Blesok no. 92, September-October, 2013
The Tears of the Volcano
I found out about him after an unusual event which was reported in newspapers all over the world last year. The city near the little town where I live is situated on the slopes of a volcano, which some scientists considered dormant, others – even extinct. The volcano has not erupted for centuries, perhaps even millennia. Almost everything that may have been reminiscent of an active volcano in some distant past was now covered with soil and vegetation. Only scarce fissures in the large green precinct, fissures composed of barren rock, substantiated the existence of hot lava thousands of years ago; they were mainly located around the now barely recognizable crater, whose crust, in the largest part, succumbed to the growth of grass and bushes. Several weeks before the strange event, the city on the slopes of the dormant volcano, as well as all other nearby towns and villages began to worry because an acute smell of sulphur dioxide started spreading from the direction of the old crater; the rocks were trembling, the smell was becoming increasingly sharper, and in the last few days black smoke was soaring in the sky.
Scientists from all over the world came to see and examine this unexpected and ominous miracle, for this was no longer considered to be a volcano, not even a dormant one, but rather, a mountain that – and now there it was: the mountain has turned back into a volcano. Evacuation was planned, but no one rushed too much with it because no one believed that the lava could soon penetrate the rocks, stones and soil deposited for so long after the death of the volcano. And suddenly, before the evacuation even began, it happened – the event that was reported in the newspapers; the event that made me start my research.
The whole volcano was raging so powerfully that the houses and buildings of the city quivered left and right, ready at any moment to tumble down the slope and roll as if they are engulfed by avalanche, the air heated up, the smell of the elements composing the molten rock, ash and gases that extruded from the magma chamber below became not only unbearable, but also poisonous. The sizzling lava erupted through the volcanic vent, stayed in the air for a second or two, then with remarkable speed set off to surmount the green precinct from the top of the crater towards the base of the mountain. On its way, however, not long after erupting, before it reached the city, the lava transmuted into water, and continued to flow down in this new form. It was the most incredible sight ever seen – I know, because I saw it on TV; the residents of the city and the scientists who came witnessed it alive. It was an unprecedented and seemingly unexplainable miracle. The quivering stopped, the stench disappeared, the water ceased to flow. The small amount that reached the city was touched first by only the most courageous ones, and when it was discovered that is just ordinary salt water, many filled their bottles with it, believing it had healing powers. When the scientists took samples and examined the water more closely, they discovered that it had no magic powers whatsoever, but had another strange characteristic: it was not, after all, just ordinary salt water, but had elements that indicated the fact that the volcanic liquid has the same composition as human tears.
Each citizen had his or her own interpretation about how and why this happened. The scientists were completely taken aback because it was truly difficult to find an explanation for this phenomenon, but they continued their analyses and offered a few theories that may be considered plausible. One of them seemed a bit less plausible than the others, but for no apparent reason it seemed most credible to me, so I took it as a starting point in my investigation into what had happened. It was out of pure curiosity that I started my research, and this is what I found out about him and about the event he caused:
In his youth he was in love with poets and prose writers, he read incessantly in his home and was capable of not leaving his room for days. His room was filled mostly with notebooks and there were a few books as well, but not too many, because the books were not his – they were borrowed from all the libraries that existed in his town, so he had to return a few when he took a few new ones. He therefore transcribed poems, stories, even whole epics and novels in his notebooks, so he could have them beside himself all the time. When he grew up, his brother sent him to a big city, a city situated on the slopes of a mountain, to finish some practical job for him related to trading shoes. While he was trying to finish this practical job, he had to rent a small flat, and stayed there never turning on the lights in order to save money, with no radio and no television in order not to disturb his neighbours, and again with many books, taking them from the libraries of the big city. Since there were more books here, in the big city, he decided to try to make a living here. He worked hard day and night and managed to earn enough money to be able to pay his electricity bills, and also bought radio and television, although he never really used them. After the books, his greatest pleasure was to observe the nearby mountain from his window; by looking at the mountain, his work seemed easier and more simply performable, and time went by faster.
Reading so many books and learning so many languages from them, translation became his greatest desire. He strongly desired to become a knight of the reaching of stars – books he attempted to transfer from one sky onto another, from the sky of their original language to the sky of his own, secondary, language. He was making attempts for many years. But he always failed. Whenever he looked at his translation after he had finished writing, he realised that his translation is not faithful to the original. Instead of imitating and faithfully reproducing its source, the translation was becoming a new deed, a new work, and such a work it was that the original itself could envy it. The translator did not know whether he should be proud of his new original work or desperate that he did not manage to convey the source work in his own language. In accordance with his character, he was more inclined to the latter – for this was his personality: he tried to defeat his vanity and emphasise his modesty. That is why he was never proud, but always tried to restructure his translations so that they become a secondary copy of the books he loved so much. But it was all in vain. Seriousness in the works of the authors that he so infinitely revered assumed a more solemn and dignified tone in his translations, the humorous situations became much funnier, the wine had a more familiar taste, the stinging in the original turned into envy in the translation, the deep delight became overwhelming tempests. What could happen in the source text, in the translation was capable of happening, the mouth transformed into a jaw, pain into languish, while honeydew doubled into honeydew and milk. The queens in the translation had a more dignified walk, the rebels were more luminous and more glorious, the mothers – more humane, the wind – mightier. And every time he looked at his text, he saw: a text that resembles the one that was being translated, and yet, not quite the same; and every time he tried to bring it closer to the original, he in fact distanced it even further apart and made it more dissimilar, more unique, more independent than any translation that existed until then. And what he did not know – he made it more exalted, more sonorous, more daring.
Not knowing this, however, he despaired over his unsuccessful translating attempts. While he despaired, the mountain he saw from his window was shrinking before his eyes, shrivelled, minimised so much that it could no longer provide pleasure to him as it used to, for he was discouraged by his failing attempts. He did not know that the dead authors of poems, epics, plays and novels read his imitations and tailored their works to make them correspond with the meaning that he bestowed upon them. Their works changed, metamorphosed, words in them vanished and new ones appeared, the sentences transmuted into new rows of voices and new meanings extruded from them.
One day the unsuccessful translator came across a novel that he especially admired. After reading it, he reread it many times, slept with it, ate with it, worked with it – and it was constantly on his mind. He was resolved: I will make a translation of this work that will be entirely faithful to the original so that not the slightest piece of its remarkable meaning is lost; I must not fail since it would be a great loss for my fellow citizens if they do not get a chance to read this work in its most faithful copy. The novel discussed the lives of several people who lived in a city that was situated on the slopes of a dormant volcano, now threatening to come back to life. He worked sedulously for many months, day and night, to resuscitate (in his translation) the dormant volcano. And he truly resuscitated it: a smell of sulphur dioxide started spreading from the paper on which he wrote, the rocks quivered more frequently, black smoke soared in the sky from the direction of the crater. But the unbearable stench in the original became stronger in the translation, the quivering was more violent, the molten rocks extruding from the vent were hotter, and the black smoke in the translation extended faster and more menacingly than in the original. The lava extruded more vigorously, was fiercer and more crammed with molten rocks and metals from the magma chamber composed of the same elements as the core of the world. When he looked at his translation, he was shocked: he wrote a completely new work, which the original itself desired to emulate. Utterly hopeless, he bended his head, covered it with his hands and wept over his failed attempt. Several tears dropped on the word lava.
Translated by the author