You should’ve asked

I came across a French cartoon about the division of household chores, made by a wonderful feminist cartoonist called Emma. Not much of her work had been translated previously so I got in touch and asked if I could translate her “Fallait demander” cartoon for my English friends to read.

It was a quick-fire translation and I didn’t imagine it would get quite so much traction, but it turns out that it’s such a universal theme that it became just as popular in the UK, US and Australia as it was in France, where it got picked up by multiple media sources.

Emma’s book is coming out in France soon, and I hope an English version will be available too, it’s certainly worth a read!

My translation of the cartoon, “You should’ve asked”, is on the English page of her website, here: https://english.emmaclit.com/2017/05/20/you-shouldve-asked/

 

Certainly food for thought. Enjoy!

 

 

 

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Things I learned (military acronyms)

When translating a somewhat specialised text, even when it’s intended for a wide audience, you can come across a whole lot of mind-boggling acronyms, and military jargon is no exception. So here are some things I learned while translating a policy report about European and French security…

EUFOR stands for European Union Force (Force de l’Union européenne), and it is a generic name for certain temporary military operations led by the EU in the context of its common foreign policy. The name of each operation, which follows the term ‘EUFOR’, either references Greek mythology or the deployment site (e.g. EUFOR Althea). But EUFOR is not to be confused with…

EUROFOR (European Rapid Operational Force, or Force d’intervention rapide européenne), which was a multinational rapid reaction force made up of personnel from four EU Member States (Italy, France, Portugal and Spain) and mainly charged with humanitarian, peacekeeping and peace enforcement missions. It was created in 1995 and lasted until 2012, since it was transformed into…

An EU Battlegroup, known as EUBG (in French: Groupements tactiques de l’Union européenne (GTUE) or Groupement tactiques interarmées de réaction rapide (GTIRR)): a military unit with a battalion-sized force (1,500 troops), considered to be the smallest self-sufficient military unit that can be deployed and sustained in a theatre of operation. The  Council of the European Union controls 18 of these multinational Battlegroups in the context of its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) (Politique de sécurité et de défense commune (PSDC)).

And then there’s OPEX. Careful with this one, since while it often stands for Operational Expenditure in English (“dépenses de fonctionnement“), in French it designates external military operations – Opérations Extérieures – in which around 6,500 French soldiers took part in 2015.

So what kind of apparatus is used during such mission, you ask? Well another whole load of acronyms: VBCI (véhicule blindé de combat d’infanterie) and VAB (véhicule de l’avant blindé) are two French examples. In English we have the AVF (armoured fighting vehicle), sometimes also referred to as “armour”, IVF (infantry fighting vehicle) and MICV (mechanised infantry combat vehicle).

These are also distinct from APCs (armoured personnel carriers), which are transport vehicles armed only for self-defense and not specifically engineered to fight on their own. In French, APCs are known as véhicule de transport de troupes (VTT), not to be confused with the more common VTT (vélo tout terrain, or mountainbikes) which are somewhat less useful on the battlefield…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things I learned (about history)

As a translator, all sorts of texts can pop up on my screen any given week. I have my fair share of the dull and the peculiar, but I mostly marvel at all of the interesting facts that this work allows me to come across. So here are some things I learned recently from translating an academic seminar about history:

