lyrikline blog

Statement on translating poetry: Timo Berger

Posted in translator / Übersetzer by Heiko Strunk on 17. March 2011

„Was das Meer ist“, lautet der Titel eines der ersten Gedichte, die ich von 2003 bis 2005 für eine Veröffentlichung ins Deutsche übertrug. Der argentinische Dichter Sergio Raimondi blickt darin auf den Ozean in seiner Gesamtheit aber nicht in seiner Ganzheit – will sagen, er zählt die Phänomene, die ihm in Brackwasser, Hafenanlagen und langen Fluren der Fischereibehörden begegnen, minutiös auf, lässt sie aber nicht hinter einer romantischen Evokation von Erhabenheit verschwinden. Raimondis maritime Anti-Ode ist ein zeitgenössisches skeptisches Gedicht, dass den Anspruch, eine Essenz zu fassen oder einen Gegenstand philosophisch zu  überhöhen weit von sich weist. Und dennoch ist sein Gedicht auf eine ganz besondere Art emphatisch und welthaftig. Emphatisch, weil man beim Lesen die Zärtlichkeit des Dichters, der sich selbst nie ins lyrische Ich setzt, dennoch spürt, und welthaltig, weil man Dinge wiedererkennt und Neues erfährt. Gerade diese Welt-Zugewandtheit stellt eine besondere Herausforderung an die Übersetzung dar.

Bevor ich mich an die Übertragung ins Deutsche machen konnte, musste ich mich deshalb erst mit den Realien beschäftigen. So manche auf den ersten Blick dunkle Metapher, erwies sich nach Recherche als enggeführter Mythos oder verballhornter Markenname. Die Methoden der Gegenwartspoesie sind vielfältig, die der Übersetzung hinken ihr immer einen Schritt hinterher. Während Raimondi in seinen Gedichte Produktionszyklen von polymeren Kohlenwasserstoffen in Versen schmiedet, rang ich erst einmal damit, mir das grundlegende chemische Verständnis und den historischen Kontext zu erschließen.

Als Übersetzer von Gedichten sind wir permanent überfordert. Wir lesen laut und hören den Klang, die Alliterationen und Rhythmen, den Takt, die Prosodie, wir messen buchhalterisch mit dem Lineal die graphematischen Komponenten des Gedichts aus, wir spüren den Metaphern und Metonymien nach, wir entdecken Intertextualitäten und idiomatische Wendungen. Sprich: Wir kommen regelmäßig zu der Erkenntnis, dass ein Gedicht in seiner Ganzheit eigentlich nicht übersetzbar sei.

Doch Salmon Rushdie sagt in „Die Heimatländer der Phantasie“, wir sollten nicht immer denken, was alles bei der Übersetzung in eine andere, dem Original fremde Sprache verloren geht, sondern auch daran, was wir gewinnen. Und Raimondi lehrt uns, dass es im zeitgenössischen Gedicht nicht auf die Ganzheit, sondern auf die Gesamtheit ankommt: Eine Reihe von Aspekten, Ansichten und Beobachtungen, die wir in unserer Sprache neu montieren und feinjustieren dürfen.

Und so haben wir längst die Extreme einer Fixierung auf die Form oder den Sündenfall der inhaltsgläubigen Übersetzung hinter uns gelassen. Ein Gedicht ist, neudeutsch, ein Gesamtpaket, das stimmen muss – die Wirkung, die es auf den muttersprachlichen Leser macht, soll sich auch in der Übertragung einstellen: der Schauder, der Wohlklang, die Verrätselung, die Agitation, die orgiastische Feier, die Provokation, vielleicht der Ekel, die Verzweiflung oder der Trost.
Die Komplexität der Ursprungstexte feit einen vor Schnellschüssen. Und deswegen liebe ich es, Lyrik zu übertragen.

Timo Berger

Timo Berger übersetzt aus dem Spanischen und dem Portugiesischen ins Deutsche

‘What the sea is’ is the title of one of the first poems that I translated into German, for publication, between 2003 and 2005. In it, the Argentinian poet Sergio Raimondi looks at the ocean as an integral whole but not in its wholeness – by which I mean he enumerates in minute detail the phenomena that he encounters in brackish water, harbour areas and long stretches of fishery building, but doesn’t allow them to become lost behind lofty romantic visions. Raimondi’s maritime anti-ode is a contemporary and sceptical poem that vigorously rejects any claim to capture the essence of something or to elevate an object by philosophising about it. And yet despite that his poem is emphatic and rooted in the real world in a very special way. Emphatic, because while you’re reading it you can feel the poet’s tenderness, despite him never using the lyrical first person, and rooted in the real world because you recognise familiar things, and learn about new ones. It is exactly this focus on the world that poses a particular challenge to the translator.

