Descendant by Elissaveta Bagryana

I was messing around online trying to find authors that could qualify for my Reading Europe challenge when I discovered this fun site http://www.slovo.bg/international.php3. Fooling around on the English language page they simply list all Bulgarian authors with work in English translation on available on the

220px-BASA_118K-2-85_Elisaveta_Bagriana_(crop)
Elisaveta Bagryana (fragment from a photo, made before 1939). Source: Bulgarian Archives State Agency

web. This could be a great inspiration, especially since it’s #WITmonth and there were several women present on the site.

So, I clicked on Elissaveta Bagryana and discovered that they had published two different translations of one of her poems: Descendant. While the root of the poems where clearly the same, when reading it I felt like I was reading two different poems. The poems start off similar, as the narrator (the poem is told in first person) is thinking back to how she doesn’t know her ancestors, but… and this is where my interpretation of the poems differ. The languages of the poems are similar, it’s direct and pragmatic, so it’s more how changing certain words here and there can change how you view the meaning of the poem.   

The first translation by Kevin Ireland uses phrases like

“Its raging rouses me from sleep,

it draws me to our first-found sin”

and

Perhaps because of this I’m gripped

by lands unseized by human eyes,”

and

Perhaps along my way I’ll falter

and lies and sin may show my worth.”

I interpreted the narrator as someone thinking of their ancestors because they want to view things in a bigger contest.  The language is passive, things are happening to the narrator “it draws me”, “I’m gripped”, it’s lies and sins that will show the worth of the narrator not the narrator herself.  It’s not so much about “me” as “me” in a line of “me”s. In contrast the other translation by Brenda Walker and Belin Tochev uses phrases like:

“It stirs me angrily from my sleep

and leads me back to original sin.”

And

Perhaps that’s the reason I love

plains too vast for the eye,”

and

Perhaps I am sinful and cunning,

perhaps halfway I’ll break»

Here the language is more active and something directly connected with the narrator. Culturally original sin was something you were born with, it was connected to you as a person. She isn’t passively gripped by the view, but actively loves the view. “I’ll falter” is a verb, it’s something you do. “I am sinful and cunning” is a description of who you are. To me the second poem is about how you are who you are because of your ancestors. I am sinful and cunning, because my ancestors were sinful and cunning to survive. They are the reason I am who I am.

I’m glad I found the site and the two translations of the poem. It really made me think about how important the translator is. But read the translations on the link below and let me know if you agree or disagree with my interpretation.

http://www.slovo.bg/showwork.php3?AuID=253&WorkID=8920&Level=1

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