At first it had no name. It was the thing itself, the vivid thing. It was his friend. On windy days it danced, demented, waving wild arms, or in the silence of evening drowsed and dreamed, swaying in the blue, the goldeny air. Even at night it did not go away. Wrapped in his truckle bed, he could hear it stirring darkly outside in the dark, all the long night long. There were others, nearer to him, more vivid still than this, they came and went, talking, but they were wholly familiar, almost a part of himself, while it, steadfast and aloof, belonged to the mysterious outside, to the wind and the weather and the goldeny blue air. It was part of the world, and yet it was his friend.
Look, Nicolas, look! See the big tree!
Tree. That was its name. And also: the linden. They were nice words. He had known them a long time before he knew what they meant. They did not mean themselves, they were nothing in themselves, they meant the dancing singing thing outside. In wind, in silence, at night, in the changing air, it changed and yet was changelessly the tree, the linden tree. That was strange.
Everything had a name, but although every name was nothing without the thing named, the thing cared nothing for its name, had no need of a name, and was itself only. And then there were the names that signified no substantial thing, as linden and tree signified that dark dancer. His mother asked him who did he love the best. Love did not dance, nor tap the window with frantic fingers, love had no leafy arms to shake, yet when she spoke that name that named nothing, some impalpable but real thing within him responded as if to a summons, as if it had heard its name spoken. That was very strange.
He soon forgot about these enigmatic matters, and learned to talk as others talked, full of conviction, unquestioningly.
The sky is blue, the sun is gold, the linden tree is green. Day is light, it ends, night falls, and then it is dark. You sleep, and in the morning wake again. But a day will come when you will not wake. That is death. Death is sad. Sadness is what happiness is not. And so on. How simple it all was, after all! There was no need even to think about it. He had only to be, and life would do the rest, would send day to follow day until there were no days left, for him, and then he would go to Heaven and be an angel. Hell was under the ground.
Matthew Mark Luke and John
Bless the bed that I lie on
If I die before I wake
Ask holy God my soul to take
He peered from behind clasped hands at his mother kneeling beside him in the candlelight. Under a burnished coif of coiled hair her face was pale and still, like the face of the Madonna in the picture. Her eyes were closed, and her lips moved, mouthing mutely the pious lines as he recited them aloud. When he stumbled on the hard words she bore him up gently, in a wonderfully gentle voice. He loved her the best, he said. She rocked him in her arms and sang a song.
See saw Margery Daw
This little chicken
Got lost in the straw
La început nu avea nume. Era lucrul în sine, lucrul plin de viață. Era prietenul lui. În zilele cu vânt dansa, zănatic, fluturând brațe sălbatice, sau în liniştea înserării moţăia şi visa, legănându-se în aerul albastru, spre auriu. Nici chiar noaptea nu vroia să plece. Învelit, în patul pe rotile, îl auzea cum se frământă afară în întuneric, cât era noaptea de lungă. Mai erau alții, mai aproape de el, şi mai plini de viață decât acesta, veneau și plecau, vorbind, dar erau pe deplin cunoscuţi, aproape o parte din el însuși, în timp ce acesta, ferm și distant, ținea de un afară misterios, de vânt și de vreme și de albastrul spre auriu. Era o parte a lumii, şi era, totuși, prietenul lui.
Uite, Nicolas, uite! Iată copacul cel mare!
Copac. Acesta-i era numele. Și încă ceva: teiul. Erau cuvinte frumoase. Le știa de mult timp înainte de a ști ce înseamnă. Ele însele nu aveau un sens, nu erau nimic în sine, însemnau lucrul care dansează și cântă afară. Pe vânt, în liniște, noaptea, în aerul schimbător, se schimba și era, totuși, copacul fără de schimbare, teiul. Ciudat lucru.
Totul avea un nume, dar deși niciun nume nu era nimic fără lucrul numit, lucrului nici că-i păsa de propriul nume, nu avea nevoie de un nume, își aparținea doar sieși. Și mai erau apoi numele care nu însemnau nimic substanțial așa cum tei și copac însemnau acel dansator întunecat. Mama lui îl întreba pe cine iubeşte cel mai mult. Iubirea nu dansa, nici nu bătea în geam cu degete frenetice, iubirea nu avea brațe înfrunzite pe care să le agite, dar când ea spunea acel nume care nu numea nimic, în el răspundea ca la o chemare un lucru impalpabil, dar real, de parcă și-ar fi auzit numele rostit. Foarte ciudat lucru.
