Sunday, November 19, 2006

Brueghel's Two Monkeys, Part III

In 1981, two translations of this Szymborska poem were published. Which do you prefer?
Two Monkeys by Brueghel

I keep dreaming of my graduation exam:
in a window sit two chained monkeys,
beyond the window floats the sky,
and the sea splashes.

I am taking an exam on the history of mankind:
I stammer and flounder.

One monkey, eyes fixed upon me, listens ironically,
the other seems to be dozing–
and when silence follows a question,
he prompts me
with a soft jingling of the chain.

– Trans. Krynski & Maguire (1981)

Brueghel’s Two Monkeys

Here’s what my great dream of my final exam is like:
two chained monkeys are sitting in a window,
the sky is fluttering outside
and the ocean is bathing.

I’m being examined on human history.
I stammer and cast about for words.

One monkey, staring at me, listens ironically;
the other appears to be dozing–
but when silence descends after a question
he coaches me
with the soft rattling of his chain.

– Trans. Levine (1981)


  1. SHmonkey (not to be confused with one of Brueghel's monkeys) likes the first stanza of the Krynski & Maguire and the second and third stanzas of the Levine.

  2. I tend to agree with SHmonkey, except that I like "soft jingling of the chain" instead of "soft rattling." But rattling may work better with the idea of prompting or coaching. I liked "the ocean is bathing" at first--but now not so much.

    More, more, please......