It was a real pleasure to return to translating the poetry of Fouad Mohammad Fouad. ‘The King’ was the first of two poems we translated.
From the outset, it’s clear that this is a poem suffused with irony – how can someone declare himself a king if his ‘kingdom’ extends to just one room! So there is also despair, but it is leavened with glimpses of playfulness and of course the clear-eyed courage of confronting the painful reality of straitened circumstances.
The first stanza was quite straightforward. We decided to go with ‘dust of the morning’ rather than ‘morning dust’ because, in english, the latter could be heard as ‘mourning dust’ and we’d envisaged the image relating to dust flying around the room when the floor is swept each morning. In the third line we settled on ‘earth’ because it can mean ‘the earth’ and ‘soil’ or ‘dirt’, either or both of which seemed appropriate for this downcast ‘king’.
In the second stanza we discussed at some length how best to translate the final line and settled on ‘I am permanent’ (rather than the more grandiose-sounding ‘eternal’ or ‘unchanging’) and we decided that damp, particularly in hot countries with whitewashed, un-plastered walls, seems to seep out from inside them.
We liked the ambiguity of ‘my days are windows’ in the third stanza and we used ‘crippled’ because it is a permanent injury or disability, whereas ‘limping’ can be temporary.
We went with ‘wrung-out’ clothes because it’s stronger than ‘wrinkled’ and it also can be used as a synonym for exhaustion; there was the added advantage of the internal rhyme with images being ‘flung’ at the wall in the following line. Similarly, we also liked the sound of ‘a king of words in flight like flies’.
Sarah Maguire, Workshop Facilitator