Several examples of not following the melody when translating:
    Original: и те сликам, те олицетворувам, те отелотворувам
    In this verse there is a repetition of action expressed via “те” + verb in first person singular. The last two verbs also have the same first vowel (alliteration) and the same ending.
    Translation: und male dich, Spiegel dich wieder, dein Körper bin ich
    Except for the lack of respect of melody there are again spelling and grammar mistakes and a wrong selection of words (Spiegel dich wiеder, it should be: spiegele dich wider) and wrong and rough interpretation (instead of: те отелотворувам, it says: јас сум твоето тело).
    If the contents of melody can not be kept with a verb, like in the original, an attempt should be made to use one verb in first person singular combined with another verb:
    Ich versuche dich abzubilden, zu widerspiegeln, zu verkörpern

    Here we drift from the meaning (се обидувам да те насликам, да те олицетворам, да те отелотворам) but the combination of a verb in first person singular with nouns gives us the possibility to mark the same action, keep the same meaning and гласовноста.
    Example: ich gestalte dein Abbild, dein Spiegelbild, deine Verkörperung
    Or: ich gestalte dein Abbild, deine Widerspiegelung, deine Verkörperung
(in both examples: ја обликувам твојата слика, твоето олицетворение, твоето отелотворение)
    Melodious equalizing at the end of те олицетворувам, те отелотворувам s in the first example via dein Abbild and dein Spiegelbild and in the second example in deine Widerspiegelung and deine Verkörperung. The second example in its form and meaning corresponds to the original, but in the translation of this verse alliteration can not be preserved.
    However, in the same poem there are several more examples where it is possible to keep the alliteration, but it was not done.
    For example, in the verses of the original:
    те памтам, памтењето го предавам
    од едни на други
    поправки правам, предавство

    mich erinnere ich an dich, vom einen
    zum anderen geb ich Erinnerung, die alte,
    weiter, berichtige, verrate,

    In the original there is a perfectly flowing and poetic string of words with “p” as the beginning letter. In the translation there is no melody, and there is wrong and non-poetic interpretation of the verses everywhere.
    It is of course not possible that the string of words in the translation starts with the same letter as in the original, but there is a possibility to take words with another initial letter, to at least partially keep this poetic feature and meaning.
    For example:
    gedenke deiner, das Gedächtnis gebe ich weiter
    es wandert von den einen zu den anderen
    ich verschönere, verbessere, Verrat

    In this case, in one verse there is the beginning letter “g”, and in the third verse there is “v” instead of “p”; however, in both verses the meaning an significance of the original are kept. Additional words in the first verse are necessary in German. The verse between them is longer than in the original, but it is nothing unusual and wrong when poetry is translated; sometimes it is necessary, and in this case there is even poetic melody and sonority (weiter of the previous verse matches wandert), and the meaning and significance remain true to the original. Of course, the added words “es wandert” can be omitted, and von den einen zu den anderen can remain; however, I think that the longer version in German sounds better.
    Of course the parallel предавам – предавство of the first and third verse of the original should be kept. One possibility would be that instead of Verrat one uses vergeblich, vergebens which contains and therefore sounds like gebe (weiter) of the first verse; however, this word has a different meaning – in vain. Anyway, the translator has to decide on one solution, whether she will keep the style or the meaning. The decision is of course one and it is made according to the method: which one sounds better and corresponds to the original. A solution with vergebens is maybe better, since the words in close in its meaning and this solution would also correspond to the Macedonian original since предавам and предавство in the poem also have a different meaning:
    gedenke deiner, das Gedächtnis gebe ich weiter
    es wandert von den einen zu den anderen
    ich verschönere, verbessere, vergebens

5. Conclusion

The analysis of the translation and translatability, i.e. the overview of part of the issues of translation has shown that these are seriously poor translations and unfortunately the translator Ulrike Draesner does not master this work at all. Not only did she misunderstand the Macedonian original, but the German expressions are also filled with grammar and stylistic mistakes and shortcomings. I would therefore like to stress that this is all  defeating and misfortunate for the wonderful poetry of Katica Kulavkova. Unfortunately, these translations will in case raise interest with the German readers in this poetess's verses, since this is not her poetry at all.
    As an addition to this essay, here is a full German translation of the poem Chronos [1], as it would be acceptable and fitting Katica Kulavkova's original.

– беседа –

1. Ѓаволски склоп

Јадеш, лапаш, грицкаш, голташ
секогаш гладен, засекогаш страдно
зјапаш. Твојот апсолут е несфатлив.

Овде сум на една топка-вртелешка
горделива, среброљубива, властољубива
се обидувам, не без напор, да те сфатам!

Приказни смислувам, митови, стории
за да те кажам: те именувам, ти се обраќам
и те сликам, те олицетворувам, те отелотворувам
и, да признаам, сè што сум напишал досега
до тебе обраќање е:
       веслање по вода, воздух, етер, земја
       учење на твојот јазик
       следење на твојот пат.

Пат, а пак
те делам, те двојам, те цепкам
кратам, сечам, шкопам, кастрам
се подлажувам - те држам в раце!
те сместувам во книги
те памтам, памтењето го предавам
од едни на други
поправки правам, предавство
знаци, севозможни форми
за да ми кажеш по нешто, па сепак
те немам!


1. Teuflischer Zusammenhang

Du isst, schlingst, nagst, schluckst
immer hungrig, für immer bettelnd
glotzend. Dein Absolutes ist unbegreiflich.

Hier bin ich auf einem Karussell-Ball
selbstgefällig, goldgierig, machtgierig,
versuche, nicht ohne Mühe, dich zu begreifen!

Geschichten, Mythen, Historien denke ich mir aus
um dich zu benennen: ich gebe dir Namen, wende mich an dich,
gestalte dein Abbild, dein Spiegelbild, deine Verkörperung
und gestehe, alles bisher von mir Geschriebene
wendet sich an dich:
    auf Wasser, Luft, Äther, Erde rudern
    deine Sprache lernen
    deinem Weg folgen.

Der Weg, sogar wenn
ich dich teile, dich spalte, dich zerreiße
kürze, kappe, schneide, aufschlitze
rede ich mir ein –  dich in den Händen zu halten!
ich bringe dich in Bücher ein
gedenke deiner, dieses Gedächtnis gebe ich weiter
es wandert von den einen zu den anderen
ich verschönere, verbessere, vergebens  
Zeichen, allerlei Formen
damit du mir irgendwas sagst, trotzdem
habe ich dich nicht!

Essay in German available at SlovoKult web site:

Translated by: Elizabeta Bakovska

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