Emil Brumaru–Amnesia

Ooof…long hiatus here, as I took a break to finish off my dissertation…now it’s in the hands of the adviser, and now I’m barely containing my jitters (major revisions are sure to come, and that’s the optimistic scenario). I’m taking a break from .. doing anything, really, and trying to forget, like in this sweet little poem by Brumaru, which teaches us how to forget everything:

de Emil Brumary

dacă iei o portocală
şi-o dezbraci in pielea goală
ca să-i vezi miezul adânc
peste care îngeri plâng
cu căpşune-n loc de ochi
şi aripi de foi de plopi
se întâmplă să uiţi totul…


by Emil Brumary

Take an orange, strip it down
Of its juicy fleshy gown
Look into its core so deep
Over which the angels weep
Strawberries for eyes and sleeves
And its wings of poplar leaves
That’s how you forget everything.

Emil Brumaru–Elegy

I salivated all through the intense labor of translating this poem. I hope you will, too! Lots of linguistic treasons, unfortunately, which is why I’ve included at the end, a very literal translation which will reveal exactly how much I’ve played in order to preserve the rhythm and rhyme. No small feat, especially with such suave, subtle nuances–which end in a Kantian reference, for good measure! I did agonize over the use of the German phrase (Das Ding an sich) for "the thing in itself," but 1) the literal English translation cannot be tamed into the iambic cadence of the poem, so it tends to sound bad no matter where I put it; 2) the two phrases are  often used interchangeably, and anyone who understands the reference to "thing in itself" will automatically know the German original; 3) the German phrase gives a much, much better rhythm. There!


O, vechi şi dragi bucătării de vară,
Simt iar în gură gust suav de-amiază
Şi în tristeţea care mă-nconjoară
Din nou copilăria mea visează:
Ienibahar, piper prăjit pe plită,
Peşti groşi ce-au adormit în sos cu lapte,
Curcani păstraţi în zeama lor o noapte
Spre o delicateţe infinită,
Ciuperci cât canapeaua, în dantele,
icre cu bob bălos ce ochiu-şi cască,
Aluaturi tapisate crescând grele
Într-o dobitocie îngerească,
Moi miezuri de ficaţi în butoiaşe
De ou de melc, înlăcrămate dulce,
Mujdeiuri ireale, şunci gingaşe
Când sufletu-n muştar vrea să se culce,
şi-n ceainice vădindu-şi eminenţa
Prin fast de irizări şi toarte fine
Ceaiuri scăzute pînă la esenţa
Trandafirie-a lucrului în sine!

[final version]

O, summer kitchens, cherished, old, and dear,

I taste again the vesper’s dainty snacks,

And in the sadness that surrounds me here,

My childhood dreams again of scrumptious stacks:

Of juniper and peppercorn with bite,

Fat fish that fell asleep in saucy cream,

Whole turkeys marinated overnight

Until their tenderness is quite extreme—

The mushrooms—sofa-sized and dressed in lace,

Fish eggs with slimy grain in their vicinity,
Upholstered doughs which rise with heavy grace,

In an angelic, stupefied bovinity,

Soft liver bits in barreled juicy splendor,
Glazed by the sweetest tears of snail egg custard,

Surreal garlic sauce, and hams so tender

Your soul will want to go to sleep in mustard,

While teapots proudly show through beamy glass

With iridescent pomp, so very slick,

Fine teas boiled down until the very last

And rosy essence of das Ding an sich!

Here’s the literal translation:

O, old and dear summer kitchens

Again I feel the suave taste of the afternoon in my mouth

And in the sadness that surrounds me

My childhood dreams again of

Juniper and peppercorn roasted on the stove

Fat fish that fell asleep in milky sauce

Turkeys kept in their own juices for a night
In order to achieve an infinite delicacy—

Mushrooms as big as the sofa, in lace,

Fish eggs with slimy grain and fixed stare,

Upholstered doughs rising heavily

In an angelic bovinity,
Soft liver cores in tiny barrels
Glazed by sweet tears of snail eggs,
Surreal garlic sauces, tender hams

until your soul wants to go sleep in mustard

And in teapots one can see quite clearly

Through the iridescent  pomp and very fine
Teas boiled down until the very rosy essence
Of the thing in itself!

Emil Brumaru–Verlaine told me

Emil Brumaru writes such bawdy, ribald poetry, it’s hard for a girl to translate it without turning red up to the tip of her ears. After all, it’s hard to translate "pizda" with something other than "(four-letter word that rhymes with punt)." Yet he does it with such sincerely horny tenderness, with such unrestrained and delicate lust, with such gingerly stirring passion, that you can’t help but smile, feel a little liberated, and wish you could express yourself as freely and colorfully as he does.

I’ve decided to tackle a less…let’s say, raw (or direct) poem, and so I chose this one, which is rather sweet. My linguistic treasons will become apparent when you compare the final version (right column) with the literal translation (middle).

Verlaine mi-a spus
by Emil Brumaru

Verlaine mi-a spus în după-amiaza tristă:
"De ce îţi laşi femeia ta frumoasă
Închisă-vis. Un fluture există
Numai o clipă-n vîntul de mătasă.
Tu uiţi mereu că-ntr-un izvor căzută
Căpşuna, de n-o sorbi, lin putrezeşte
Chiar de-i atinsă doar de-un voal de peşte
Portocaliu sau de un bot de ciută.
Fiindcă pe tine-anume te aşteaptă.
Nu-ntîrzia, ci-mbracăte-n veşminte
De in curat şi amîndoi, cuminte,
Iubiţi-vă, cît roua-i înţeleaptă.
Paharul golit laş, pe jumătate,
Rămîne-n veci cu buzele umflate."

Verlaine told me
by Emil Brumaru
(raw version)

Verlaine told me that sad afternoon:
"Why do you leave your beautiful woman
Trapped in a dream. A butterfly exists
Only for a moment in the silky wind.
You keep forgetting that, if fallen into a spring,
The strawberry, if you don’t sip [slurp] it, rots
Even if just the orange veil of a fish touches it,
Or the muzzle of a deer.
Because she’s waiting especially for you,
Don’t be late, get dressed in
Clean linen clothes, and both, sensibly,
Make love, while the dew is still wise [i.e., on].
The glass that’s cowardly half-emptied
Will never get anything in return for its troubles."

Verlaine told me
by Emil Brumaru

Verlaine told me one gloomy afternoon:
“Why do you trap your girl in a cocoon
Of dreams. A butterfly will live
For just a second in the wind’s silk sieve.
A strawberry that falls into a spring
Will slowly molder if touched by the thin
And soft resemblance of an orange fin,
Or maybe by a deer’s nosy swing.
Because it’s only you she’s waiting for,
Delay no more, put on your very best
And purest garb, and in the nest
Of dawn, make love to her—and then some more.
The cowardly half-emptied glass will be
Forever disappointed and love-free.