Maud directs the way to this essay by Anne Carson about the “metaphysical silences” of translations — places where the text falls silent, not because it’s incomplete, but because in some larger sense there are no words. As illustration, Carson uses a passage from The Odyssey and, even more interestingly, the transcripts from Joan of Arc’s trial. It’s good stuff.
The essay sent me back to If Not, Winter, Carson’s translations of the fragments of Sappho, although there, as Carson notes, the silences are physical, not metaphysical. She writes: “Physical silence happens when you are looking at, say, a poem of Sappho’s inscribed on a papyrus from two thousand years ago that has been torn in half. Half the poem is empty space. A translator can signify or even rectify this lack of text in various ways–with blankness or brackets or textual conjecture–and she is justified in doing so because Sappho did not intend that part of the poem to fall silent.”
I wish we had the poems; but I love the fragments too. And the silences around them, as rendered by Carson, take on their own kind of beauty. Here are a few examples:
] luxurious woman
I long and seek after
their heart grew cold
they let their wings down
]the bride with beautiful feet
]child of Kronos with violets in her lap
]setting aside anger the one with violets in her lap
]pure Graces and Pierian Muses
]whenever songs, the mind
]listening to a clear song
]her hair playing the lyre
]Dawn with gold sandals
* See the essay. I like to think this was Carson’s working title.