  • Ancient history refers to all of recorded human history, spanning from the earliest known Cuneiform Script (around the 4th millennium B.C.E) until the Early Middle Ages. In French, it is known as the “Antiquité”– not to be mistranslated as ‘Antiquity’ which, although sometimes used more ambiguously and almost as a synonym of ‘Ancient History’, more often refers specifically to Western civilisation in the time of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.
  • Protohistory (“Protohistoire” ) designates a period between prehistory and history, during which a culture or civilization has not yet developed writing but other cultures have already noted its existence in their own writings. “Protohistoric” may also refer to the transition period between the advent of literacy in a society and the writings of the first historians.
  • Those great barbarian invasions (“invasions barbares” )? The common maps we have in textbooks are highly contested by scholars; in fact, there was a whole academic trend from the 1960s which sought to negate certain “invasions”, preferring to see the historical changes as a result of acculturation or ethnogenesis (the process by which a group of people acquire an ethnicity).
  • The term archéothanatologie was coined at a French academic conference in the 1990s. You can also come across it in English as  “archeothanatology”, and it refers to the archaeological study of death and burial.
  • In the beginning of the 20th century, 20% of the population of Marseille was Italian. Many of these people lived in a neighbourhood called Crottes, which literally means “turd”… so you can probably imagine the luxurious living conditions.
  • BP stands for Before Present, just as BC stands for Before Christ. It’s a time scale used mainly in geology and other scientific disciplines to specify when events in the past occurred. Because the “present” time changes, standard practice is to use 1 January 1950 as a reference point for the “present” in this time scale. The French also used the acronym BP, although the French term is “avant le présent”.
  • The period of the Middle Ages is commonly divided up into three parts: Early Middle Ages or Early Medieval Period (5th-10th centuries AD); High Middle Ages or High Medieval Period (11th-13th centuries AD); Late Middle Ages or Late Medieval Period (14th-15th centuries). Confusingly, in French they are known under the terms: Haut Moyen Âge (5th-10th centuries AD); Moyen Âge « classique / central » (11th-13th centuries AD);  Moyen Âge tardif/Bas Moyen Âge (14th-15th centuries).

– So to recap: the ‘bas moyen âge’ comes long after the ‘haut moyen âge’, which is  totally NOT the same thing as its direct translation ‘high middle ages’… Not confusing at all.

Things I learned (about lipsticks)

As a translator I get to work from home, which means I rarely directly see my clients and generally don’t have to worry about wearing make-up. But when I’m translating corporate communication for the beauty industry, this is the kind of terminology that I need to research, and sometimes it can take me down some bizarre rabbit holes…

I thought lipstick (“rouge à lèvres“) was a relatively straightforward affair. Not so. Apparently there’s also something called a “lip stain” or “lip tint” (the French call it “encre à lèvres“, literally “lip ink”)  which is made with a water or gel base – unlike lipstick which uses wax or oil – and uses dyes to stain your lips for up to 18 hours. As far as I can tell, lip tints are a type of lip stain with a matt finish. They do not appear to be the same thing as “tinted lip balms” (“baume colorée pour les lèvres“) which are mainly used to moisturise and protect the lips. Lip tints can be applied as a first layer under your lipstick, and some also double as a creamy blush.

Alternatively, you can apply “lip gloss” (“le brillant à lèvres” or “le gloss“) over you lip tint to make it look more like a lip stain. And a “lip shimmer” is like a very shiny and/or sparkly lipstick, but less glossy than lip gloss. Still following? There are also “lip liquids” or “lip laquers” (I have seen these called both “encre à lèvre” and “laque de lèvre” in French) which have the pigment of a lipstick with sheen of a gloss, but less sparkly. This is basically the same as a matt lip gloss, which is also a term some brands use. As for “lip oils” or “lip-tint oils” (“huile à lèvres“), these are a type of slick, tinted lip moisturiser that also claim to minimise fine lines around your mouth.

Since this wasn’t confusing enough already, a French brand recently launched a “vernis à lèvres” (literally “lip varnish”, but they have chosen to call it “glossy lip stain” in English). It is a combination of “laque à lèvres” (a liquid lipstick), lip gloss (for the shine), and with the lasting effect of traditional lipsticks.

Feeling a bit befuddled? So am I. In truth, there often seems to be so little difference between these products and in what they seek (or claim) to offer that the descriptions also vary from one brand to another. Since these descriptions are more marketing terms than anything else, I’m not sure whether a good beauty terminology list would even include them. But if you know of one, or have better definitions, let me know!

