After that Strange Church Wedding
This enigmatic, menacing poem was the first work we’d translated by the young Georgian poet, Tea Topuria. She is also well known as a short-story writer and this poem reads rather like a miniature short story with much of the plot excised.
We made no change to the first line of Natalia’s translation and, since our website demands that poems have titles, we decided to use the first line of Tea’s poem as its title. After a brief discussion on whether to use ‘all the nights are the same’, ‘every night’ or ‘each night’, we settled on the latter.
The difference between English and Georgian meant that we sometimes needed to discuss the role of agency in the poem. For example when we looked at Natalia’s literal translation of ‘the city gates close’, we talked about whether the gates close themselves or are closed, and we concluded that ‘the gates to the city are closed’ was closest to the original meaning.
We also had to change the order of Natalia’s lines ‘the shades start moving in the damp streets / they are not accompanied by people’ interjecting ‘belonging to no one’ directly after ‘the shadows’ in our version; this was because the order in the Georgian original implies (in English) that ‘the damp streets’ rather than ‘the shadows’ belong to no one.
English is a very precise, concrete language, particularly in the relation to how things are placed, and we encountered this problem when translating the line referring to the square and the guillotine. Natalia’s translation ‘I look over the square with the guillotine’ in English could mean looking over the square by using or through the guillotine. We also needed to clarify whether the speaker was looking at, looking out at or looking over – each gives the speaker a precise position that we need to know in English.
The lines that provoked most discussion were ‘Don’t fall in love with your own self’ in Natalia’s literal version and ‘your own self will always love someone else’. Georgian doesn’t assign gender to pronouns so the ‘your’ in the second line was very ambiguous – it could be translated as ‘it’, ‘he’ or ‘she’. In the end, we decided we needed to give the pronoun a gender and, since the poem described a marriage from the point of view of a woman (we assumed!), we decided to use ‘he will always love someone else’. And, instead of using Natalia’s very marked ‘your own self’ we went with splitting ‘yourself’ in two to indicate the displacement: ‘your self’.
We couldn’t resolve the mystery of ‘Bartholomew’ – whether the name referred to an actual person or not – and so we left the question open, as does the poem.
Sarah Maguire, Workshop Facilitator