Blesok no. 31, March-April, 2003

Blaže Koneski as Translator and Record Taker of Texts

Žarko Kujundžiski

     A group of theorists, philosophers and linguists, starting from the belief of Wilhelm Humboldt that language is an expression of the national spirit and that, existing itself on the principle of thinking it objectivizes those deep and essential differences that are present in the spiritual world of certain nations, support a theory that the translation is in principle an impossible undertaking. Indeed, if one insists that a piece of literature can fully adequately, “innocently” fit in another language clothes, it is obvious that this is a demand impossible to fulfill. Translation is not a mechanical act, translation does not only mean a group of rules, but in itself it carries a powerful creative incisiveness and we will only look at it as creativity, co-creativeness. Still, we do not support the ultimate thesis of “improving” translations given, for example, by the Czech theorist Jerzy Levi.
     In his 1923 text “The Task of Translator” Walter Benjamin says: “The translation, instead of being similar in its meaning to the original, must, on the contrary, with love and in detail in its language, build the way of thinking of the original, making in this way both the original and the translation recognizable.”
     We should also not forget what George Mounon, a French theorist of translation and linguist of international reputation says: “No theory of translation can give the translator his talent. It can only teach him to analyze the exact linguistic nature of the difficulties that he encounters in the lexicography, syntax, style” (“Теоријата на преводот овозможува појасно согледување на проблемите” in: “Огледало”, no. 74-75, p. 4).
     The name of Blaže Koneski is related to translations in various ways. Not only that he worked on specific texts, which is the main interest in this paper, but in several occasions he also was a theorist of this activity.
[1] Besides this, a significant part of his poetic heritage has been translated in a significant number of international languages, which is one of the ways of intercultural encounter. “Translation is one of the instances via which the inter-literary communication act of the Macedonian literature with other literatures takes place, and a first sign of getting out of the semi-anonymity and narrow national frames” (Лидија Капушевска-Дракулевска, Поетика на несознајното, p. 114).
     Somewhere in 1948, Blaže Koneski concluded that “our language is mostly shaped in the furnace of translation”. Therefore, it can be clearly concluded that translation can not be reviewed individually, but it is in a close connection with the issue of the language.
     Immediately after World War II and the codification of the Macedonian language and alphabet, our standard language develops precisely via translation through some functional (popular) styles. This imposed the issue of adjusting Macedonian terminology in some areas. Then, via the translation literature, there was a big progress in the application of the Macedonian language in various areas of life. What in our context was an effort to create Macedonian poetry and prose, also found its analogous support in what was adopted by translation of other nations. The main difficulty in this process was that the vocabulary of our standard language was to be shaped. It was necessary to activate a big, new, lexical material, it was necessary to move towards new stylistic synthesis and in a short term develop the language.
     Blaže Koneski used and mastered material in a big number of languages and in the course of his life translated from various languages. Because of the space/time economy here we will not deal with all of his translations, because there are many of them, but we will mainly look into the technique and philosophical scheme of his translation activity, using some most indicative examples.