 

 

Things I learned (tech stuff)

I’ve recently been translating a guide aimed at tech professionals who want to set up their startup in the south of France, in a region which is turning into France’s very own Silicon Valley. In the process, I learned a lot about what industries are thriving there, what the economy is based on, and what cities like Nice are providing for these tech entrepreneurs. So here are some new terms I learned along the way…

Embedded software (“logiciels enfouis/embarqués“) is computer software, written to control machines or devices that are not typically thought of as computers, and that generally interact directly with the external environment. Manufacturers ‘build in’ embedded software in the electronics of cars, telephones, modems, robots, appliances, toys, security systems, pacemakers, televisions and set-top boxes, and digital watches, for example.

Firmware (usually also referred to as “firmware” in French, but also known as micrologiciel/microcode/logiciel interne/microprogramme) is sometimes used interchangeably with embedded software, although firmware can also be applied to code on a computer, on top of which the OS runs, whereas embedded software is typically the only software on the device in question. The term “firmware” plays with the idea of an intermediary state between “software” and “hardware”. Nice play on words…

Trust-based technologies (“technologies de la confiance”) cover the payment, identification and digital security sectors.

NFC stands for Near Field Communication (“la communication en champ proche” (CCP)), which is a technology used in contactless payment. NFC is a set of communication protocols that enable two electronic devices to establish communication by bringing them within 4 cm (1.57 in) of each other. In 2010 Nice launched the “Nice City of contactless mobile” project, providing inhabitants with NFC mobile phones and bank cards, and a “bouquet of services” covering transportation, tourism and student services.

FinTech (also used in French) is a portmanteau for “financial technology” that describes an emerging financial services sector in the 21st century, composed of companies that use new technology and innovation to leverage available resources in order to compete in the marketplace of traditional financial institutions.

Things I learned (military vocab)

Part of what I love about translating is the diverse documents and themes that I get to read and learn about. There are so many things that would probably never have crossed my path were it not for the little bits of research I need to do when translating complex (or not-so-complex) documents.

So here is a selection of interesting military facts I learned while translating this past week:

Uti possidetis (Latin for “as you possess”) is a principle in international law that territory and other property remains with its possessor at the end of a conflict, unless otherwise provided for by treaty. In French, this is often referred to as “le principe de l’intangibilité des frontières“, although in the Helsinki accords, the term used is “inviolability” in English and “inviolabilité” in French. There seems to be a slight difference in these meanings that often goes unnoticed. While a border is always “inviolable” under international law, its “intangibility” is relative, since borders can be modified under a peaceful agreement.

A2/AD (Anti Access/Area Denial) is a device used to prevent an adversary from occupying or traversing an area of land, sea or air. The specific method used does not have to be totally effective in preventing passage (and sometimes is not) as long as it is sufficient to severely restrict, slow down, or endanger the opponent. The French call this “les stratégies de déni d’accès“. This covers everything from stakes being planted in ditches in Medieval warfare to modern anti-ship missiles currently being brandied about in the South China Sea.

A Theatre of Operations (TO – “théâtre d’opérations” in French) is a sub-area within a “theatre of war”, which is itself an area or place in which important military events occur or are progressing. The boundary of a TO is defined by the commander who is orchestrating or providing support for specific combat operations within the TO. But TOs even exist in peace time. In this case, they are divided into “strategic directions” rather than military regions.

Asymmetric warfare (or asymmetric engagement – une guerre asymmétrique”) is war between belligerents whose relative military power differs significantly, or whose strategy or tactics are very different. This is typically a war between a standing, professional army and an insurgency or resistance movement. Such struggles often involve strategies and tactics of unconventional warfare, the weaker combatants attempting to use strategy to offset deficiencies in quantity or quality.

Ivo Andric’s Morning

JUTRO

(Dan jedan praznih očiju i zamagljena čela.)

Toga je jutra crna ptica pjevala u srcu mom:
bila je – bila! Tvoja mladost
i sve je prošlo s njom;
ne pohodi nas dvaput radost:
Crvljivo voće brzo zre;
a sužanj ne zna sunca ni neba
već brzo stari i brzo mre. –
 
Toga je jutra zlatna žica prepukla u srcu mom.

