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117 posts categorized "Translation"

23 March 2021

Simon Vestdijk, 1898-1971

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Today marks the 50th anniversary of Simon Vestdijk’s death at the age of 72. He was one of the most prolific and diverse authors of the Netherlands with 50 novels, 12 collections of poetry, numerous essays and he translated Emily Dickinson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson and Edgar Allen Poe into Dutch. He also wrote essays and reviews for a number of literary journals and newspapers, such as the Nieuwe Courant (NRC) and Het Parool.

Portrait of Simon Vestdijk

Portrait of Simon Vestdijk. Source: Ontdek ons digitaal erfgoed | Geheugen van Nederland

Vestdijk nearly didn’t become a writer. For years he dithered between a career in medicine, music, or literature. In 1932 he both graduated as a doctor and published his literary debut, a collection of poems, which appeared in the literary journal De Vrije Bladen (P.P.4261.sa.) He still wasn’t sure which path to choose.

Then he met Menno ter Braak and Eddy Du Perron, the founders of the literary journal Forum (P.901/113.), and settled for literature. From then on he was unstoppable.

He won numerous prizes, the last one being awarded just a few days before his death.

Vestdijk himself divided his work into five categories:

1. Fiction with autobiographical elements around the character Anton Wachter, such as Terug tot Ina Damman (Back to Ina Damman)
2. Fiction with semi-autobiographical elements, for example De koperen tuin (The garden where the brass band played). See below
3. Contemporary psychological work, such as Else Böhler, Duits dienstmeisje
4. Historical work, such as De vuuraanbidders (The fire worshippers)
5. Fantastical work, such as De kellner en de levenden (The waiter and the living) and Bericht uit het hiernamaals (Message from the other side) 

Cover of the first edition of De Koperen Tuin

Cover of the first edition of De Koperen Tuin (Rotterdam, 1950). 12584.w.64. Source: Vestdijk.com 

This year will see a full programme of commemorations; a plaque will be fitted on his house in Doorn. Today a delegation from De Vestdijkkring, a society that commemorates Vestdijk and promotes his work, will lay a wreath on his grave in The Hague. And of course there’ll be plenty of literary events during the year.

You can get a taste of his works in English from the translations listed below.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

The Penguin book of Dutch short stories. (London, 2016). YKL.2017.a.14072

A sampling of Dutch literature. Thirteen excursions into the works of Dutch authors. Translated and adapted by James Brockway. (Hilversum, 1960). X.950/43674

The garden where the brass band played; translated by A. Brotherton; with an introduction by Hella S. Haasse. (London, 1992). H.93/3254.

‘My Brown Friend’, translated by M. C. Duyvendak, in New Writers. vol. 2, pp. 9-52. (London, 1962). 12521.d.1/2.

Rum Island, translated by B. K. Bowes. (London, 1963). 11769.g.20.

‘The Blind’; ‘The Jewish Bride’; ‘Saul and David’; ‘Rembrandt and Saskia’, translated by Jane Fenoulhet. In: Dutch Crossing, nr. 46 (1992) pp. 25-30. P.523/827

 

 

22 January 2021

Antonio Gramsci: translator, storyteller and educator

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Between 1926 and 1937 Antonio Gramsci was rotting away in Italian prisons, having been sentenced to 20 years by Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime, in spite of his parliamentary immunity. Mussolini had got rid of the most revolutionary and influential opponent to Fascism in Italy and, in so doing, hoped to silence the rest of his opposition. Despite his precarious state of health, Gramsci would never ask for pardon and realised that he was condemned to a lengthy period of isolation.

Photograph of Antonio Gramsci in 1915

Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) in 1915. Source: Wikipedia Commons 

How to survive annihilation and despair in prison? He turned to his singular willpower and fortitude, as he was used to doing since childhood, and plunged himself into an extensive programme of studies and critical writing. His antidote to death is collected in two major works entitled Lettere dal carcere (Letters from prison), and Quaderni del carcere (Prison notebooks).

The 33 notebooks (four of them dedicated to translations) are a compilation of all the intellectual activities undertaken by the prisoner Gramsci in order to keep his cool. Between 1929 and 1931, Gramsci perfected his knowledge of European languages through translating, starting with German and Russian, and continuing with French and English. Notebooks XV and XIX contain his exercises from the German, namely 24 fables translated from the classic Brothers Grimm collection. In 1932, thinking of a gift for his favourite sister’s young children (whom he would never meet), the author had the idea of copying his translations and posting them to his sister, Teresa Paulesu, as “my contribution to developing the little ones’ imagination” (from a letter dated 18 January 1932 [my translation]). A sketchbook, Album disegno, catalogued as notebook D (XXXI), remains as evidence of Gramsci’s intention.

