by Suresh Dalal
I look at you in helpless silence, incapable of doing
a thing for you. In the middle of the white-washed walls
of the hospital ward you lie, groaning quietly in the dark abyss of pain.
Only a miracle can bring you some relief. I have nothing to offer,
but a prayer. All my prayers reach the Almighty, an attempt I shall make.
I am trying to find ways to shake off His unbearable silence.
Desolation and numbness in your eyes drive me crazy and as
I leave the ward quietly, I hear the footsteps of death. I want to
cut off my ears to block their sound. But will that delay the advent of death?
From your voicelessness before death, I move towards your silence
after death – and I do not even want to feel angry or shed tears
at my helplessness.
The literal translation of this poem was made by Bhadra Patel-Vadgama
The final translated version of the poem is by The Poetry Translation Workshop
Final translation completed on 31st October 2003
As this is a prose poem (the common term in English) the line-breaks are irrelevant. However, I’ve followed the pattern of Bhadra’s translation just to make the comparison easier.
‘Surrounded by’: ‘in the middle of’ sounds as though the sick woman is stuck, literally, in the centre of a wall: not the intention!
‘moan’: is gentler and more plaintive than ‘groan’.
‘bottomless pain’: this was a last-minute change to an earlier decision we’d made to use ‘black blinding pain’; this sounded fine (at the time) and corresponded more closely to the repetition of ‘black black pain’ in the original, but as so often is the case with translations, reading it out aloud at the end made the phrase sound risible and extreme. Which you may well think about ‘bottomless’ too. The latter has the ‘abyss’- sense advantage, but lacks the blackness….
‘Your empty, helpless eyes…’: the vowel sounds in the first part of this sentence work particularly well, as does the rhythm throughout and the alliteration of ‘drive’ and ‘despair’ at the end.
‘cut off my ears’: of course, cutting off your ears doesn’t stop you from hearing; but that’s what it says in the original, so we decided to go for the Van Gogh moment here and forget the empirical reality.‘I go from the deathly silence’: this was really tricky; getting the sense of the two different silences.
© Poetry Translation Centre 2004-2014