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[Ibykos fr. 286, Poetae Melici Graeci]

In spring, on the one hand,
the Kydonian apple trees,
being watered by streams of rivers
where the uncut garden of the maidens [is]
and vine blossoms
beneath shady vine branches
On the other hand, for me
Eros lies quiet at no season.
Nay rather,
like a Thracian north wind
ablaze with lightning,
rushing from Aphrodite
accompanied by parching madnesses,
right up from the bottom of my feet
[it] shakes my whole breathing being.

[fr. 286 as ‘Woman’s Constancy’ by John Donne]

In woman, on the one hand,
those contracts
being purposed by change and falsehood,
where lovers’ images [forswear the persons that we were],
and true deaths
beneath true marriages,
On the other hand, me
thy vow hast not conquered.
Nay rather,
like that new-made Tomorrow,
now disputing,
now abstaining,
accompanied by Love and his wrath,
not truly,
if I would,
if I could,
[it] justifies my one whole lunatic escape.

[fr. 286 as Bertolt Brecht’s FBI file #100-67077]

At a cocktail party attended by known Communists, on the one hand,
the subject
being suitably paraphrased as Mr & Mrs Bert Brecht,
where ten years of exile have left their mark,
and beneath 5 copies of file 100-190707,
Charles Laughton
returning to the stage as Galileo,
enters an elevator.
On the other hand, of my name with a hyphen between Eugene and
the Bureau has no record.
Nay rather,
like the name of a certain Frenchman to whom Charles Laughton might
send packages,
accompanied by an unknown woman
who spoke to an unknown man,
or accompanied by an unknown man
who spoke to an unknown woman,
and in the event that all the captions are not correct,
please turn to page 307.

[fr. 286 as p. 47 of Endgame by Samuel Beckett]

In your kitchen, on the one hand,
bright corpses
starting to stink of having an idea,
where one of my legs [is]
and beneath sooner or later
the whole universe
doesn’t ring and won’t work.
On the other hand, I shouldn’t think so.
Nay rather,
like a speck in the void,
pacing to and fro,
accompanied by the alarm,
not very convinced,
[it] kisses me goodbye. I’m dead. (Pause).

[Ibykos fr. 286 as pp. 136-37 of Conversations with Kafka by Gustav Janouch]

In the end, on the one hand, all those who sit behind us at the cash desks,
being engaged in the most destructive and hopeless rebellion there could
ever be,
where everything human [has been betrayed]
beneath the burden of existence
stock phrases,
with a gentle indefinable smile,
arouse suspicion.
On the other hand,
one who is afraid should not go into the wood.
Nay rather,
like modern armies,
accompanied by lightly spoken phrases in Czech or German,
against myself,
against my own limitations and apathy,
against this very desk and chair I’m sitting in,
the charge is clear: one is condemned to life not death.

[fr. 286 as stops and signs from the London Underground]

At the excess fare window, on the one hand, the king’s bakers,
ditching old shepherds for new elephants,
where east and west [cross north]
and beneath black friars forbidden from barking in church,
mind the gap.
On the other hand,
a multi-ride ticket does not send me padding southwark.
Nay rather, like the seven sisters
gardening in the British Museum,
accompanied by penalties,
I am advised to expect delays all the way to the loo.

[fr. 286 as pp. 17-18 of The Owner’s Manual of my new Emerson 1000W microwave oven]

In hot snacks and appetisers, on the one hand, the soy, barbecue,
Worcestershire or steak sauce,
being sprinkled with paprika,
where a ‘browned appearance’ [is desirable]
and beneath the magnetron tube
soggy crackers,
wrapped in bacon,
On the other hand, a frozen pancake
will not crust.
Nay rather,
like radio waves,
dispersing their spin,
and IMPORTANTLY should you omit to vent the plastic wrap,
or flip the pieces halfway through,
or properly position the special microwave popcorn popper,
[it] will burn your nose right off.

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Vol. 34 No. 22 · 22 November 2012

I was interested in Anne Carson’s translations of the Ibykos fragments, and tried an experiment today which resulted in ‘Wyatt through the washing machine’ (LRB, 8 November). This is constructed by testing the fabric of the original poem ‘They flee from me that sometime did me seek’ by putting it through a sequence of computer translations. This was a semi-random sequence, but could be thought of as the journeys of Wyatt when he was reborn as a Viking. English is translated into Italian, which comes out beautifully. Italian into Catalan, which you can still understand, introduces the word afanyosament. Then Catalan to Basque, which takes it out of range, but introduces nire camera lurking and gogoratu. Basque to Filipino loses lurking but introduces the highly durable mapagpakumbaba (probably ‘meek’) which maintains its position through all subsequent translations. The Icelandic version from the Filipino gives the taut

flyja mig thegar eg begirati
Myndavelin min felur berum fotum.

Eg sa blidur hond og mapagpakumbaba.

Then from here Haitian Creole gives us begirati kamera mwen fe sa kip ye fem wen te we blithur men ak mapagpakumbaba. You can see that not only mapagpakumbaba but also the Icelandic blithur has survived the transition. The move from Creole to Polish brings the text off the rails at the start, though it preserves the word newfangleness. From Polish to Finnish we get nain lithur mutta mapagpakumbaba and towards the end ystavellinen ja newfangleness, on the principle that the words the computer cannot understand it preserves without trying to guess. Finally, from Finnish to French we get a difficult text from which a few Mallarmé-like lines shine out: mais espeselman après la recherché d’un mince delicieux … une baisse de tuiles lâches … et me prit par la main, et le grand et le petit doux pour m’embrasser après l’obtention du diplome Amour … genre étrange et newfangleness.

Miles Burrows

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