A. Z. Foreman translates Edwin de Kock & Kálmán Kalocsay (3)

A. Z. Foreman is back again with more English translations of original Esperanto poems. Each translation is accompanied by a sound file of Foreman reading the Esperanto original.

Trokompreno: Over-understanding by Edwin de Kock

This poem is about the consciousness of inevitable death. Bummer, but it's well-written. The translation is quite good as well.

Al Kaptita Amiko :To A Friend in a POW Camp by Kálmán Kalocsay

This poem is new to me. I like the allusion to Heine and the contrast of the two Romanticisms.

En Ĉi Murdepoko: In This Murder Era by Kálmán Kalocsay

Sunsubiro: Sundown by Kálmán Kalocsay

Alex does a good job on the translations. Just as importantly, re-reading the originals gives me more respect for them, perhaps because this time around I'm reading them more attentively.

Alex and I began to engage on Facebook on the question of whether the poetry of Kalocsay and the Esperanto poetry of his era in general possesses any symbolic depth or whether everything is on the surface. Interestingly, while he is more critical than I of Esperanto as a language, he is more disposed to defending Esperanto poetry than I am.  Here's a recent exchange:

RALPH: My problem with the Esperanto poetry of that era, and most of it afterwards, is that everything is on the surface; it lacks symbolic depth. In some instances, it still works, e.g. with Auld from the late 1940s through La Infana Raso, but it's a historic limitation of Esperanto poetry that irritates me. However, there are holes in my exposure. Some people are now pushing Ragnarsson for the Nobel Prize. I may have read some of his stuff decades ago but I don't remember it. The fact that Kalocksay sought to squelch publication of Ragnarsson's first book makes me that much more curious to see what I've missed.

ALEX:  Symbolic depth? I wouldn't say that. Look at "Sunsubiro". Or take "Sur La Monto Nebo" which ends thusly:

"Atendus prete nin la Kanaano/
Sed ni, en lupa lukto por la pano/
Mizere mortas sur la monto Nebo/"
If that isn't subsurface art, I don't know what is. In fact, Humphrey Tonkin, in describing that poem said "la esenca afero ĉi tie estas ne, ke oni komprenu la poemon, sed ke oni konsciu ĉiujn ĝiajn signifojn."

But frankly I do not see why a poem needs to be partially covert, or can't express everything plainly—if the language itself is artful and doesn't work against what it says. Take Edna St. Vincent Millay's love sonnets. Or Countee Cullen's "Incident." One needn't create an enormous symbolic edifice like Ezra Pound or T.S. Eliot to be profound.

Moreover, in a literature like that of Esperanto, where authors have every incentive not to draw on the symbolic stock of their native languages' traditions (though they often mistake western aesthetics for universals), it's no surprise that authors attempt especial overtness and plainness when they're writing for people who may not share the associative mental network of the author's native language, culture or tradition. If I were writing an English poem, I could take for granted that roses carry with them the cliché associations of love and beauty. If I were writing in Esperanto, I couldn't expect, say, an Arabic-speaker or Chinese-speaker to possibly decode that.

Now this is the germ of an interesting discussion.

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