Friday, July 24, 2009

Byzantium/Old Istanbul (A Translation)


The unpurged images of day recede;
The Emperor's drunken soldiery are abed;
Night resonance recedes, night walkers' song
After great cathedral gong;
A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains
All that man is,
All mere complexities,
The fury and the mire of human veins.
Before me floats an image, man or shade,
Shade more than man, more image than a shade;
For Hades' bobbin bound in mummy-cloth
May unwind the winding path;
A mouth that has no moisture and no breath
Breathless mouths may summon;
I hail the superhuman;
I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.
Miracle, bird or golden handiwork,
More miracle than bird or handiwork,
Planted on the star-lit golden bough,
Can like the cocks of Hades crow,
Or, by the moon embittered, scorn aloud
In glory of changeless metal
Common bird or petal
And all complexities of mire or blood.
At midnight on the Emperor's pavement flit
Flames that no faggot feeds, nor steel has lit,
Nor storm disturbs, flames begotten of flame,
Where blood-begotten spirits come
And all complexities of fury leave,
Dying into a dance,
An agony of trance,
An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve.
Astraddle on the dolphin's mire and blood,
Spirit after Spirit! The smithies break the flood.
The golden smithies of the Emperor!
Marbles of the dancing floor
Break bitter furies of complexity,
Those images that yet
Fresh images beget,
That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.

Old Istanbul

The cluttered impressions from the sun’s domain pull away;
The Sultan’s army dreams its liquored-up dreams.
Echoes of the moon grow silent, the tramp’s dirge
Takes its cue from the chiming of the church;
This bell-shaped canopy—with its astral? lunar? twinkling—looks down upon
Everything mortal,
Everything overly complicated,
The bile as well as the bog of man’s mesh.
An impression hovers in my sight, person or appearance,
Façade exceeding face, supplemental icon for idol;
Because Cehennem’s coil tethered to an embalming shroud
Might straighten the twisted trail;
A dry orifice that cannot inhale
Gasping maws might beckon;
My ego salutes the Übermensch;
Its name: thanatobios, biothanatos.
An act of Allah, sparrow or precious embroidery,
No less an act than sparrow or stitchery,
Seeded on the precious limb of night,
Able to kukuriku like Hell’s rooster,
Or made mad by Luna’s vocal disdain
In majesty of steel that will not change
A familiar sparrow or rose’s leaf
And every complication from the mortal bog.
When the clock raises its hands to the crescent moon, on the Sultan’s sidewalk flashes
An inferno nourished by no fuel, illumined by no sword,
Against which no tempest rages, a fire-born inferno,
Someplace sanguinary specters draw near
And rage’s every convolution abandons.
An expiration pas de deux,
Excruciating voodoo,
Such fiery pain unable to immolate a single thread.
Saddled atop a seafaring beast,
Specter following specter! The forges disturb the deluge.
The Sultan’s precious forges!
Tiles from the discothèque
Disrupt convolution’s acrid annoyance,
Icons that hitherto
Give birth to unspoiled reflection,
That seabeast-sliced, chime-challenged deep.

I've managed my way through several graduate translation workshops, suffering from a lack of stimulation and gasping for some sort of theoretical framework like precious oxygen. Instead, I was stifled with lame assignments such as writing essays about authors' biographies and historical contexts as well as "English-to-English" translations. Here is one such assignment I completed a couple of years ago in defiance of academic mediocrity and a lack of intellectual merit. Just how Byzantine can one go?

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