Translator's notes

Night

By Wojciech Bonowicz

Conveniently for our discussion of Bonowicz’s poem on the MPT website, I can quote the poet himself. Bonowicz was once asked to talk about ‘Night,’ and the conversation is recorded in the collection of 26 ‘poem-pictures’ called Dismantling.  

Talking about the title, the poet says, among other things, ‘Night is a time of mystery, of mysterious processes. It’s a time when I go through something, but I don’t know exactly what it is.’ To me, this not-knowing, this groping for something, is enacted by the poem’s lineation, and I wanted to recreate it. I remember I couldn’t make up my mind: should I imitate the original by placing the pairs of verbs and adjectives (lines 4, 10 and 14) without any comma or conjunction, or not. Because I decided on ‘defenceless and resigned’ as well as ‘fidget or use,’ I inserted the comma between ‘look around, search.’ Thus the English version is probably clearer, the groping more rational than intuitive.

My decision was partly guided by the weight of the individual lines. Polish words tend to be twice, three times longer than English ones. Moreover, Polish has no articles. Look at the first line/word: ‘Wiersz’ and then at ‘The poem.’ Or at the line opening the last stanza: ‘W końcu wiersz’ – ‘In the end the poem.’ The Polish lines have a syntactic and phonetic hardness to them, which is important, given what Bonowicz says about writing poems, this poem in particular: ‘suddenly “something” engulfs you, encloses you within itself. You feel closed inside “something,” which is formless, but at the same time “hard”.’

Bonowicz explains that this poem started with ‘the images of closing/opening.’ I’m glad the translation helped me to foreground the concept/word ‘inside’ (lines 2, 13, 21). What’s more, instead of the literal ‘You sit in the corner of the stone’ (the phrase that appears in the penultimate stanza as well), I chose ‘You sit cornered in the stone’ – to make the line ‘harder,’ but also to take advantage of the English phrase in order to covey: solitude, dead-end, punishment, ostracism…

When I compare my earlier drafts, I can see that I considered using the future tense in the penultimate stanza, where the sitting ‘in the corner of the stone’ is brightened by the occasional glint of hope. The Polish verb ‘zaświeci’ indicates the future, but it’s qualified by the frequency adverb ‘czasem’ (at times). I decided to keep the future tense only for the last stanza – to reinforce the image of opening. The final alliteration the English allows, ‘that will begin to breathe,’ refers us to birth more directly than the Polish original. The poem is born.
‘The poem achieves its autonomy in the process of creation,’ suggests Bonowicz and he continues: ‘The reader enriches the poem with the meanings its author didn’t intend or notice. The author doesn’t see a lot of things, even though they can see themselves. Therefore I’m waiting for reviews, for new voices, for what others can find in the poem, for what they can add or write in.’

MPT readers are most welcome to ‘write in’ their voices now.

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