Covers of Antonio Gramsci’s prison notebooks

Antonio Gramsci’s prison notebooks (1929-1935). Source: Wikipedia Commons

Unfortunately, the sketchbook never reached the children, due to the prison rules that prevented prisoners from sending anything outside. That is why the Album contains only the first half of fable number one, Rapunzel, in Gramsci’s final handwritten draft.

First page of the Album disegno from Favole di libertà

First page of the Album disegno from Favole di libertà (Florence, 1980) YL.1988.a.772

Gramsci’s translations, as well as his children’s stories, were neglected until 1980, when, finally, they were published for the first time in Favole di libertà. A second and more complete collection entitled Fiabe appeared in 2010, including letters to his two young sons, Delio and Giuliano.

Cover of Favole di liberta

Cover of Fiabe

Covers of Favole di libertà and Fiabe (Florence, 2010) YF.2011.a.21857

What these translations and the children’s stories show is Gramsci’s natural vocation as an educator. Whilst in prison, he never lost his ability to listen, to empathise and to be sensitive to the needs of his family, just as the intellectual had put his prodigious mind at the service of the ‘subaltern classes’ when he was a free man. Prison writings often reveal the man behind the author. Gramsci’s Fiabe reveals how he lived according to his theories and teachings, and what ‘organic intellectual’ meant in reality.

On the one hand, the philosopher deeply believed in the educational role of folklore, popular literature, and popular arts in the building of a national popular culture for the progressive society he dreamt of. Gramsci’s stress on literature and critical theory in the Prison notebooks is not accidental at all. On the contrary, his classic concepts and definitions in politics and philosophy originate from his approach and methodology as a historical linguist. He was fully aware of how language and literature are pivotal in shaping societies. As a result, his ‘pedagogy of praxis’ is a proactive call for the working class to be the protagonist of its own education and to produce its own culture. No wonder several Italian authors and educators in the 1950s-1960s followed in Gramsci’s footsteps, and one in particular, Gianni Rodari, established modern Italian children’s literature.

On the other hand, writing, translating and storytelling enabled Gramsci to shape a new relationship with his loved ones. The kindness and support that emerge from his letters and comic short stories to children and relatives testify to how much he was willing to be part of the life and education of his family beyond the bars. Writing and study became, at the same time, a way of caring for others and a way of human and intellectual resistance for the prisoner, a lifeline that lasted eleven years.

To be continued.

Ramona Ciucani, West European Languages Cataloguing team

References / Further reading:

Antonio Gramsci, Lettere dal carcere (last Italian version Palermo, 1996) YA.1998.a.1937. English translation by Raymond Rosenthal, Letters from prison (New York, 2011) 3v., YC.2012.a.2007 and YC.2012.a.1189

Antonio Gramsci, Quaderni del carcere (Turin, 1975) X.978/118. English translation by Joseph A. Buttigieg and Antonio Callari. Prison notebooks (New York, 2011) 2 v., YC.2011.a.8399-8401.

Ferial Ghazoul, “La prospettiva gramsciana sulla lingua e la letteratura” in Studi gramsciani nel mondo arabo: Gramsci nel mondo arabo, a cura di Patrizia Manduchi, Alessandra Marchi e Giuseppe Vacca (Bologna, 2017, pp. 157-84). YF.2018.a.9753

Chronology of Gramsci’s life and work 

Derek Boothman, Traducibilità e processi traduttivi: un caso: A. Gramsci linguista (Perugia, 2004). YF.2005.a.5162

Alessandro Carlucci, Gramsci and languages: unification, diversity, hegemony (Leiden, 2013). YD.2013.a.3106

Antonio Gramsci: a pedagogy to change the world, Nicola Pizzolato and John D. Holst (editors) (Cham, Switzerland, 2017) ELD.DS.331125

Antonio Gramsci, Arte e folklore, a cura di Giuseppe Prestipino (Rome, 1976). X:972/303

Gramsci and educational thought, edited by Peter Mayo (Chichester, 2010). YC.2013.a.13402 and m10/.17512

Gramsci, language, and translation, edited by Peter Ives and Rocco Lacorte (Lanham, 2010). m10/.20216

Gramsci y la educación: pedagogía de la praxis y políticas culturales en América Latina, Flora Hillert ... [et al.] (Buenos Aires, 2011). YF.2013.a.18303

Deb J. Hill, Hegemony and education: Gramsci, post-Marxism, and radical democracy revisited (Lanham, 2007). m07/.35617

Peter Ives, Language and hegemony in Gramsci (London, 2004). ELD.DS.66257

Riccardo Pagano, Il pensiero pedagogico di Antonio Gramsci (Milan, 2013). YF.2013.a.21073

18 December 2020

A musical festive feast from around Europe

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With Christmas approaching, European Collections curators introduce some festive songs from the countries they cover.