Before I could even attempt to translate it into German, I had to first concern myself with the facts. So many metaphors which at first glance appeared dark and sombre, once I had  researched them revealed themselves to be pertinent myth or parodied brand names. The methods used by contemporary poetry are manifold and those of translation always lag one step behind. While Raimondi had forged verse about the production cycles of hydrocarbons, I struggled to get to grips with the basic chemistry and the historical context before I could even begin.

As translators of poems we are constantly overstretched. We read out loud and hear the sounds, the alliteration and rhythms, the pulse, the prosody; with the precision of an accountant we measure out the graphemic components, we trace metaphors and metonyms, discover intertextualities and idiomatic expressions. In other words, we regularly come to the realisation that a poem in its wholeness simply can’t be translated.

However, Salman Rushdie said in ‘Imaginary Homelands’, that we shouldn’t always think about the things that are lost when the original text is translated into a foreign language, but instead also think about what we gain. Raimondi teaches us that in today’s poetry, it’s not the wholeness that counts but the integral whole: a series of aspects, views and observations, that we, in our own language, are allowed to re-assemble and fine tune.

And as such we have long since given up the extreme notion of being fixated with form and the sin of faithfully translating the content. A poem is, in modern terms, a complete package, and it has to ring true – the effect that it has on the native speaker should also be there in the translation: horror, melody, mystery, agitation, orgiastic celebration, provocation, perhaps disgust, despair or comfort.

The complexity of the source texts protects you from making any hasty decisions. And that’s why I love to translate poetry.

Timo Berger
[translation: Marisa Pettit]

Timo Berger translates from Spanish and Portuguese into German

 

‘What the sea is’ is the title of one of the first poems that I translated into German, for publication, between 2003 and 2005. In it, the Argentinian poet Sergio Raimondi looks at the ocean as an integral whole but not in its wholeness – by which I mean he enumerates in minute detail the phenomena that he encounters in brackish water, harbour areas and long stretches of fishery building, but doesn’t allow them to become lost behind lofty romantic visions. Raimondi’s maritime anti-ode is a contemporary and sceptical poem that vigorously rejects any claim to capture the essence of something or to elevate an object by philosophising about it. And yet despite that his poem is emphatic and rooted in the real world in a very special way. Emphatic, because while you’re reading it you can feel the poet’s tenderness, despite him never using the lyrical first person, and rooted in the real world because you recognise familiar things, and learn about new ones. It is exactly this focus on the world that poses a particular challenge to the translator.

 

Before I could even attempt to translate it into German, I had to first concern myself with the facts. So many metaphors which at first glance appeared dark and sombre, once I had  researched them revealed themselves to be pertinent myth or parodied brand names. The methods used by contemporary poetry are manifold and those of translation always lag one step behind. While Raimondi had forged verse about the production cycles of hydrocarbons, I struggled to get to grips with the basic chemistry and the historical context before I could even begin.

 

As translators of poems we are constantly overstretched. We read out loud and hear the sounds, the alliteration and rhythms, the pulse, the prosody; with the precision of an accountant we measure out the graphemic components, we trace metaphors and metonyms, discover intertextualities and idiomatic expressions. In other words, we regularly come to the realisation that a poem in its wholeness simply can’t be translated.

 

However, Salman Rushdie said in ‘Imaginary Homelands’, that we shouldn’t always think about the things that are lost when the original text is translated into a foreign language, but instead also think about what we gain. Raimondi teaches us that in today’s poetry, it’s not the wholeness that counts but the integral whole: a series of aspects, views and observations, that we, in our own language, are allowed to re-assemble and fine tune.

 

And as such we have long since given up the extreme notion of being fixated with form and the sin of faithfully translating the content. A poem is, in modern terms, a complete package, and it has to ring true – the effect that it has on the native speaker should also be there in the translation: horror, melody, mystery, agitation, orgiastic celebration, provocation, perhaps disgust, despair or comfort.

The complexity of the source texts protects you from making any hasty decisions. And that’s why I love to translate poetry.

 

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