Monday, September 14, 2009

Some Notes on Translating Arseny Tarkovsky's "Field Hospital"

Arseny Tarkovsky, the great Russian poet and translator, lost his leg due to gangrene after being shot during World War II. His great poem, "Field Hospital," recounts his survival. I wrote an article about translating this poem, which recently appeared at a Russian website, which translates as "Thinking Aloud." I've been working on a book-length version of his poems, with Dmitry Psurtsev, ever since my trip to Russia at the end of summer.

Here's the poem, in translation:

Field Hospital

The table was turned to light. I lay
My head down, like meat on scales,
My soul throbbing on a thread,
And I could see myself from the outside:
I, without any additions, was equalled
By a fat market standard weight.
It was
Amidst the snowy shield,
With gaps along its western side,
In the circle of never-freezing swamps
Of the trees with fractured legs
And of small railway stations
With split skulls, black
From snowy caps, sometimes double,
Sometimes triple.
On that day time stopped.
The clocks didn't march, the souls of trains
Didn't fly anymore along the levies
Without lamps. Upon the gray flippers of vapor,
And neither crow weddings, nor snow storms,
Nor thaws were in this limbo,
Where I lay in disgrace, in nakedness,
In my own blood, outside gravity
Of the future.

But I moved a bit and on the axle started going
Around the shield of blinding snow,
And low over my head
Some seven planes turned back,
And gauze, like tree bark,
Upon my body grew hard and was running
Another person's blood into my veins,
And I breathed like a fish on sand,
Swallowing the hard, micaceous
Cold and blessed air.

My lips were covered with sores, and also
I was fed from the spoon, and also
I couldn't remember what my name was,
But became on my tongue alive
The vocabulary of King David: And then

Even the snow went away, and early spring
Rising on tiptoes covered the trees
With her green scarf.

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