Translator's Note: Creative Writing
Here we have Miroslav Holub's stomping grounds: science, culture, history, and their undeniable entwining. Here, parthenogenetic aphids—whose females procreate without male fertilization—illuminate human behavior. And here, a weary academic term is resuscitated and revisioned: creative writing as a necessary, death-defying act.
In this case, my role as translator was to polish the English as provided by Holub. On several occasions over sixteen years, we were a translation team, considering together his incisive essays and poems. We were at work on this poem, among others, in the weeks preceding his unexpected death in his Prague home (where, not so incidentally, along with contemporary Czech art, enormous plastic ants climbed the walls and dinosaurs roamed a living-room mural).
Having experienced Holub's generosity regarding word choice, I chose the ceremonial, earthy "interred" over the original, neutral "put up." The notebook will begin its decay and, over time, those ink marks will feed another living soul, be it beetle or boy. Initially, I found it curious that Holub decided to forgo "ewig" from the final movement of "Das Lied von der Erde" since this refined traveler was surely equipped with German. For the reader or listener of the poem in English, however, the three syllables of forever stretch nicely (and, fortunately, avoid the comic echo "earwig"!).
Holub presents a person who aspired to permanence and, perhaps, epic proportions but failed. Or did she? As forecast by the ticking beetles, her end draws near. But in the poem she writes. Present tense. The fluid soul continues.
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This poem originally appeared in the April 2008 issue of Poetry magazine