"River" by Carol Ann Duffy. A creative translation.


River At the turn of the river the language changes, a different babble, even a different name for the same river. Water crosses the border, translates itself, but words stumble, fall back, and there, nailed to a tree, is proof. A sign. in new language brash on a tree. A bird, not seen before, singing on a branch. A woman on the path by the river, repeating a strange sound to clue the bird’s song and ask for its name, after. She kneels for a red flower, picks it, later will press it carefully between the pages of a book. What would it mean to you if you could be with her there, dangling your own hands in the water where blue and silver fish dart away over stone, stoon, stein, like the meanings of things, vanish? She feels she is somewhere else, intensely, simply because of words; sings loudly in nonsense, smiling, smiling. If you were really there what would you write on a postcard, or on the sand, near where the river runs into the sea?

Reflections on a translation experience: River by Carol Ann Duffy 


I have produced a piece where some of the different stages of my translation process can be seen. I think it is important to make that process visible. 


My piece is also the result of engaging with the poem that resulted of a previous translation of Duffy’s text. I benefitted from its departure from the original. I received not only a translation with it, but a space and a model for freedom. I actualise that space by exercising my own freedom in response. 


Both the subject matter and the process of translation fuse in this piece. The presence of the river in its various forms (image, sound, words) is a suitable one to bear both the weight of the free translation and its representation. 


I take my steps into the material noticing my acts of approximation. I read aloud, I copy Duffy’s poem, I mark the words that anchor my relationship with the texts and that serve as well as a propeller that helps me to travel into my own texts. 


The reflective quality of the poem is picked up by the transitions between images, and in the appearance and disappearance of text from the screen. I feel that presence and absence of text as a good representation of the search that every experience of translation I have had brings with it.  


The river is a continuum of still photos that, strung together, give an impression of movement and transformation. This is also part of the concrete dimension of the text, but at the same time a representation of what is ineffable about it. The shifting from concrete nouns to more abstract considerations about language and meaning in the poems and the loss in between, are portrayed visually as well.  


In listening to the voices in the poems I found my own. This made me loose the “protection” of the points of departure. I noticed the loneliness and vulnerability. In the end, the multiple layers that structure my translation can be read as a necessary solution to populate that lonely space of freedom. The collage-like construction of the translation seemed to me the best way to communicate my experience as a reader, and to express my understanding of the texts.  


I like that I could relate my reading to a concrete experience of a particular river that I had happened to photograph. The images are the link between the concrete reality of a river and the abstract quality of its detail, when looking closely. This was also my experience of the texts. That hybrid quality of concrete versus abstract, of real versus hypothetical, of description of something external versus the text coming closer to me with prodding questions. 


I understand there is a connection of this process of translation and working with texts and my teaching practice. There is a common ground, and interplay of rationality and emotion. With translation as well as with teaching we create experiences, we craft and stage acts of communication. We perform according to a certain script, but not to the letter because we need flexibility, adaptability, a special antenna that picks up and responds to subtle changes in meaning for translation, in class dynamics for teaching.  


To finish, I gave a concrete name of a river to the poem, because it was this particular river that came to me when reading the texts. The writing on the screen changes from black to white, but with hesitation in the English version, because that is not yet the final destination, where everything is resolved. That only happens as we move into the Spanish translation and finally to the voice that reads that final version. Then, the sound of the river and the sound of the voice come together as if in a meeting point which, as a translator, I have to find, invent, build… it is never given. 


Popular Posts