I clearly recall the day I first became truly aware of myself, I mean of myself as something that everything else was not. As a boy I liked best those dead intervals of the year when one season had ended and the next had not yet begun, and all was grey and hushed and still, and out of the stillness and the hush something would seem to approach me, some small, soft, tentative thing, and offer itself to my attention. This day of which I speak I was walking along the main street of the town. It was November, or March, not cold, but neutral. From a lowering sky fine rain was falling, so fine as to be hardly felt. It was morning, and the housewives were out, with their shopping bags and headscarves. A questing dog trotted busily past me looking neither to right nor left, following a straight line drawn invisibly on the pavement. There was a smell of smoke and butcher’s meat, and a brackish smell of the sea, and, as always in the town in those days, the faint sweet stench of pig-swill. The open doorway of a hardware shop breathed brownly at me as I went past. Taking in all this, I experienced something to which the only name I could give was happiness, although it was not happiness, it was more and less than happiness. What had occurred? What in that commonplace scene before me, the ordinary sights and sounds and smells of the town, had made this unexpected thing, whatever it was, burgeon suddenly inside me like the possibility of an answer to all the nameless yearnings of my life? Everything was the same now as it had been before, the housewives, that busy dog, the same, and yet in some way transfigured. Along with the happiness went a feeling of anxiety. It was as if I were carrying some frail vessel that it was my task to protect, like the boy in the story told to us in religious class who carried the Host through the licentious streets of ancient Rome hidden inside his tunic; in my case, however, it seemed I was myself the precious vessel. Yes, that was it, it was I that was happening here. I did not know exactly what this meant, but surely, I told myself, surely it must mean something. And so I went on, in happy puzzlement, under the small rain, bearing the mystery of myself in my heart.
Was it that same phial of precious ichor, still inside me, that spilled in the cinema that afternoon, and that I carry in me yet, and that yet will overflow at the slightest movement, the slightest misbeat of my heart?
Comment on Eclipse
This scene of recollection excerpted from Eclipse is filled with a “neutral” atmosphere that is fragile and therefore beautiful. Throughout my process of translating this, I was feeling as if I were wrapped in a pale grey mist. This mist consists of what “I” see and feel on a nameless day of November or March as a child, such as a questing dog, a brackish smell of the sea, and a brown breeze from a hardware shop’s open doorway. Each depiction seems meaningless in itself, and in fact nothing special happens on the day. Nevertheless, a pile of these trifling things shapes something precious only to “me”, as each tiny water drop creates a fine mist as a whole. The mist is hardly felt but actually exists and keeps touching “me” softly. When “I” suddenly notice such a permanent, voiceless message, “I first became truly aware of myself”. The episode in this excerpt is quite private but somehow universal at the same time, and the reader can feel as if this mist consists of his own commonplace but irreplaceable memories.
Wrapped in such a mysterious mist, “I” am carefully carrying a frail phial inside “me” lest precious ichor spill from it. John Banville’s exquisite use of commas expresses the subtle movement of “my” mind. Each short phrase connected by commas seems to imply “my” careful walk to keep a proper balance and remain “neutral”. Especially at the end of the paragraph which begins with “I clearly recall ...”, a certain rhythm created by short pauses indicated with commas encourages the reader to imagine that “I” savour the existence of the precious phial at every step with both pleasure and anxiety at the same time — “And so I went on, in happy puzzlement, under the small rain, bearing the mystery of myself in my heart”. There is a kind of tension in “my” mind because “I” have to keep the well-balanced, “neutral” state that will be lost by even the slightest movement, but this tension is not extreme and strangely includes softness and sweetness in it. How can these exquisite sentences, which have a subtle balance between contradictory elements, be translated without losing their beauty? This was one of the most significant questions I had in the process of translation. Simply reflecting the commas of the original text in the translation can create unnatural Japanese expressions, while dividing a long sentence which consists of several phrases connected by commas into two separate sentences has a risk of ignoring the rich rhythm of the original. Banville’s writing itself was precious ichor for me, and this translation project told me how carefully and preciously translators should carry the original English text to readers in non-English-speaking countries with as little spill as possible.