Last year we translated two fascinating poems by Diana Amphimiadi and it was a real pleasure to return to her subtle and lyrical poetry again. Her poems describe elusive, powerful feelings in language which is both immediate yet slippery – and this poem, ‘Union’, indicates.
The title, ‘Union’ (‘Connection’ in Natalia Bukia-Peters’ literal version), is of course paradoxical as the poem describes the process of separation, so from the very beginning of the poem, we find ourselves on shifting ground.
Translating the first line prompted a brief digression into botanical nomenclature before we settled on ‘heather honey’ because the Georgian original refers to a plant favoured by honey bees. ‘Lullaby ivy’ we left as it is because we were unsure whether it referenced a real or imaginary plant and, either way, we liked the sound of it.
Unpicking the tenses in the following lines wasn’t straightforward because of the differences between English and Georgian – and because Diana’s poems themselves resist a ‘straightforward’ interpretation. After much discussion we decided to use the conditional tense, which adds to the slippery feeling of the poem. For example, the certainty of Natalia’s ‘You know that I always return’ is a long way from our translation ‘As you know, I would always return’; and, in the final line, there’s a shift from the literal translation of ‘For you to return here’ to the uncertainty of the final version’s ‘So you would return’.
The gulf between English and Georgian also led to a shift in agency in some lines – from ‘I am leaving and you send your words after me’, to ‘I am leaving followed by your words’; and ‘I am leaving the house empty without you’ to ‘the house is empty without you’.
We began translating the poem with a botanical discussion and ended with a brief interlude on fish. It was a relief to discover ‘the golden fish’ in Natalia’s translation weren’t the humble goldfish, and so we stayed with ‘golden’ which sounds far less banal. We also decided to leave ‘I extinguish the golden fish when I depart’ as it is: yes, extinguishing fish sounds bizarre, but this is a poem, after all and we liked its ambiguity, as well as the final image of these fish ‘flickering – / on the ceiling and the ocean floor / so you would return.’
Sarah Maguire, Workshop Facilitator