poems on translating poetry (1)

Zbigniew Herbert: On Translating Poetry

Like a clumsy bumblebee
he alights on a flower
bending the fragile stem
he elbows his way
through rows of petals
like pages of a dictionary
he wants in
where the fragrance and sweetness are
and though he has a cold
and can’t taste anything
he pushes on
until he bumps his head
against the yellow pistil

and that’s as far as he gets
it’s too hard
to push through the calyx
into the root
so the bee takes off again
he emerges swaggering
loudly humming:
I was in there
and those
who don’t take his word for it
can take a look at his nose
yellow with pollen

this, translated by Alissa Valles, is from the stupendously amazing Collected Poems 1956-1998.

2 thoughts on “poems on translating poetry (1)

  1. Pingback: Translating poetry - World Literature Forum

  2. That’s tremendous. And very funny too.

    There’s a collection from NYRB of poems from the late T’ang period (I may be mangling the name horribly) which has a very interesting essay in the front about the difficulties of translating from Chinese (and from Japanese). Worth digging out.

    There’s a double joke with this poem isn’t there? In that we’re reading it in translation…

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