 

Ivo Andrić was one of Yugoslavia’s most famed writers and a Nobel Prize winner best known for his novel “The bridge on the Drina”; he also wrote poetry throughout his life. Born in 1892, Andrić spent most of WWI in prison or under house-arrest, which was when he drafted this particular poem. It’s odd to think that he was only 23 when he wrote it, in that he talks about a past youth; perhaps it was more a feeling of losing out on his youth during formative period in his life and in his country’s history.

His strong emotions are described as physical presences in his chest – the black bird singing and golden wire snapping in his heart. He also uses two images to compare to this sense of bygone youth and happiness. Firstly, by saying that worm-filled fruit ripens fast, and I’m not sure I follow this: is it that once the worm has had his share, there’s not much left of the fruit (as if happiness and youth could be used up the same way)? Is he suggesting that an eventful youth makes one grow up faster, grow wiser like a ripened fruit? Is the worm a symbol of the external forces which ate away at his youthful innocence?

Secondly, he says that a prisoner with no access to the outside quickly grows old and dies. This seems more straight-forward and is clearly an undisguised comparison with his own situation. There is something of a lack of subtlety in this poem, although the last line about a golden wire snapping in his heart is more ambiguous and suggestive. In any case, this is just a first, brief introduction to his early writing.

The first scene-setting line, which appears in parenthesis, seems to be a suggestion of his gloomy state of mind when writing the lines that follow.

 

TRANSLATION CHALLENGES

In the poem, the black bird (not a blackbird) sings “bila je – bila!” (literally, “it was, it was!”) in reference to the poet’s youth. I had to find a word or two that worked in English (“once! / bygone! / passed!” etc.) and settled on “gone!” which comes across as slightly onomatopoeic, it somehow reminds me of Poe’s Raven squawking “Nevermore!”.

If we ignore the first line in parenthesis, then the poem has an ABABCDCA rhyme scheme. It helps that in Serbo-Croat, “youth” rhymes with “happiness” (“mladost/radost”) – not so in English… I tried out a rhymed translation but came up with pretty overused, unsatisfying rhymes (sky/die, youth/truth, heart/part). I preferred the freedom of the second, non-rhymed version (on the right).

Here I altered the punctuation and inverted the line about worms and ripe fruits so that from “Worm-filled fruits ripen fast” it becomes “As ripened fruits are home to worms”. Since, as mentioned above, I’m a little unsure as to the idea behind this line, it’s possible that this inversion goes a bit too far in altering the intended meaning of the image.

And what about that golden wire (thread/chain?) snapping in his heart? Why is it gold? In the Serbo-Croat there’s a nice balance between the repetition of sounds in “crna ptica pjevala” (“the black bird sang”) and “zlatna žica prepukla” (“golden wire snapped”). The first and last lines echo each other both in their structure and in this mirroring of sounds and rhythm. It leads me to imagine the black bird perched on the imaginary golden wire in his chest.

I couldn’t imitate this effect exactly in the English version, but a similar effect is created through the repetition of ‘b’s, ‘w’s and ‘s’s in “the black bird’s song rang in my soul”, and later, “golden wire…snapped within my soul”.

 

 

 

MORNING
(A day of empty eyes and blurry mind.)That morn a black bird sang inside my heart:
gone – gone! – your youth
and with all else you must part;
we are happy only once, ‘tis truth:
Worm-filled fruits ripen fast;
and captives know no sun nor sky
so fast grow old and quickly die.

That morn the golden wire snapped inside my heart.

MORNING

(A day of empty eyes and blurred mind.)

At break of day the black bird’s song rang in my soul:
gone – gone! – your youthful days
and all else with it too,
for happiness does come but once.
As ripened fruits are home to worms,
so captives know no sun nor sky
but quickly age and quickly die.