     Working as a language instructor at the Macedonian National Theatre, immediately after World War II, Koneski was given the task to translate from Russian the play Platon Krecat, that opened the Macedonian National Theatre on 3 April, 1945. Because some Russian pieces were “in” then, Blaže Koneski worked on several more texts such as Zoja Kosmodemyanskaya by Margarita Aliger (Koneski translated the verses, and Kiro Hadživalisev the other part). Later, for the needs for MNT (in 1951, that is, 1954) Blaže Koneski started the translation of Twelfth Night and Othello by William Shakespeare (using the Russian translation, but also Bulgarian, Croatian, German, and din the other printed editions he also consulted the English originals).
     Besides the translation of the Old Slavic language (Tikveš Collection), in the translation “file” of Blaže Koneski, there are also other translations of short plays, prose (Ivo Andrić – New Short Stories, Vjekoslav Kaleb – The Brigade) and popular literature, but still his basic translating preoccupation is poetry.
     He was translating poetry from German (poems by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, Friedrich Hölderlin, Heinrich Heine), from Russian (poems by Alexandr Block, Valerij Brjusov, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Eduard Bagritzki, Leonid Martinov, Surkov), from Serbo-Croatian language (Gorski Venac and other texts by Petar Petrović Njegoš, then poems by Desanka Maksimović), from Czech (Karel Jaromir Erben, Karel Hinek Maha, Jan Neruda, Petar Bezruch, Jirzy Wolker, Viteslav Nezval), from Polish (Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Słowacki, Zigmunt Krasinjski, Kazimjezh Psherva-Tetmaer, Leopold Staff, Julian Tuwim, Tadeusz Różewicz), Slovenian (France Prešern), and Bulgarian (Lazar Pop Trajkov, N.J. Vapcarov).
     Some of these translations are master pieces and lasting models for the translators to Macedonian. Here, there is a special place for “Lyric Intermezzo” by Heine, Gorski Vjenac by Njegoš, then the works of Shakespeare, Block, Prešern…
     It is interesting that in several collections of poems by Blaže Koneski, besides his original verses, there are also his translations. In Nebesna reka, in the cycle “Mourning” there are five poems by five German classics. In his last collection of poems Black Ram under the title “Messages from East” we can also read the titles of four poems coming from the Far East. In Collected Works the poems and translations of Koneski have the same treatment as his other verses.
     The response to the questions why this is so will clear up many misunderstandings that occur not only about the topic of this essay, but also about the phenomenon of translating poetry in general.
     Because of the prosodial limitations that are set to the poetic speech, translation or poetry seems impossible. In the beginning, we have already stated the thesis that says that translation is almost impossible. However, there is another thing we must not miss, and it is that in all of human experience the need and desire to express in one’s own words (read: in one’s own language) an important art message, primarily given in a foreign language was always present.
     In the process, except for the transmission of the contents from one language to another, the translation also has an interpreting, hermeneutic note. Roland Bartes also said that translation is a creation of a new text and in itself it implies an act of interpretation. Therefore, the idea of a “pure” translation has long ago been discarded.
     Blaže Koneski stands for a more liberal approach to the translation activity. It is obvious that in every translation he tried to create a text that would sound valid in our language. Therefore, the translation motto of “Nebregovo genius” is the following: only poetry can be the equivalent of poetry!

