Translating Tarchetti

We continue with our theme of avant-garde and our focus on Italian writer and poet Iginio Ugo Tarchetti. As previously discussed, Tarchetti was an exponent of the Scapigliatura movement, which developed in the North of Italy at the end of the nineteenth century, in particular among the cultural and literary circles of a sprawling, increasingly wealthy Milan. While despising the provincialism of some aspects of the Italian literature of the time, and polemicising the ways and values of the bourgeoisie, the scapigliati led bohème lives and sought to explore in their writings and artwork an alternative reality. Tarchetti, together with Cletto Arrighi, Arturo Graf, Giuseppe Rovani and Emilio Praga, among others, became influenced by the German Romantics, by the French symbolists, and by foreign gothic fiction. In this sense they proposed a fresh outlook to the domestic literature and culture. Their work, and in particular Tarchetti’s novels and poems, are concerned with death, illness (physical and psychological), deformities, pathologies, and the bizarre. The aspect of the ‘fantastic’ in Tarchetti’s works, as well his relationship through translation to the foreign gothic, have been extensively discussed by Lawrence Venuti, who sees Tarchetti’s own translation and adaptation practice as foregnising and dissident (2008, pp.125ff).

IMG_3123The next poem by Tarchetti which has been translated for this blog is number VII, also taken from his Disjecta collection.  The poem, picturing the poet and a female companion sitting on the bank of a river, ‘alone’ physically and mentally, contemplating  fate and death, is full of ambiguity and despair, as they seem to be attracted at once to the flowing, free waters of the river, and yet grieving for what lies beyond.

The translation is in the form of a filmic poem. In a previous post ‘Notes on the art of text making‘ I have discussed how filmic or cinematic poetry  (or indeed poetry-film) experiments with different media to express different textual layers and narratives. Filmic poetry – both as a literary genre and an art-form – has been pioneered by the modern American and European avant-garde, who sought to create a new genre, where the verbal and the visual text together would produce meaning in a poetic form, in the sense of creating metaphors, associations, new connotations (see Wees 1984).

The use of the moving image is also apt in the translation of avant-garde texts (and in the avant-garde mode of translation of texts) as movements such as Surrealism were experimenting with the then new and exciting medium of film making, playing with, and subverting it.

You can read more about the translation of Disjecta VII, and view the translation, in our page Translations and other writings.


Venuti, Lawrence (2008) The Translator’s Invisibility, A History of Translation. Routledge

Wees, William (1984) “The Poetry Film” in Wees, William & Dorland, Michael (eds) Words and Moving Images, Mediatexte Publications.

Translating the Italian ‘Scapigliatura’ and Iginio Ugo Tarchetti


After a long break we are back to offer you some translations on the theme of surrealism and avant-garde.

The Italian writer we are working on at the moment is Iginio Ugo Tarchetti. He was born in San Salvatore Monferrato, in Piemonte, in 1839 and later lived in Milan where he joined the ‘Scapigliatura’, an artistic movement equivalent to the French bohème. Literally, ‘scapigliati’ means ‘dishevelled’, ‘unkempt’, and its members shared a spirit of rebellion against traditional values and the artistic and literary canon of the time. Tarchetti published short stories, novels and poems. He was called the Italian Edgard Allan Poe as the atmosphere of his Fantastic Tales echoes the gothic obsession with the morbid.

Tarchetti was born too early (and indeed died too early at the age of 29) to be part of any twentieth-century avant-garde movement. However, his rebellious spirit and his sense of the ‘fantastic’ flows into a series of images which are originally surreal and therefore his writing well lends itself to experimental translation.

We have decided to translate a couple of his poems from a collection called ‘Disjecta’. The first poem we present is number VIII. To read and view the translations go to Translation and Other Writings.

As always we look forward to having your comments.

Guest Post: Between Opacity and Transparency: Surrealism in Translation

By Elise Aru

What is Surrealism? These key words that spring to my mind are: the unconscious, dreams, free associations, collage, marvellous, psychoanalysis, the exquisite corpse game and André Breton. For the past few years, I have mainly been working on the translation of Surrealist poetry including poems by André Breton, Paul Eluard, Salvador Dalí, and Joyce Mansour.