The golden wire that morning snapped within my soul.

 

Do birds hide to die?

Est-ce que les oiseaux se cachent pour mourir ?

Le soir, au coin du feu, j’ai pensé bien des fois
À la mort d’un oiseau, quelque part, dans les bois.
Pendant les tristes jours de l’hiver monotone,
Les pauvres nids déserts, les nids qu’on abandonne,
Se balancent au vent sur un ciel gris de fer.
Oh ! comme les oiseaux doivent mourir l’hiver !
Pourtant, lorsque viendra le temps des violettes,
Nous ne trouverons pas leurs délicats squelettes
Dans le gazon d’avril, où nous irons courir.
Est-ce que les oiseaux se cachent pour mourir ?

 

I heard this short poem on the radio the other day during a bird-themed segment. It’s by the French 19th century poet and novelist François Copée, who was known as “the poet of the humble”. The poem is indeed humble, almost child-like in its sentiment and expression, but it was somehow endearing, and I wondered if I would bring that across in an English translation.

So first here’s the literal, non-rhymed, clunky version:

 

Do birds hide to die?

At night, by the fire, I’ve many times thought
About a bird dying in the forest somewhere.
During the sad, monotonous winter days,
The poor, abandoned nests
Sway in the winds of an icy grey sky.
Oh! How the birds must die in winter!
Yet when the time of violets comes,
We don’t find their delicate skeletons
In the April grasses through which we run.
Do birds hide to die?

 

Even in this simple version I had to change a few things, namely swapping the future for the present tense when talking about the arrival of Spring. Translating the poem in this literal manner skews the length of the lines and breaks the poem’s rhythm; however, even in the French the lines vary between 10 and 12 syllables, with no clear pattern. Reading this English translation also highlights certain flaws in the original, like the phrase “through which we run” which comes across as a little odd, probably just used just to rhyme “courir” (run) with “mourir” (die). Similarly, “fer” (iron) in “le ciel gris de fer” (literally “the iron grey sky”), is used in order to rhyme with “hiver” (winter). In my version, this image becomes “an icy grey sky”. As I said, not a hugely complex poem this one.

So then I went on to write a couple of rhyming versions in which I get to play around a lot more with the sound and meaning so as to bring across the same tone and imitate the AABBCC rhyme scheme. Like in the French, I stuck to simple rhymes, doing away with vocabulary like “monotonous” and “skeletons” (which, again, mainly seemed to be used to accommodate the rhyme scheme) in favour of the more straight-forward “long” and “bones”.

TRANSLATION CHALLENGES

I had a few options to consider. In lines 1-2, do I ponder by the fire about the birds over yonder, or do I think by the fire at night about the birds dying out of sight? In lines 5-6, do many birds die in the icy grey sky, or is their fate foretold as they die in the cold? I chose the second option in both cases. First, because I prefer to keep the image of the forest/woods, rather than just having the birds dying “out there over yonder” (plus this is a bit of a clichéd expression). Secondly, because I have to rhyme with “die” in the last line, so I’d rather not rhyme with it twice in a 10-line poem.

The rhythm was not always easy to get right. I hesitated over the second line: “Of a bird dead, in the woods, out of sight” / “Of a woodland bird dying, out there, out of sight” / “Of a bird dying, out there, out of sight”. I wanted to keep the image of a wood/forest in there somehow and have the bird dying rather than already dead (RIP, bird).

To give the right rhythm and length to the 4th line, I used the adverb “abandonedly” to describe the swaying of the nest, rather than calling the nest itself “abandoned”. The meaning is not quite the same, I had to check – “abandonedly” can mean “unrestrainedly”, but it’s also a synonym for “helplessly”, which fits the image quite well.

The last line is much longer in the French version (“Est-ce que les oiseaux se cachent pour mourir ?” compared to “Do birds hide to die?”), so I had to pad it out in the English, meaning that the last line no longer reflects the title exactly.

