The Guitar

Warsaw’s international book fair used to be organized earlier in the 60-years old Palace of Culture. I reported here earlier about this building of ambivalent fame.

Recently the fair has been moved to a big new sport arena serving also as a congress venue with exhibition spaces around the stadium on 3 levels, and with many rooms for conferences. The rooms are named after big cities, and in the room London I was going to speak on the second day of the fair, 23 May 2014.

My host was the Polish association of translators and interpreters (Stowarzyszenie Tłumaczy Polskich), whose head Aleksandra Niemirycz belongs to the bloggers of the WordPress. She wanted to let me talk about my translator’s career which is actually closed (though not forgotten), and about the great Polish renaissance-poet Jan Kochanowski who was the first translator of the complete Book of Psalms into Polish. He translated more from Latin and Greek, and reflected shortly but significantly upon the calling of translator surrounded by two goddesses: Necessitas and Poetica.

I am not translating any more, my last book project was commissioned in 1990, and appeared in 1994. My greatest commercial success was sold in 100 thousand copies – it was the novel of Jan Wolkers, published soon after communist censorship has been outlawed  in 1990. So my work had enough time to become forgotten, but some of my translations are still present on the market. There were at least three personal reasons for my speaking during a yearly book fair of 2014: an audio-book, a theatre-performance, and a second edition of another book.

But first I had to visit the theater Studio situated in the old Palace. I wanted to collect the poster of the performance to exhibit in the room where I was going to talk.

On my way to the Palace, in front of its south side I noticed a guitar’s neck abandoned on the pavement.

2014-05-23 12.14.27gitara-kwp

People walked along, some took a longer step to avoid it, nobody seemed much impressed, as if there was no story behind a broken guitar.

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Knowing nothing about the causes I could only show the silent witnesses of the guitar’s fatal adventure: the trees on the square in front of the Culture Palace, the skyscraper called Warsaw’s sail by David Libeskind (for both buildings see my earlier post Culture), and some people passing by.

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A hidden camera could catch more reactions, I stood there only for some three minutes.

On my way to the conference room we had a short talk with the director of the Fair whom we accidentally met between the book stands.

Some publishers were represented by the impersonations of the heroes of their books, like this billy goat, from the poet Kornel Makuszyński’s children series.

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We worked out a title „Przekład jako sztuka rozumienia” (Translation as an act of understanding), which followed of more explicit versions like „translation as an act of friendship”.

During my talk I concentrated on Kochanowski as translator from classical Latin and Greek, learned, versatile and innovative. No one before him has translated so much of so different genres and using so different styles. According to the usage of his time he was most accurate translator in case of Psalms, in other works he felt more free to adapt.

Of course I could not remain silent about my work. I mentioned the audiobook which was available on one of the stands hired by friends of my publisher Michał Brzozowski (mała litera). The Dutch novel Turks fruit by Jan Wolkers, in my translation Rachatłukum is being performed by the actor Marcin Bosak who also co-authored the monodrama which he is successfully performing since 17.04.2013. During one year of performances the play has been visited by ca 1800 audience.

Finally I presented the second edition of my collection of fairy tales of the Netherlands (Flanders, Holland, Friesland) which I have translated from very different sources. One of them was the work of two schoolboys who wrote down the folktales they heard from their grandmother.

Interestingly, I checked my translator’s skill in this case during the digital stylometry class I took at our institute (13-15.June 2014). Comparison of the full texts of ca 30 tales has shown that that one written down by the schoolboys in their clumsy language differed so strongly from all others that the visual diagram positioned it in the margin of the field.

The translator is a music player who has to use different instruments, or a singer who sings with different voices.

The day brought another echo-experience. In the evening after the book-fair I was invited to visit the Dutch House, and to participate in the meeting with the Dutch writer Toon Tellegen, who was presenting his book in Polish translation. I brought him a copy of a literary journal of 1996 with his poems in my translation.

Going back to the tram stop I passed a guitar player sitting at the wall and preparing for his evening performance. I told him the story of the broken guitar I saw that morning. – O, don’t tell me this – protested the musician – my leg is broken.

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But he smiled and I was sure it wasn’t him who destroyed last night his old guitar to embrace a new one. And that he won’t break this one he started to play as I went away.

Informacje o Andrzej Dąbrówka

Tenured professor, Institute of Literary Research (Polish Academy of Sciences), Warsaw.
Ten wpis został opublikowany w kategorii art, books, conferences, literature, Netherlands, personal, photography, poetry, Poland, theatre. Dodaj zakładkę do bezpośredniego odnośnika.

11 odpowiedzi na „The Guitar

  1. mbitproducer pisze:

    The guitar plot has so much blues to it, I’d say the translator is a mastered instrument player! : )

    • It is one of the strongest and unfulfilled dreams of the translator who as a student purchased a flute and a manual to learn playing. It didn’t work.
      They say, Socrates managed it being already an old man. Asked why is he doing this, he answered: It is not a stupid thing to learn something you couldn’t do.

      So, who knows?

  2. I’m glad to see the monodrama based on Wolkers’s Turks fruit [transl. Rachatłukum] at the Studio theatre,rachatłukum/ goes in the next season with performances at

    19.10.2014 19:00
    22.10.2014 21:15
    29.11.2014 21:00

  3. For Joe Levy’s review od a biography of Bob Dylan and his photo as guitar-player on the roof see

  4. Pingback: The smile of Santiago | adabrowka

  5. The Guitar

    by Federico García Lorca

    translated by Cola Franzen

    The weeping of the guitar
    The goblets of dawn
    are smashed.
    The weeping of the guitar
    to silence it.
    to silence it.
    It weeps monotonously
    as water weeps
    as the wind weeps
    over snowfields.
    to silence it.
    It weeps for distant
    Hot southern sands
    yearning for white camellias.
    Weeps arrow without target
    evening without morning
    and the first dead bird
    on the branch.
    Oh, guitar!
    Heart mortally wounded
    by five swords.


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