I just completed the fist draft of the Sullivan translation. Curious, how I've done a dozen different drafts in my head; one stanza at a time, one sentence or metaphor. It is difficult to know what any expression means when it can mean a dozen different things at the same time: and any translation collapses this beautiful amorphous field of meaning much in the same way as opening Schrödinger's box collapses the probability wave which results in either a living or a dead cat. Or no cat: my favourite interpretation of this thought experiment is the one where on opening the box, it is found empty.
Some time ago, I read a novel by Ursula Le Guin where conducting Schrödinger's experiment in the fictitious reality resulted in the whole world's becoming completely unpredictable, with the breaking of the law of cause and effect. In the end, only the cat was left licking his (her?) whiskers while the storyteller her(him?)self dissolved in a wave of improbabilities.
Does my translation, in its first and purposefully very literal draft collapse the wave and kill the cat? Surely, a better solution would be to find the poem alive after its transformation. How to achieve this? Some degree of metamorphosis is necessary to create a new probability wave, for the readers to collapse in this or that meaning at their whimsy.
It is difficult to achieve this when I do not know what the writer wants to say in this poem, what are the thoughts and feelings she would like the reader to experience when faced with this text. What were the thoughts which inspired this poem? Does it have some personal significance to its author, did some particular incident (a car crash? suicide?) cause her to write this?
Of course, I could ask her, she is still alive. But I'm not sure if I should. There is a tradition among the Canadian feminist translators of discussing and/or altering the text with the original author, but I question its helpfulness with poetry. What if I did ask her and found out, for example, that the poem was written after the death of a close friend/relative as a result of her (the author) attempt to understand the situation and her own mortality - if I knew, would it change the words themselves? This is a poem, without any room for explanations or footnotes. There are only so many changes that can be made without moving from translation to rewriting.
This is something I must consider. In some degree, this poem also becomes mine through the translation/rewriting process, but I acknowledge a debt of loyalty to the author's original creation. Whatever the end result will be, it won't be something done blithely or off-hand.
The box is still closed.