I’m pretty happy with this final version and its run-on lines despite the changes I had to make to the sentence structure. And I’m quite fond of this very simple poem with its somewhat cheerless theme…

 

Do birds hide to die?

Many times have I thought, by the fire at night,
Of a woodland bird dying, out there, out of sight.
During those sorrowful, long winter days,
The small, empty nest abandonedly sways
In the harsh icy winds – their fate is foretold,
Oh, how many birds must die in the cold!
Yet when the season of Spring comes around,
Their fragile bones are not to be found
In the long April grasses –  I ask myself why?
Is it perhaps that birds hide to die?

Poetry on the side of love

From an unknown Bosnian poet last week, I’ve taken on a poem by one of the great Sarajevo poets: Izet Sarajlić. He passed away in 2002 having lived through two great wars, and I’m mostly drawn to the pieces he wrote in the 90s towards the end of his life. There’s an interesting interview in English with him here from 1998, in which the sadness and pessimism of his last years comes through: https://articulosparapensar.wordpress.com/2014/01/25/izet-sarajlic-poetry-is-on-the-side-of-love/

Much of his poetry is about love and home. He spent most of his years with his wife and wrote about their love until the end of his life, which came a few years after the end of hers. She seems to appear in one delicate form or another in most of his poems, in this one she is just suggested by the “loving you” in one line, by the “we” in another.

In the poem I chose to translate, I can almost see the old man wandering through a Sarajevo in ruins, recalling the “city of his youth”, in search of a street which represents him, which might one day carry his name. It seems that although a petition was launched after his death in 2009 to make this happen, as of today I can’t find a street with his name in the city.

The poetry of Izet Sarajlić is the opposite of pompous. His words are simple. He doesn’t seek complexity in his portrayal of the human experience. A street is a street, not an avenue, or boulevard, or promenade; love is love; death is death. No metaphor, no euphemisms, no synonyms.

 

TRAŽIM ULICU ZA SVOJE IME

Šetam gradom naše mladosti
i tražim ulicu za svoje ime.

Velike, bučne ulice –
njih prepuštam velikanima istorije.

Šta sam radio dok je trajala istorija?
Prosto tebe volio.

Malu ulicu tražim, običnu, svakodnevnu,
kojom se, neopaženi od svijeta,
možemo i prošetati poslije smrti.

U početku ona ne mora imati mnogo zelenila,
čak ni svoje ptice.
Važno je da u njoj, bježeći pred hajkom,
uvijek mognu da se sklone i covjek i pas.

Bilo bi lijepo da bude popločana,
ali, na kraju, ni to nije ono najvažnije.

Najvažnije je to
da u ulici s mojim imenom
nikada nikog ne zadesi nesreća.

SEARCHING FOR A STREET TO BEAR MY NAME

I walk through the city of our youth
searching for a street to bear my name.

The wide, noisy streets –
I leave to the titans of history.

What was I doing while history marched on?
Simply loving you.

I’m searching for a small, modest, everyday street,
through which, quite unseen,
we can wander after death.

At first it needn’t be too green,
nor even have its own birds.
What matters is that in it
every fleeing man or dog may find shelter.

It would be nice if it were paved,
but in the end, that’s not what matters most.

What matters is
that in the street that bears my name
no one ever comes to any harm.

One Sunday Afternoon

This is a new challenge in that I’m switching translation language and looking at a poem written in Serbo-Croat. I don’t know who it’s by, I think I found it hanging in a gallery in Sarajevo years ago. It stayed with me and I’ve tried translating it before, but it is deceptive in its simplicity. The title introduces the poem, so a direct translation would be “What the City is Composed of One Sunday Afternoon”, which is a little awkward, but then it allows the form of the poem to follow as in the original “Of…. / Of…. /Of ….”. Otherwise if the title is translated as something like “What Makes up the City on a Sunday Afternoon”, the following lines can’t start with “Of”, rather it ends up being a list of elements. I’ve left both versions at the bottom so you’ll see what I mean.

