Last week, I attempted to show both poetry and translation aren’t always as easy as they seem. We struggle with the words, trying to make them express what we want them to; how we feel, what we think about, what we long for; our fears, hopes and dreams.
It’s an uphill battle, if not downright Sisyphosean.
Sisyphos, in case you don’t recall, is rolling a huge rock up a hill, and every time it seems like he is getting somewhere, he loses his grip, the rock rolls back down to the bottom of the hill, and he has to start all over again. For eternity. The myth of Sisyphos, then, is used to illustrate doing something gruelling that will ultimately prove futile. Doing hard work for nothing.
Driving tanks can be like that. Chasing stats is a typically Sisyphosean occupation, or trying to get a Mastery badge, or clear a mission before they reset. The longer you work at it, the more hopeless it seems, and most often all your hard work will be for nothing.
That is why I care about stuff like philosophy and poetry in motion. They help alleviate the crippling fear that your whole existence may itself, in the end, turn out to be strikingly similar to Sisyphos’ punishment.
Yeah, it was a punishment from the gods. Gods are like that. I don’t remember what he did; probably stole something, got uppity, or looked at someone funny.*
My friend whom I spoke of last week has, it seems, had a visit from the Red Wine Muse, but even so found themselves struggling. You may think turning other poetry into tank poetry is easy; my experiment in translation last Sunday was meant to show that it is not.
They tell me they just couldn’t touch one of the sections. “Some things just have to be left as is”. I think that statement has a bit of the poetic to it. See if you can spot which section hasn’t been changed.
As before, T-62 Elliot is not T. S. Eliot; the latter died in 1965, for one thing. The former has been travelling through the European summer accompanied by a few choice bottles and their Muse, dreams of yesteryear, and some definite trace amounts of youthful poetic aspiration.
And that’s all you need. A tiny spark of inspiration. The rest is just work.
T.S. Eliot spent the war making sure people had proper books to read. It’s true; hundreds of thousands of books had been burned in Europe, and Nazi propaganda was everywhere. Starting out as a private undertaking, “Books Across the Sea” became a sort of cultural exchange program, with Eliot as chairman. The organisation exists to this day.
As always, do yourself a favour and look up some original Eliot poetry. I can tell you we are not rid of him just yet in terms of tank poetry, but I leave you now instead with “Preludes”, by T-62 Elliot.
The Winter Malinovka evening settles down
With smell of steaks and Grilles in passageways.
Six Minutes on the clock.
The burnt-out ends of an ISU remains.
And now a rusty Fury wraps
The grimy unoiled tracks
like withered leaves stuck about your feet.
And lit up TDs from Lights who spot;
get showered with HE
On broken tracks and ammoracks,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely Death Star steams and stamps.
And for the Grille the extinguishing of the lamps.
The Commander comes to consciousness
Of faint stale smells of beer
From the track trampled street
With all destroyed
With the camo to masquerade
That time resumes,
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising tentatively the shells
In 100s of ammorack furnished metal tombs
You tossed a blanket from the bed,
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed’s edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.
His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind Himmelsdorff
Or trampled by insistent tracks
At four and five and six o’clock;
the red enemy lit on spot
And new crews slower
And less assured of certain certainties,
The conscience of a Blackened Dog
Impatient to assume the world.
I am moved by tanks that are hurled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering SP1C.
The Light that braves the loss.
Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The turrets revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.
– T-62 Elliot
* Here is where what Sisyphos actually did wrong will be written, unless I forget to look it up.