What I particularly enjoy when working with Surrealism is the variety of practices involved in their production, some of which display the most extraordinary associations of verbal and non verbal elements. I am interested in ludic practices, games played to initiate Surrealist writing, the practice of collage derived from automatism and free association, and their numerous displacements of phrases, objects and works of art, all of which have encouraged me to adopt an experimental approach to translating Surrealist works.

To illustrate my approach to translating Surrealism, I decided to present here my translation of one of André Breton’s dreams, ‘Rêve II’.[i]

Surrealist poets, many of whom studied medicine, often under parental pressure, were influenced by the emerging field of psychoanalysis, particularly by Sigmund Freud’s theories and publications including Pierre Janet’s L’automatisme psychologique (1889). At the time, Freud was not yet translated into French which means that many Surrealists discovered his work through references in the work of others, for instance in the summary of his theories put together by Dr Régis in his Précis de psychiatrie.

Psychoanalysis was a rich resource for the Surrealist poets and artists who wanted to be free from reason and have access to the unconscious. The definition that they gave to Surrealism states:

SURREALISME, n. m. Automatisme psychique pur par lequel on se propose d’exprimer, soit verbalement, soit par écrit, soit de toute autre manière, le fonctionnement réel de la pensée. Dictée de la pensée, en l’absence de tout contrôle exercé par la raison, en dehors de toute préoccupation esthétique ou morale.

[SURREALISM, n. Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express – verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner – the actual functioning of thought. Dictated thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.] [ii]

This definition was initially published in the Manifeste du Surréalisme in 1924 and outlined the group’s activities and practices. In an interview with Judith Jasmin on 27th February 1961, André Breton explained that the definition of Surrealism had not changed since the day it was first formulated.[iii]

Derived from psychoanalysis and its use of dream material, dreams for Breton are key poetic resources – an idea which he explores, argues and demonstrates in Les Vases communicants. Dreams infuse the Surrealist poetic language through marvellous and unexpected word association. Breton acknowledges Freud’s influence, but explains how his approach is different by suggesting that dreams act as a bridge between the unconscious and reality as the Surrealists see it. The ‘surreality’ results from the interpenetration of dreams and the ordinary reality. [iv]

Below is a GIF file presenting my translation, which is made up of a rectangular vase measuring 19,5cmx14,5cmx9,5cm inside of which there is a rolled up 16mx10cm pharmaceuticals cotton crepe bandage. On the vase, a white sticker reads ‘Rêve II/Dream II’, André Breton. What I propose here is not only an interlingual translation but also an intersemiotic translation: I provide a new medium for the poem.

Rêve II GIF - Elise Aru

The text is entirely translated from French into English and is written with a blue felt pen on the cotton crepe bandage. I was not able to write but rather I had to stain the text onto the bandage. These stains in the shape of letters and words will be the remaining traces of the experience that dreaming is. Recounting a dream consists of rendering not exactly the dream but the memory of the dream that remains with the dreamer in the morning.

Readers must put their hand in the vase to seize the rolled up bandage. While they gradually unfold the strip of bandage, the narrative of the dream unravels and reveals itself. After having translated the text, the setting of the glass vase and the bandage cloth quickly sprung to my mind and I drew it in the notebook I use for my translations. I only made sense of these materials when I started reflecting on dreams and their fascinating multiple layers of meaning.

The glass refers to the first layer of a dream’s meaning, which is accessible to all. With this dream, the narrative is easy to follow: André Breton is sitting on the Parisian metro where a woman addresses him with this unexpected phrase, “vegetative life”. He decides to follow her and at the top of stairs finds himself in a meadow, with another troubling character. A football player talks to the woman who then disappears. The football game starts again, Breton tries to catch the ball but he is not very successful.

