Off-topic request for opinion from all you literary types

Gili Bar-Hillel gbhillel at netvision.net.il
Mon Jan 10 02:09:28 EST 2005


Explanation... please read only after reading and giving your answers about
the poem, if you plan to.

S
P
O
I
L
E
R

S
P
A
C
E

P
L
E
A
S
E

S
C
R
O
L
L

D
O
W
N

S
O
M
E

M
O
R
E

First, apologies for wording my questions as sort of vague test questions. I
couldn't think of another way to gage immediate connotations and how one
would parse the sentence, without writing questions that would be too
obviously leading.
The discussion of this poem started when I posted a translation of it on my
blog, in response to a translation that had appeared in the paper. My main
problem with the translation in the paper was that in translation, it was no
longer a sestina: the end words weren't where they were supposed to be. I
tried to amend this, which is tricky, because in Hebrew the adjective
follows the noun, so that any adjective-noun pair such as "old grandmother",
"wise almanac" or "equinoctial tears" can't be translated straight if the
sestina is to remain a sestina.

For "equinoctial", I was mostly interested in seeing whether your response
would relate more to the force of the storm (equinoctial storms are
considered pretty violent), the date of the storm, the fact that
"equinoctial" is a climatalogical term such as could appear in an almanac,
or something else altogether. The responses up to now seem to touch on all
of the above, perhaps I should have worded the question differently, or
maybe that's just the way it is. The other translator, I suspect, misread
her dictionary definition, and in her translation the tears are "equal to
each other"; given that in Hebrew the word for "equinox" is the same as that
for "equalization", I can see how that could come about. I had written
something like "the cold front of her tears" and I'm wondering if I should
change it to "the autumn storm of her tears".

For "the house/ feels chilly", both the other translator and myself seem to
have independently parsed it wrongly. We both thought the grandmother was
telling her grandchild that the house itself - personified - felt chilly.
There's plenty enough personification of objects in the poem, and she's
talking to a child, after all. Someone who commented on my blog claimed that
only a reader of Hebrew would parse that line as "the house is feeling
chilly" (because in Hebrew one shouldn't properly say "it feels chilly",
only "it is chilly"), but a typical English reader would read it as meaning
"it is chilly in the house". In English it doesn't seem to matter whether
the house is a sentient being that can feel the cold or not, and both
meanings can be there, side by side. In Hebrew one would have to decide
conclusively whether the meaning is "it is chilly in the house" or "the
house is feeling chilly". I still prefer the second meaning better, with the
implied metonym that Charlie hinted at - my own grandmother used to say "let
the cat in, he misses me" - but given your responses I have to concede that
typical English readers would be more likely to get the first meaning.

Thanks for your input. A dictionary can teach the meaning of a word, but
only other people can tell you what a word makes them feel and think.

Gili











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