Thursday, January 18, 2007

Sherrod Santos' "Greek Lyrics"

Before reading Santos' translation, I thought I preferred more literal translations of poetry, the unexamined assumption being that a more literal translation gets at the original's intention better. Santos has quite changed my mind on this. He calls his translations "collaborations" between him and the writer, a concept that not only permits freer translation, but also acknowledges the "collaborative" aspect of all translation work, the joint work of the living and the dead. Santos takes advantage of this freedom to create translations that truly sing. I find myself reading the translations as poems, and not as curious historical records or, worse, archaelogical digs.

Here is a collaboration between Santos and Leonidas of Tarentum (3rd century B.C.).


If it weren’t for the fact that you gnaw and scratch
At the latch of my hollow meal bin, I’d think
(for there’s pretty thin picking within this shack)
you skittering creatures must feed on dark.

An old man is content with two barley cakes
And some sea salt, the sum my father figured
Was our lot in life. So why keep me awake
All night then leave me to sweep your turds?

You’ll never find a smidgen on my bare floor.
Wouldn’t a rich man offer you better fare?

Is this or is this not a vivid metaphor for the lust of an old man?

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