The rolled up bandage refers to the subsequent layers which nobody will ever be able to fully grasp. Indeed, first of all there is no context and no footnote. It is the account of an experience a posteriori: a moment during which Breton most certainly organised his dream, and this is clearly visible in his abundant use of punctuation for instance. In the section of ‘Notes et variantes’, Marguerite Bonnet reflects on the possibility of analysing the dreams published in Clair de Terre and reminds us of Freud’s reply when Breton asked him to contribute to Trajectoire du rêve (1938). On the 8th December 1937: “Un recueil de rêves sans associations jointes, sans connaissance des circonstances dans laquelle on a rêvé, ne me dit rien, et je peux avec peine me représenter ce qu’il peut dire à d’autres.” [A collection of dreams, without the connected free association, without knowledge of the circumstances under which one had these dreams, does not mean anything to me, and I can barely imagine what they can mean to others].[vi] Thus, several dimensions of meaning remain obscure.

While for some literary texts, analysis and interpretation are crucial elements in the understanding and transcribing processes of the translator’s work, with this text, I was more interested in reflecting on the text type, dream, which is also its title. The collocations with the word ‘dream’ vary from language to language: you say “to have a dream” in English, “faire un rêve” [to make a dream] in French, and [to see a dream] in the Japanese phrase “Yume wo miru” (Romanji) 夢を見る”. These various verbs used in conjunction with the term ‘dream’ attest to the difficulty of verbalising the manifestation of the dream, as well as to the cultural differences in expressing this experience. Do we have a dream, make it or see it? The readers of Breton’s dream do not have, make, or see this dream, but they receive it.

In my translation, before the readers start reading the dream, the rolled up bandage is very manageable, it can be held in one’s hand. As the reader unfolds the cloth and reads the dream, the dream takes more and more space; it is a 16 meter long strip of cloth. After finishing reading, the reader does not know what to do either with the cloth or with the dream. The dream remains a poetic moment, an excursion into someone else’s world without being able to remain there. Indeed, this dream in the source text is inserted in a short section with four others before a poetry collection. The dream stops at the end of the bandage and the readers are sent back to their own dreams and ‘surreality’.

© (Elise Aru) 2013

[i] André Breton, ‘Rêve II’, in the section ‘Cinq rêves’, Clair de terre, in Œuvres complètes, edited by Marguerite Bonnet, volume I, (Paris : Gallimard La Pléiade, 1988), p.150

[ii] André Breton, Manifeste du surréalisme in Œuvres complètes, volume I, p. 328

The translation is from: André Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism trans. by Richard Seaver and Helen R Lane (Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, 1972), p.26

[iii] ‘André Breton, pionnier du surréalisme’, interview with Judith Jasmin, 27/02/1961, can be found on YouTube:

[iv] Breton’s approach is also anchored on Marxist theories on social protest which I will not describe here. André Breton, Les Vases communicants, in Œuvres complètes, vol. II pp. 101-215.

[vi] André Breton, Œuvres Complètes, volume I, p. 1192. The following extract from Freud’s letter is published in ‘Notes et Variantes’ of Trajectoire du rêve. The French translation is by Etienne Alain-Hubert, the English translation is mine.

Elise has been translating for several years. She completed an MA in Applied Translation Studies at the University of East Anglia in 2007. She then started her Ph.D. at University College London, focusing on the creative and ludic translation of Surrealist poetry, which she completed in 2012. In 2010, she published an article in Opticon1826 on a ludic approach to translation titled ‘When translating becomes a ludic activity’. In November 2013, her article ‘The Ludic in Surrealism and in Translation’ was published in Essays in French Literature and Culture. Elise also co-published, with Delphine Grass, several translations of Delphine’s poems in A Verse (autumn 2010, spring 2012). She is currently working on the publication of a monograph which will present several of her translations.


A visual translation of shifting views: ‘How To Face Death’ by Carlos Drummond de Andrade

by Eugenia Loffredo

Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902–1987) is regarded as one of the major representative of Brazilian literature and indeed the major contemporary poet in Portuguese language of the 20th Century. He is also considered to be the initiator of the second phase of Brazilian Modernism.