 

Od čega se sve sastoji grad
Jednog Nedeljnog Popodneva…

Od kiše
Od golubova
Od ljudi bez posla
I metafore skrivene
Medju njima i golubovima
Od nedeljnog popodneva
Od tvog grudnjaka
Preko stolice
Od pranje kose
I dlaka
U začepljenom slivniku
Od mog i tvog djela grada
Od kolportera koji viču vijesti
U koje se nemože vjerovati
Od zvona sa katedrale
Od tvoje ljubavi i moje
Od otvorenog prozora
I napuhane zavjese
Od tihe čežnje za nečim
Što će još malo
Pa zauvijek da nestane.

 

TRANSLATION CHALLENGES

Sound

If this poem made me realise anything, it’s that the sound of a word can render it utterly poetic in one language, and completely frumpy in another. A “pigeon” is a much uglier bird than its Serbo-Croat equivalent “golub”, so in my final translation it was changed to “birds”. A “bra/brazier” just doesn’t have the same tenderness as “grudnjak”, but then neither does “underwear”; “corset” seems antiquated, “nightware” is nicer but not quite the same… “clothes/clothing” was the best alternative I could come up with that didn’t jar in terms of the sounds.

Meaning

The original poem talks of “ljudi bez posla”, literally “people without work”, and I was trying to figure out whether this meant unemployed people, or just people loafing about “idle/rambling/lazing/drifting”. Many times the latter is a result of the former, but knowing the local culture where people spend their days walking up and down the main promenade, I’m banking on the latter.

Interestingly, Serbo-Croat makes a distinction between hair when it is attached to your head “kosa”, and “dlake” which are either hairs on your body, or detached from your head, as when clogging a sink. The lack of this distinction in English makes my translation one line shorter.

Tone

The tone of this poem is the hardest thing to translate. The original exudes this peace and stillness, this warmth and final sadness brought on by the realisation that this perfect moment will have to end. You’re not sure if it’s ending because the lovers have to wistfully part, or because they have to go back to work on Monday morning, but at this point both options appear equally tragic. The lack of punctuation somehow adds to this sense of a single moment, the elements listed are not really individual, they form part of a whole, and your heart sinks a little with that final full stop which comes as a reminder that the moment cannot last.

Context

I found this poem in Sarajevo, and partly I wonder if there isn’t a heavier weight to the melancholy which drifts through its lines. The poet talks of “my part of the city and yours”, of “news which you cannot believe”, and what exactly are those “hidden metaphors” on the streets? When I situate this poem in my mind, it takes place in a pre-war city, when regardless of “which part of town” you came from, you could love each other. And this moment for me is also the poet’s realisation that this is a time which is not only coming to an end, but which will literally “disappear forever”.

 

What I love about it is how the poet captures the simplicity of pure, tranquil happiness, a moment when even clogged drains and loud newspaper salesmen cannot put a dent in the perfection of this moment, one Sunday afternoon.

Here are both versions, the second is more polished and also more faithful to the original despite the somewhat awkward title it implies.

 

What Makes up the City
On a Sunday Afternoon

The rain
The pigeons
The out-of-work people
And metaphors hidden
Between them and the birds
The Sunday afternoon
And your clothing
Thrown over a chair
Washed hair
A clogged sink
Your city and mine
The paper boy shouting
Some impossible news
The cathedral’s bell
Your love and mine
An open window
Curtains blowing
And the soft yearning
For that which will soon
Be gone for good.

 

What the City is Composed of
One Sunday Afternoon…

Of the rain
Of birds
Of idling people
And metaphors hidden
Among them and the birds
Of a Sunday afternoon
Of your clothes
Draped across the chair
Of freshly washed hair
Clogging the sink
Of my part of town and yours
Of the paper men bellowing
Improbable news
Of cathedral bells
Of your love and mine
Of the open window
And fluttering curtains
Of the soft yearning
For that which soon
Will be lost for good.