     In many translations, it happened so that Koneski drove away from some formal characteristics of the original. For example, he would select a meter different than the original, or he would decide to partially move away from what is usually called prosodial structure of the original. However, his main objective was to create the impression, to achieve such an experiencing of the text, as the reader had in his encounter with the original (if he knows the language of the original). For Blaže Koneski this was the equivalent of poetry. Without it, there would be no successful translation. In that case one should not translate.
     But for Koneski the original is not untouchable, sacrosantial, in a narrow, pedantic sense. We can see this: in order to achieve an optimal emotional impression about the text that he was translating, he approached the original very freely. Therefore, the prejudices about the so called preciseness of the translation should be removed. But, when there is a poetic translation, one should also take into consideration some conditionalities without which one could not expect that, in our language, a poetic equivalent can be obtained in the place of the original. Of course, this does not mean that “one should betray the message of the original” (Koneski). In principle, the very transferring of one matter from one to another language already makes the feeling of a hundred percent adequate impossible.
     But, there are historical cases when translating foreign poets or prose writers, the translator has literary created adequate poetry or prose in his mother tongue. This is the case with E. A. Poe, translated by Charles Baudelaire, then with W. Shakespeare in German, with N. V. Gogol translated in French by Prosper Merime, and also with Homer’s Iliad translated by Leconge de Lille… The translation of Gorski Vjenac, for example, could be placed in this long list. With our Blaže Koneski it sounds as if it was written in Macedonian. Koneski did not try to make a translation of a modern poetic expression. On the contrary. Adopting elements of the folk tradition, he tried to give a certain “patina” to his language: he used the decameter, metaphors of the epic folk poetry, archaic style… Therefore, there are deviations of the modern linguistic form in his translation.
     A moment appears that is worth mentioning. There is a duality revealing in the omnitalented character of Blaže Koneski. It is almost impossible to distinguish whether he is a poet-translator or a translator-poet. It is this relation that is decisive for his attitude towards the translation in general. Of course, the one who is not a poet can also translate. This is also a fact. There are for example, excellent translators who have never written original texts, but still, my personal view is that the poets-translators (there are different rules in prose) are one step before the non-poets-translators. Here is one ordinary example: the discovery of the meters that fit a language. It can first appear with a poet who is active, that is, in his personal practice, and only then it can be transferred to his translations. The amphibrach that the poet Blaže Koneski first uses in “Teškoto” are later consciously transferred and adapted in the poem Lokvata i vinjari by Lazar Poptrajkov. This meter fits our poetic language and it contributes that the poem sounds richer than in the original itself!
     Blaže Koneski himself testifies about the relation poet-translator: “Intimately, I have never separated translation from writing my poetic texts. These two are closely connected in a single experience, and from it comes that at some moment the work on translation could prepare the new stages in the original poetry”.
     There has to be creative impulse for a good result.
     The American poetess Dajana Vakovsky says: “Today writing average original poetry is valued more than creating poetic translations with high artistic values… Translating, and especially translating poetry is one of the hardest tasks in literature… I have always felt immense respect for those poets who found enough courage in themselves and directed part of their creative genius towards translating poetry” (“Почит кон поетите преведувачи” in: “Огледало”, no. 74-75, p. 3).
     It is in poetry translation that Blaže Koneski has rich experience. Once, he even said that he felt what can be called the sweetness of one’s mother tongue especially when some translations were successful.
     Here lies the solution of the riddle, why Blaže Koneski also put his translations in his poetry collections. The answer is clear: with him, the act of translation is raised to the level of creation.
     This maximum freedom in translation is also found in the cycle of poems “Messages from the East”, where there is not meta-textual mark (in the title of the book, or the title of the cycle) that they are translations. Because of this presentation, the reader is confused from the beginning and he wonders what this is about, author’s translations or author’s poems. Only the adaptations of the poems “Rhinoceros” by Gotama Buddha and “Dance of Eunuchs” by Camalah Das are given with the names of the original authors, although here there are also additional indications that these are not common translations but free adaptations, versions and variations. The fact that these “translations” are actually (free) creative adaptations, is literally stressed in the case of the poem “Cry for the City of Ur” in whose subtitle it is stated that this is a poetry written “according to a Sumerian lamentation”, and in a note at the end of the text, that the original text has 436 lines and that the adaptation of Blaže Koneski has only 83 lines. Besides this, the name of the author of the original “Cry…”, Apil-Sumugan, is not mentioned at the beginning of the poem, but rather in the note only. There is a similar case with the Tibetan prayer “Calling of the Souls”. We see that these translations of Blaže Koneski deviate from the usual idea of translation. They are not only creative transpositions of the originals in the world of language and culture of the translator, they do not only contain simple creative mistakes necessary to achieve semantic and stylistic analogy between the original and translation, but they contain something more than it (К. Ќулавкова, “Интертекстуални аспекти на поетиката на Блаже Конески”, p. 6). It can be said that Blaže Koneski used the texts only as a bouncing board and via his poetic generator they accumulated completely different verse products. Moving away from the translation, they moved towards lyrics, typical for Blaže Koneski, and stopped half way belonging both here and there.