His literary work, which received numerous prestigious awards including the Nobel Prize, spans over a long period of time and has been divided in different phases. The themes explored in his poems include the individual and its relation to society, his native land, family, and more universal themes such as existence, truth, love and death, as the poem I chose to translate: ‘Como encarar a morte’, ‘How To Face Death’.

The profundity of his reflections in this composition is expressed by a lyric ‘simplicity’ (also making use of free verse and not depending on a fixed meter) which relies on a plain, everyday lively language. However, images are assembled in such a way that surprise the reader with their complexity and insight. Also, these images generate an intense sense of immediacy and make this universal theme concrete and tangible.

 ‘Como encarar a morte’ is part of a collection called Corpo, published in 1984. Corpo belongs to a later phase in which eroticism becomes not only a new theme for poetic investigation, but indeed a new optical lens through which ponder on a variety of universal themes, as in this case, death – also a reminder that the bond between Eros and Thanatos is indissoluble. I think that humour, which characterises most of Drummond de Andrade’s work in different degrees, from ironic to cynic, is still present in this poem somehow re-elaborated by the idea of ‘the ways’, or better ‘the positions’, in which one can face death. And, for this reason I never felt the topic overwhelming or as taking me to a more grave stance during the reading and translating of the poem. In other words, the irony seems to be produced by the friction of two contrasting planes summarised in the lyrics of a Cazuza’s song, a Brazilian composer and singer: ‘Senhoras e senhores, eu trago boa novas: eu vi a cara da morte e ela estava viva!’ (Ladies and Gentlemen I bring good news: I saw the face of death and she was alive!).

The reflections on death are articulated in a series of scenes defining at each time a different ‘position’ from which, and in which, one can face death (‘from faraway’, ‘from halfway’, ‘sideway’, ‘from inside’ and ‘out of sight)’.  Each scene provides a new slant, apparently increasing our understanding of death, or rather an essential element of our ‘humanity’, which is summarised in the last line ‘e, mais sabido, mais se ignora’, ‘and, the more it is known, the more it is ignored’. This sentence, however, does not express a lack of respect for death or a state of self-denial, but rather a rethinking of death through popular wisdom. Whether death is like a dream or despite the inevitability of the arrival of nameless traveller, the poem extols life and – Back to Eros and Thanatos bond – pushes forth an ‘optimism against all odds’ which ultimately celebrates life. The progressive moving and the getting closer is a reminder that life is transitory. Yet, we are always travelling and the journey, or better making most of the journey, is more important than the destination –even when we do get to the point of ‘out of sight’.

My translation, which you can find in Translation and Other Writings page, strives to convey the simplicity of the Portuguese language, both at lexical and at syntactical levels. It was actually difficult not to fall to the temptation of elevating the register and over-poetising such a ‘noble’ subject as death.

An intriguing choice concerns the genderisation of death. The nearer we get to death the more distinct its features are. And, where in Portuguese there is a possibility of avoiding specifying the subject, in English the pronoun is required. Since death has many faces, I felt that giving ‘it’ a different gender identity in different stanzas could produce an interesting and unexpected turn to the poem. Also, as its status changes and becomes fuzzier and fuzzier, the neuter ‘it’ is introduced. Finally, this sense of humanity and universality inherent to death, which goes beyond gender distinction, is reinforced with words such as ‘humankind’, instead of ‘mankind’.

Although the verbal translation may stand on its own, it is primarily intended to interact with visual images. The idea of ‘positioning oneself’, ‘points of view’ and ‘perspective’ seemed as if urging experimentation with the visual. Therefore, I created five digitally manipulated images functioning as backdrop to the verbal presentation of the stanzas, the two interacting to enhance the reader’s experience of the translation.

The images attempt to reproduce and ‘reflect’ the shifts of perspective of the various ‘positions’. Likewise, the interplay of light and darkness, the shifts from colour to black and white, and from the neatness to the blurriness of contours, these all attempt to replicate the changes of the status of death in the ongoing movement that is our life- which is indeed a metaphor for the act of reading itself, the journey through the poem to a final ‘non-knowledge’ of our destination.

Do send us you comments and thoughts on this visual translation!