I’m spending the next 6 months reading The Waste Land and exploring it, its meaning, its references, its context and its place in (modern?) culture.
In my last post I outlined my plan for approaching this project, noting there are some basics to cover. This post therefore looks at translating the foreign language lines throughout The Waste Land. We don’t here yet explore what the meaning of the lines is or the wider work from where they’re taken, nor why Eliot chose to use foreign language to express them.
A note on process: where Eliot makes specific reference to the foreign language lines in his notes, then I have allowed myself to find a relevant copy of the text online. My thinking here is that I could as easily find a copy of the given title in a library, but physically accessing a library would extend the project by several months! Where, though, there is no reference in Eliot’s notes then I have not simply searched for it. This goes back to part of my original reason for undertaking this project: “to create some space, focus and flow for myself in one tiny area of the physical and mental worlds”.
Now, to the translations.
I’m actually going to deal with the epigraph in a separate post. It’s in Latin and Greek, and is not alluded to in any of Eliot’s notes. Part of the challenge I’ve set myself in this project is not simply to Google an answer – there must be a process of discovery – so I am trying to find a translation of the epigraph and from where it’s taken via separate means.
For Ezra Pound
il miglior fabbro
This Italian translates as “the better maker” and refers to the fact that Ezra Pound supported Eliot closely in how he structured the poem, and indeed gave it its title. I discovered this through reading Peter Watson’s A Terrible Beauty, which I realise now is where I first substantively came across The Waste Land.
(A note for later study is to understand better the role Ezra Pound played in the creation of The Waste Land.)
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aust Litauen, echt deutsch (12)
Not referred to in Eliot’s notes, I assume that Eliot wrote this himself and have translated this line myself to be: “I am not Russian, but Lithuanian – true German”
Frisch weht der Wind / Der Heimat zu / Mein Irisch Kind, wo weilest du? (31-34)
Cited in Eliot’s notes as being lines 5-8 of Act I of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. A common translation has these lines as:
Fresh blows the Wind
My Irish Child
where are you now?
(A note for later study is to find out more about Tristan und Isolde)
Oed’ und leer das Meer
Also cited in Eliot’s notes as being from Tristan und Isolde – line 24 of Act III, translating as:
Desolate and void the sea!
“You! hypocrite lecteur!–mon semblable,–mon frere!” (76)
Cited in Eliot’s notes as being from the (poem) preface to Baudelaire’s Fleurs de Mal (Flowers of Evil), this translates as:
you — hypocrite Reader — my double — my brother!
Et O ces voix d’enfants, chantant dans la coupole! (202)
I could have had a stab at this French – children’s voices singing somewhere or other. Fortunately, Eliot notes the source in his notes: Verlaine’s poem Parsifal. It translates as:
And, O these children’s voices singing in the dome!
Although we are not yet exploring the meaning of these foreign language lines, we should note here in the rest of Parsifal an explicit reference to the Holy Grail (“As priest-king and guardian of the sacred treasure / In golden robe he worships that sign of grace / The pure vessel in which shines the Holy Blood”). Parsifal is also the name of another Wagner opera (as is Tristan und Isolde) – there’s much here to get into later.
Datta (402), Dayadhvam (412), Damyata (419) (and again together at 433)
The translation is given by Eliot himself in his notes as:
Give, sympathise, control
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina (428)
Cited in Eliot’s notes as being from Dante’s Purgatory, line 148 of canto 26, and translates as:
Then, in the fire that refines, he hid
Quando fiam uti chelidon (429)
Eliot’s notes cite this line from Pervigilium Veneris and he probably meant to refer to the translation as:
When shall I become like a swallow
Le Prince d’Aquitaine a la tour abolie (430)
Again, my secondary level French may well have sufficed for this one (a Prince, a destroyed tower), but Eliot kindly provides a note to point us in the direction of El Desdichado by Gerard de Nerval. The translation is:
The Aquitaine Prince whose tower is destroyed
Shantih shantih shantih (434)
Given by Eliot in his notes to mean “The Peace which passeth understanding”.
So we have a literal understanding of what the foreign language lines of The Waste Land mean – a good start. We’ve also begun to create a reading list of sources from which Eliot drew direct inspiration (Wagnerian opera, Dante’s Divine Comedy, some Sanskrit texts). Before we explore their specific meanings, what the meanings of the works they’re taken from is, and why they’re used in a foreign form, we’ll carry on looking at some other basics, too, continuing next with the characters referenced throughout.