     This transfer of the message/text in the oral tradition is called traveling motif. Namely, the motifs in one environment are transferred to another and there is less of a demand fro some originality (the noun, in a time when “we live other people’s lives” we are allowed to make fun of), and more to explore the ways how, by means of one’s own languages, to express some contents better, maybe already known as a motif that was transferred from one nation to another. And of course, nobody asks the question of originality. In the oral tradition, for example, we have translation or recording of the messages. The message obtains a new linguistic expression, a new code. A new variant is developed on a given motif, contents. In the Macedonian context, the most typical example is found in the book “Miracles of Holy Mary” by Joakim Krčovski, where there are stories found in “Pančatantra” (Blaže Koneski in Conversations with Koneski, p. 413).
     In the written literature, depending on the era, practices are slightly different. There are eras that do not pay so much attention to the authorship, but there are also others that go as far as disintegration in this respect. It starts with capitalism. Since then, there has been an insistence on the originality, there is under-appreciation of the one who borrows something, and it is forgotten, that the complete work of William Shakespeare is based on these “borrowings”.
     In the work of Blaže Koneski we can recognize a virtuous stylist. The translator might have execellent knowledge of the language of the original and use it practically, speak it, write in it. He can know his own language in the same respect. But if he is not a stylist he will never be able to discover the values of the literary text, something that functions as an unavoidable motto in Blaže Koneski’s poetry translations.
     As many other theorists and translators, Blaže Koneski also thinks that, technically, the work of the translator is more difficult than the one of the author. His choice is limited by certain parameters imposed by the original. On the other hand, the author is freer in his choice.
     By all means, with respect to the individuality of the translator, the comparison with the performing arts is imposed. When a music piece is played, for example, every performing artist brings in it something of his temperament, his feeling, and some interpretations sound more suggestive and more attractive. Everything depends on the master.
     The success of a work in a foreign cultural environment depends, of course, on whether it has been translated at all, but if the translation is bad, the chances of success are even worse. The most important is the transplantation of the work. It is the same as the grafting in botanic or transplantations in surgery. Both the material, time and place should match.
     The problem of literary translations was posed as early as the J. V. Goethe in his essay Poetry and Truth where opposite to the romantic theory according to which poetry is untranslatable, it is claimed that “poetry is what remains in a translated poem”. It is a problem of poetic thought. Namely, it is not the essence, but the force of the word that is the most important. Of course, this view does not go against philology, but I want to stress that philology in itself is not enough. “So, says the French translator Henri Mechonique, what is necessary is philology plus poetics, that is, the literary translation should itself become literature, rather than be only a passive transfer from one language to another” (“Преведувањето е поетика, а не филологија” in: “Огледало”, no. 57, p. 3). It is superficial to look for a hundred percent adequacy with the original. This view is evaluated as “primitive” by Blaže Koneski, because, as a matter of fact, it is not possible.
     What more can be said in conclusion but the fact that in Blaže Koneski’s translations his poetic poetics is felt strongly, as well as his strong and individual potency, which does not suppress the original but on the contrary, transfers it matching, transforms it, “copies” it, as if it was written in Macedonian.
     Another poet-translator, A.S. Pushkin is Koneski’s ally in this. He says: “If the poet was free in creation, should I, his translator, be a slave? Freedom is not translated with obedience, and least of all with subduing” (“Преводот…” in: “Огледало”, no. 66, p. 2).

Цане Андреевски, Разговори со Конески. “Култура”, Скопје, 1991;
Валтер Бенјамин, “Задачата на преведувачот”;
Дајана Ваковски, “Почит кон поетите преведувачи” ин: “Огледало”, број 74-75, Скопје, март-април 2002;
Лидија Капушевска-Дракулевска, Поетика на несознајното, “Магор”, Скопје, 2001;
Блаже Конески, Собрани дела, “Култура”, Скопје, 1990;
Анри Мешоник, “Преведувањето е поетика, а не филологија” ин: “Огледало”, број 57, Скопје, ноември 2000 година;
Жорж Мунен, “Теоријата на преводот овозможува појасно согледување на проблемите” ин: “Огледало”, број 74-75, Скопје, март-април 2002;
А.С. Пушкин, “Преводот…” ин: “Огледало”, број 66,, Скопје, 31 јули 2001 година;
Катица Ќулавкова, “Интертекстуални аспекти на поетиката на Блаже Конески”.


1. “On Poetic Translation”, “Comment on the Translation of Lazar Pop Trajkov’s Poem”, former unpublished essays, reviews of some of the first translation of literary texts in Macedonian, Published in “Nov den”…

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