Curând uită de toate aceste treburi enigmatice și învăță să vorbească așa cum vorbesc ceilalți, plin de convingere, fără ezitări. Cerul e albastru, soarele e auriu, teiul e verde. Ziua e lumină, se sfârșește, se înnoptează, iar apoi e întuneric. Dormi, dimineața te trezești din nou. Dar va veni o zi când nu te vei trezi. Aceea este moartea. Moartea e tristă. Tristeţea este ceea ce nu e fericirea. Şi aşa mai departe. Cât de simplu era totul, la urma urmei! Nici măcar nu era nevoie să te gândeşti la asta. El nu avea decât să fie, că viaţa va face restul, va trimite o zi să vină după altă zi, până nu vor mai rămâne zile, pentru el, iar atunci el va urca la ceruri şi va fi înger. Iadul e sub pământ.
Matei Marcu Luca şi Ioan.
Doamne, fie-mi somnu’ lin,
De-o să mor la Tin’ să vin.
Privi pe furiș printre degete cum mama îngenunchează alături în lumina lumânării. Sub părul ei lucios răsucit într-un conci, fața îi era palidă și nemișcată, precum fața Fecioarei din icoană. Ochii îi erau închiși, iar buzele i se mișcau, formând fără glas versetele pioase pe măsură ce el le recita cu voce tare. Când se încurca în cuvintele grele, ea îl sprijinea cu grijă, cu o voce minunat de blândă. Pe ea o iubeşte cel mai tare, zise el. Îl legănă în brațe și îi cântă un cântec.
Huţa huţa, cu căruţa
Uite puiul, hai fuguţa.
The main challenge posed by the fragment selected from Doctor Copernicus was maintaining the childlike simplicity and candour of the text without making it so awkward-sounding and disjointed that the language might flaunt itself, distracting from the images described. For this reason, I have resorted to adapting my translation to traditional speech patterns that might have shaped the child’s view of the world to suggest that his grasp of language is still rather unstable, lacking structural autonomy. This has highlighted certain influences more than in the original, as, for example, the beginning is modelled after the first verse of the Bible, while the rhythm imposed by the second and third sentences aim to indicate his limited expressive means. I have chosen to translate “demented” as the outdated “zănatic” instead of the more commonplace “înnebunit” or the more vividly kinetic “frenetic” to combine the implication of unleashed irrationality with a sense of raw energy. Another interesting lexical choice was prompted by “waved” in the next sentence, as the tree could be said to greet his young friend or to move in a wave-like manner.
To maintain this ambiguity, I have chosen “fluturând” over “unduind”, especially given that it feeds into the same image of reckless abandon suggested by ”zănatic”. Unfortunately, ”goldeny” as a linguistic innovation proposed by the narrator has been lost in translation, as I have followed the form’s suggestion of approximation and equated it with the arguably more conventional yet just as tentative “spre auriu”. Assuming that ”it did not go away” actually describes a repeated action described in the simplest past tense accessible to a child, I have changed it into ”nu vroia să plece”. As such, I did not only prefer prolonging the state indefinitely and introducing a sense of willfulness, but also opted for an understanding of ”go away” as an almost magical vanishing fit for a child’s understanding of the world rather than a concrete and active leaving, which would clash too strongly even with the image of a dancing tree. The stirring of the linden tree, translated as “se frământa”, does not refer simply to its tortured motions, but also endows it with a troubled consciousness, therefore feeding into the image suggested by previous descriptions. The ”it” in ” while it, steadfast and aloof” could create a sense of unintended grammatical ambiguity in Romanian if translated as ”el” given that the target language lacks a pronoun intended only for objects and animals as opposed to human subjects. Consequently, I have chosen a rather artificial manner of separating the animate (the child) and the inanimate, but seen as if mysteriously animated (the tree), by calling the former ”el” throughout and the latter ”acesta” to impose a sense of emotional distance from it.
For added structural coherence, I have also translated the past simple of ”it changed” as the indeterminate past ”se schimba” to suggest a repeated action and the linguistic innovation ”change-lessly” had to be passed up in favour of the more conservative ”fără de schimbare” to maintain the sense of a struggle to express oneself despite a severely limited received vocabulary. Although „dragostea” would be a more commonplace word for “love” in Romanian, permeating folklore at a deeper level than its other equivalents, I have settled for “iubire” because of its shared root with the verb (“a iubi”), preferring to stress this claustrophobic use of language over the commonality of vocabulary
While “clasped hands” would more aptly be described as “mâini încleștate”, its Romanian counterpart makes it seem as if vision is not possible, hence I have chosen to go with the more conventional ”printre degete” to suggest a more vivid and self-explanatory image of his position. Simplifying ”mama lui” (”his mother”) as ”mama”, as a child might call out, was done so as to permit the illusion of free indirect speech and not to leave too abruptly the narrator’s headspace. So as not to break with the traditional atmosphere, “Madonna” was translated as “Fecioara”, and “picture”, in this religious context, was translated as “icoană”. ”Mutely” had to be approximated as a negative form (”fără zgomot”), while ”as” was translated not as ”când” or ”odată ce”, but as ”pe măsură ce”, to insist on the durative aspect of the action.