A legitimate translation of Günter Grass’s “Was gesagt werden muss”
Những điều phải nói.
Here are my notes on this and other translations. Since I first published this post, I have added a little bit of material to the fourth stanza. I am also indebted to Bernard Katz for pointing out that “pre-emptive strike” really has to be “first strike,” and I’ve changed it accordingly, and have likewise changed “drops” to “drop.”)
This is, I believe, the first legitimate translation of Günter Grass’s poem, entitled “What Must Be Said,” into English. I can only barely read German. I cannot speak it. It was not for me to translate this poem, but I have done so because no-one else will.
The translations done by the Associated Press and by various laypersons have been so incompetent that they are actually immoral. It was also immoral of The New York Times to publish stories about this poem, and the controversy surrounding it, without bothering to find or pay for a decent translation. ”What must be said” deserves a fair hearing. Israel has banned Günter Grass. Until right now, nobody who speaks English but not German could even say whether it has acted justly.
At times, I have been ashamed of the actions of my government. I have sometimes been ashamed of the actions of American corporations. But this is the first time I have had to be ashamed of the entire scholarly community, not only in my country, but in the whole of the English-speaking world.
I will write some notes on the translation in a forthcoming post.
Why am I silent, silent for too long,
The alleged right to a first strike –
Why do I stop short of naming
My silence is part of what I now recognize
And now, my country
But why have I been silent until now?
Why should I say, as an aged man,
Granted, I am also speaking now
For Israelis, and Palestinians
Vì sao tôi đã làm thinh, đã im lặng quá lâu,
Cái mà mọi người cho là quyền tấn công trước —
Và giờ sao tôi phải nói, già nua,
Vì phải nói
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- Posted by Joseph Kugelmass in Art & Aesthetics, Ethics & Morality, Literature, Politics, Utopian thought
15 thoughts on “A legitimate translation of Günter Grass’s “Was gesagt werden muss””
Very nice. I’d like to see the original near it. Any change you can post that? Thanks Joseph!
Hey Bernie! I’ll include a bunch of links in my notes on the translation; check the blog, or back here, in a few hours.
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Dear Joseph, this is the translation which makes the most sense to me. . (Even better than the one by Michael Keefer and Nica Mintz, because more clear, simple, straightforward) I guess it’s close to the original, although I don’t read German. Thanks a lot for your work.
So if you don’t read German, Laurent, how can you evaluate JK’s translation compared to any other? I found him deficient in one of the most important aspects – his translation of “Erstschlag” as ” pre-emptive strike” rather than the very specific (to a nuclear attack) “first strike”. This makes clear Grass is referring to a nuclear attack by Israel.
Nice work. Given the reaction to this, you’d think that Grass was calling for pogroms.
Having read both translations … I believe this translation captures the real spirit of the poem.
Perhaps G. Grass has glanced into his mirror of time and fears his end
Fear is a distorted expression of memory,
of the first experience during separation as was the sensation of loneliness during birth;
and the shroud of despair during that moment;
that moment of enlightenment during the final experience of aloneness
where all thought, explanation, reason of being … rushes to the now revealing the truth, love is life.
It is this, not destination that is the goal of the journey,
only to be revealed as creativity in life freely giving birth to another existence in time.
Fear merely a label of a shrouded experience, not of reason and of awareness a mere reflection, imprinted within our sole during life’s journey in this separation and isolation as a shadow.
The burden shared and shouldered is the essence of life’s creativity expressed in illusion and self-delusion as we journey to know the difference lightening our burden in aloneness.
But is not time the first experience in memory of our aloneness in this existence of life,
for which this common burden is life’s companion in mortal solitude,
from which illusion and delusion feed hoping to comprehend the purpose and root expression of life.
While elevating fear through the centuries has created a delusion
of mis-understanding establishing constructs of mortal ignorance
that only soothes the experience of loneliness in aloneness without ever the hope of vanquishing it.
Is it not that the latter experience is the ultimate expression of life born of creation.
It is not that life itself exists in a cycle of creation, but it exists and
the only worldly comfort is love in aloneness.
Love of life and of the spirit that nourishes life’s aloneness is the essence of life.
Happiness in life is harmony in shared awareness in aloneness within fear
that lightens the burden of the fear of loneliness.
Love in and of life is merely the affirmation of fear and of fear … time.
Castiglioncello, Italy, October 11, 1996