Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"On the Life of Ptolemy"

Poetry at its best uses words in new ways.  Mathematics sometimes does that also.  But for a poet to use mathematical terms in new ways can be risky.  Nichita Stanescu (Romania, 1933 - 1983) was a poet unafraid to take that risk.  Here is Sean Cotter's translation of Stanescu's "On the Life of Ptolemy" from the new and fine Stanescu collection, Wheel with a Single Spoke.

     On the Life of Ptolemy     by Nichita Stanescu

     Ptolemy believed in the straight line,
     It exists.
     Count its points and, if you can,
     tell me the number.

     To doubt the straight line
     you first have to know how many points
     it has.

     I detest those who make an arc
     from a woman
     they do not know and have
     never seen.

     When Ptolemy was born,
     the earth was nothing in particular,
     when he died,
     the earth was as flat as your palm.

     When Ptolemy was born
     many had not been, yet.
     After he died,
     quite a few had not been, yet.

     I have much enjoyed the translations in Wheel with a Single Spoke and other poems; translated by Sean Cotter and published in 2012 by Archipelago Books, a non-profit literary press dedicated to cross-cultural exchange.  Cotter is a professor at the University of Texas, Dallas, and has specialties in translation and in Romanian literature.  
     The original Romanian versions of many Stanescu works and a few English translations are available online --  for example, here and here.  Several Stanescu poems (co-translated by me with Gabriel Prajitura or Stelian Apostolescu) along with biographical material and work by other Romanian poets are found at my website -- or you may link directly here to a bilingual file with a quartet of Stanescu translations.

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