Having been in the company of authors from Germany and Sweden while I was at Hawthornden, the subject of translation came up frequently in conversations, and Elisabeth Olin offered to translate pieces by all of us into Swedish, which was a fascinating process.
It made me want to revisit an old poem of mine, which I had originally written in English, then translated into Scots and German. The Scots version is the one which was published, in Sushi & Chips (2010). Susanne Stephan looked at my German translation, and made some suggestions, which I’m happy to take on board. So here’s the whole thing again, in three languages. For me, it’s still the Scots one which works best, but see what you think:
Im Hafen ein Seehund
befragt die Luft, taucht,
naseschnippt die toten Fische –
Köder oder Beifang –
verstreut auf dem Meeresboden.
Neben der Landspitze, vom Riff ausgeräumt,
schlägt Die lustige Witwe einen trauervollen Ton an.
Der Meereswind saugt ihn an und aus
dem leeren Rahmen des Steuerradraums,
es schwankt die algengedämpfte Glocke
welche die Möwen ruft
zu ihren rauen Gebeten.
(with thanks to Susanne Stephan)
In the harbour a seal
questions the air,
dives to noseflip bait or bycatch
littering the muddy floor.
By the headland, gutted by a reef,
the ‘Merry Widow’ strikes a sombre note;
the sea’s wind sucks in and out
of empty wheelhouse frames,
rocks the weed-muffled bell,
to their raucous prayers.
I’ the herbour a selkie
speirs air, dooks,
nebs the scag
strawn aboot the glaury grund.
Neist the ness, skellie-guttit,
the ‘Blithesome Weedae’ dings a mirkie mark;
the sea’s swoof sooks in an oot
the toom winnocks o the wheelhoose,
howders the tang-quaitened bell
‘at cries the maws
til their roupit saums.