How to translate words born from silence? How to make them float in space, possibly changing their shape but keeping their direction? How to show them glistening in light for a moment, then let them fall back to silence again?
Prometheus on his Crag was wrien by Ted Hughes in parallel with the poet’s experimental play, Orghast, performed in 1971 at the Festival of Arts of Shiraz-Persepolis, directed by Peter Brook. The play drew on light and sound effects, and was based on two ancient languages, classical Greek and Avesta. It was linked in spirit to Calderon who spoke about the interchangeability of life and dream, using no words or some kind of an invented language. It was to change the consciousness of the audience, to examine ‘the mental state’ (Tom Stoppard) within a sound. Actors from all over the world participating in the performance used this ‘new language’ of about 2,000 words for communicating with each other.
In contrast, the short pieces of Prometheus are composed of existing English words, though they are like clots of blood, disembodied, overcoming gravity, floating in the air. Language beyond language. Enormous weight in weightlessness. No special rhyme or rhythm, yet each word irreplaceable. Human suffering wrapped in an unearthly, dimmed light as if to avoid emotions provoked by violent scenes.
The Hungarian language can recreate this density and silky uniqueness through abstraction, e.g. dropping articles (a word = szó; the wound = seb) or making predicates from adjectives (unutterable = kimondhatatlan), choosing the shortest, toughest words possible (‘de’ instead of ‘csak’ = only).
‘The vital, immortal wound’ − extreme weight in a short line with its double contradiction: vital versus wound and immortal versus wound. ‘Sun’ and ‘navel’ like keywords, but no explanation. Birth and death uplied in space. In Hungarian ‘vital’ becomes vital necessity = létszükséglet, in a separate clause to gain weight. One word, one short moment of pain and (de)light can represent the whole beauty and threat of the universe. As the Hungarian poet János Pilinszky said: ‘he who cheats in words does not simply lose a life-chance, but the chance for confession’.
Do we always cheat when we are not alone? Do we pretend that we are what we are, that our words express what we think and feel? As T. S. Eliot says, there will be time ‘to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet’. Translation is a meeting with a happy or unhappy ending. The chance to confess: open up a channel for interchanging thoughts and feelings. Voice and spirit are matched or not, the challenge gives tension, the tension gives inspiration to create or re-create.
The vital, immortal wound.
One nuclear syllable, bleeding silence.
Absence becomes presence, the enigma almost seems to be cracked before the dimness takes over. Flame becomes ‘lángnyelv’ (= tongue of flame) in Hungarian to create a more vivid (and infernal) image, while gobbet (= gombóc) uses another set of images visualizing a round shape, that of the sun, upliing the scene again to heavenly spheres. And helping us to go back to the first line: ‘No God − only wind on the flower’. Nem Isten, de szél a virágon. Wind. Flame. Gobbet. Wound. Silence. And then again. Our existence. No less, no more. In words, in two different languages, still beyond language, throbbing in our veins.