Un grande temporale
per tutto il pomeriggio si è attorcigliato
sui tetti prima di rompere in lampi, acqua.
Fissavo versi di cemento e di vetro
dov’erano grida e piaghe murate e membra
anche di me, cui sopravvivo. Con cautela, guardando
ora i tegoli battagliati ora la pagina secca,
la parola d’un poeta o mutarsi
in altra, non per noi più, voce. Gli oppressi
sono oppressi e tranquilli, gli oppressori tranquilli
parlano nei telefoni, l’odio è cortese, io stesso
credo di non sapere più di chi è la colpa.
Scrivi mi dico, odia
chi con dolcezza guida al niente
gli uomini e le donne che con te si accompagnano
e credono di non sapere. Fra quelli dei nemici
scrivi anche il tuo nome. Il temporale
è sparito con enfasi. La natura
per imitare le battaglie è troppo debole. La poesia
non muta nulla. Nulla è sicuro, ma scrivi.
A tremendous storm
all through the afternoon twisted round
the rooftops before breaking out in lightning, water.
I stared at verses of cement and of glass
in which lay cries and wounds walled and appendages
mine too, which I’ve survived. Carefully, observing
now the pummelled shingles and then the dry page,
I listened to the dying
word of a poet or its transformation
into some other, for us no more, voice. The oppressed
are oppressed and serene, the serene oppressors
speak on phones, the hatred is courteous, I too
believe I no longer know who’s to blame.
Write, I say to myself, hate
those who gently to that oblivion lead
the men and women who go with you
and believe they also do not know. Among the names
of the enemies, write your name too. The storm
has gone out in a flash. Nature
is not strong enough to imitate the struggle. Poetry
changes nothing. Nothing is sure, but write.
Translation ©Matilda Colarossi 2019
In the poem, “Traducendo Brecht” (1959), outside, the storm distracts the poet, who is translating Brecht. He looks at the rooftops and then the page where the “cries and wounds” of the oppressed lie trapped within the words, like his own pain, which he survives. As he looks from the storm to the “dry page”, Brecht’s words change, from cement and glass (strong and clear), and die. They are no longer contemporary; that time is distant; and today the oppressors and the oppressed live side by side, serenely. They are no longer at war. All that remains is a courteous hatred. And the author too has lost his sense of that struggle, and in doing so, he too has become an enemy of the oppressed (“write your name too“). He was led, like those who accompany him, to oblivion, to the place where his perception of the facts is placated, but an inner voice awakes in him and drives him forward (Nothing is sure, but write)! There is also a hint of the eternal debate of the role of poetry: must literature, too, strive for a better world? In a concise language made of simple words and syntax, the rhythm is quick. The metaphors (storm/twisted, wounds/walled), the repetition (the oppressed/the oppressors) and the juxtaposition (oppressors/oppressed) reinforce the tension with hints of irony (hatred…courteous). The imperative form underlines the thoughts of the poet/translator.
“An die Nachgeborenen“, 1939, was translated by Fortini and Leiser in 1959. The winds of war were strong, the battle raging. When Fortini translated the poem, however, Brecht’s hope for change was a thing of the past. The war had ravaged and passed. The present was a world of oppressed and oppressors who lived together serenely, led gently by others to forget.
Please find below three verses from the poem by Bertolt Brecht; the Italian translation by Fortini/Leiser; and the English, translation by John Willett, Ralph Manheim & Erich Fried:
|Wirklich, ich lebe in finsteren Zeiten!
Das arglose Wort ist töricht. Eine glatte Stirn
Deutet auf Unempfindlichkeit hin. Der Lachende
Hat die furchtbare Nachricht
Nur noch nicht empfangen.
Was sind das für Zeiten, wo
Ein Gespräch über Bäume fast ein Verbrechen ist
Weil es ein Schweigen über so viele Untaten einschließt!
Der dort ruhig über die Straße geht
Ist wohl nicht mehr erreichbar für seine Freunde
Die in Not sind?
Die Straßen führten in den Sumpf zu meiner Zeit.
Die Sprache verriet mich dem Schlächter.
Ich vermochte nur wenig. Aber die Herrschenden
Saßen ohne mich sicherer, das hoffte ich.
So verging meine Zeit
Die auf Erden mir gegeben war.
|Davvero, vivo in tempi bui!
La parola innocente è stolta. Una fronte distesa
vuol dire insensibilità. Chi ride,
la notizia atroce
non l’ha saputa ancora.
Quali tempi sono questi, quando
discorrere d’alberi è quasi un delitto,
perchè su troppe stragi comporta silenzio!
E l’uomo che ora traversa tranquillo la via
mai più potranno raggiungerlo dunque gli amici
che sono nell’affanno?
Al mio tempo le strade si perdevano nella palude.
La parola mi tradiva al carnefice.
Poco era in mio potere. Ma i potenti
posavano più sicuri senza di me; o lo speravo.
Così il tempo passò
che sulla terra m’era stato dato.
|Truly, I live in dark times!
The guileless word is folly. A smooth forehead
Suggests insensitivity. The man who laughs
Has simply not yet had
The terrible news.
What kind of times are they, when
A talk about trees is almost a crime
Because it implies silence about so many horrors?
That man there calmly crossing the street
Is already perhaps beyond the reach of his friends
Who are in need?
All roads led into the mire in my time.
My tongue betrayed me to the butchers.
There was little I could do. But those in power
Sat safer without me: that was my hope.
So passed my time
Which had been given to me on earth.
Links to the works:
Bertolt Brecht, A coloro che verranno in the collection Poesie e canzoni, R. Leiser and F. Fortini, Einaudi, Torino, 1959
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.