Poem introduction

I actually had this nightmare

A Translator's Nightmare

I think it must have been in Limbo where,
As Dante says, the better poets share
Old friendships, rivalries, once famous fights
And, now they've left it, set the world to rights.
As I was being hustled through in transit
To God knows what damned hole, I thought I'd chance it
And chat to some of the assembled great ones
Who looked as bored as trapped theatre patrons
Who've paid good cash and find they hate the show . . .
I picked on one: 'I rather doubt you know . . .'
He started up and peered at me: 'Know you,
You snivelling fool? Know you? Of course I do!
You ruined my best poem. Look who's here . . .'
He turned to his companions with a sneer,
'Traducer and destroyer of art,
The biggest stink since Beelzebub's last fart.'
They jostled around, each shouting out his curses,
'You buried me with your insipid verses . . .'
'You left out my best metaphor, you moron . . .'
'You missed my meaning or they set no store on 
An accurate rendition where you come from.'
'He comes from where they send the deaf and dumb from,
He got my metre wrong . . .' 'He missed my rhymes',
'He missed puns I don't know how many times,
Then shoved his own in . . .' But I turned and fled,
Afraid that in a moment I'd be dead
A second time, torn limb from spectral limb.

A mist came down and I was lost. A dim
Shape beckoned; thinking it must be my guide,
I ran for reassurance to his side.
But it was someone I'd not seen before,
An old man bent beside the crumbling shore
Of Lethe's stream. He stared a long time, then
'Did you translate?'. I screamed, 'Oh not again!'
But as I backed off one quick claw reached out;
He clutched my coat and with a piercing shout
(He didn't look as though he had it in him)
Cried, 'We've a guest! Who'll be first to skin him?'
Then added, 'Just my joke now; stay awhile,
The crowd in these parts is quite versatile,
Though we've one thing in common, all of us:
When you were curious, and courteous,
Enough to translate poems from our tongue
All of us gathered here were not among
The chosen ones.' I looked around – a crowd
Now hemmed us in and from it soon a loud 
Discordant murmur rose: 'Please, why not mine?'
'You did Z's poems, my stuff's just as fine . . .'
'The greatest critics admired my verse . . .'
'You worked on crap that's infinitely worse
Than my worst lines.' 'Some of my stuff's quite good –
You will allow that? – It's not all dead wood?
Why then . . . ?' and slowly the reproaches turned 
To begging, bragging, angry tears that burned 
Their way into my sorry soul.

                Once more
I ran and saw my guide, tall on the shore
– The other shore – of Lethe. 'Rescue me!'
I called, 'Get me to where I have to be
For all eternity . . .' He smiled: 'My dear,
You've reached your special hell, it's here. It's here'.

 


from Touchwood: Poems 1991-1995 (Anvil, 1996), © Dick Davis 1996, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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1Love in Another Language

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2Travelling

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3Desert Stop at Noon

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4Memories of Cochin

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5Climbing

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6Dawn

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7In the Gallery

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8The Jigsaw

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9Uxor Vivamus . . .

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10A Letter to Omar

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11Richard Davis

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126am Thoughts

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13Ibn Battuta

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14Evening

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15A Monorhyme for Miscegenation

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16Given Back, After Illness

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17Anthony 1946-1966

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18A Photograph of Two Brothers

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19A Sasanian Palace

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20We Should Be So Lucky

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21A Translator's Nightmare

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22Shadows

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23A Monorhyme for the Shower

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24Iran Twenty Years Ago

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25Duchy and Shinks

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26West South West

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27Teresia Shirley

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28Guides for the Soul

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29Desire

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30Listening

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31The Scholar as a Naughty Boy

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32Anglais Mort à Santa Barbara

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33Under $6 a Bottle

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34Shopping

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35A Visit to Grandmother's

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36A Mystery Novel

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37Later

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38The Introduction

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39Campanilismo

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40A Winter's Tale

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41The Lighthouse

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42A Personal Sonnet

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43Walking the Dog

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44To Take Courage in Childhood

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45Translating Hafez, or Trying To

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46An Excerpt from Vis and Ramin (tr. Dick Davis)

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