‘O Tannenbaum’ (‘O Christmas Tree’)
Chosen by Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Illustration of a Christmas Tree

Title page of The Christmas Tree, a present from Germany (London, 1844). 12803.ff.3.

Which Christmas Carol links a student drinking song, a lover’s lament and a socialist anthem? None other than ‘O Tannenbaum’, one of the German-language carols that have gained worldwide popularity.

Originally the song had nothing to do with Christmas. The evergreen fir tree as a symbol of constancy was a familiar poetic motif when, in 1819, August Zarnack used it in a poem about a man betrayed in love, contrasting the tree’s ‘faithful’ branches with the woman’s faithlessness. A few years later, the musician and composer Ernst Anschütz altered Zarnack’s poem, replacing the verses that told the tragic love story with musings on the tree teaching a lesson in constancy, with mention of its bringing pleasure at Christmas. The song was first published in 1824, and its spread around the world probably owed something to the growing popularity of Christmas trees in various countries during the 19th century. Although the German original only briefly references Christmas, metrical necessity caused English translators to use ‘O Christmas Tree’,  thus firmly establishing the song’s festive credentials for English-speakers.

The simple yet catchy tune no doubt also contributed to the success of ‘O Tannenbaum’. Originally a folk melody, it became popular in the 18th century as a student drinking song, ‘Lauriger Horatius’ (‘Laurel-crowned Horace’). It has also been used in many other contexts, perhaps most famously for the socialist anthem ‘The Red Flag’. For such a short and simple carol, ‘O Tannenbaum’ certainly has a wide-ranging cultural background and influence!

‘Shchedryk’ and ‘Carol of the Bells’
Chosen by Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

Illustration of a swallow

Illustration of a swallow from BL Flickr. BL shelfmark 10201.e.12

Chances are you’ve heard of ‘Carol of the Bells’, a Christmas favourite that has appeared in films, TV shows and adverts from Home Alone to The Muppets. What many don’t know, however, is that the music was written by the Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych and is based on the Ukrainian folk chant ‘Shchedryk’. Dating back to pagan times, the original song tells the story of a swallow flying into a household to predict a prosperous New Year for the family. In pre-Christian Ukraine, the coming of the New Year and spring were celebrated in March but with the move to the Julian calendar, it shifted to 13 January (New Year’s Eve), which is known in Ukrainian as Shchedry Vechir (Bountiful Evening).

Leontovych’s song premiered in Kyiv in December 1916 and was performed as part of the Ukrainian National Chorus’s US tour in the early 1920s. The American composer Peter J. Wilhousky subsequently rearranged the melody and wrote new lyrics around the theme of bells, which is the version we know today as ‘Carol of the Bells’.

You can listen to a recording of Leontovych’s ‘Shchedryk’ here.

Pastorałki (‘Pastorals’) by Tytus Czyżewski
Chosen by Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections

A baby Jesus jumping on his legs in a crib while wearing a highlander’s hat. A shepherd, standing next to him, playing the bagpipes. A stork sitting on top of a nativity stable. That’s the kind of images you will find in Pastorałki by Tytus Czyżewski.

Woodcut of the baby Jesus with angels and cattle

Cover of Pastorałki by Tytus Czyżewski, design by Tadeusz Makowski (Paris, 1925) Ac.9664 Source: Polona 

Czyżewski (1880–1945) was a futurist poet, painter and co-founder of the Polish avant-garde “Formist” group, whose aim was to create a new national style in art and literature by combining Futurism, Expressionism and Cubism with traditional folk art. Czyżewski’s volume of Pastorałki [Pastorals], named after the genre of Polish Christmas carols with pastoral motifs, is an intersection of Polish folklore, medieval miracle plays and European avant-garde.

You can listen to a recording of one of these carols, ‘Kolęda w olbrzymim mieście’ (‘A Christmas Carol in a Big City) here.

The book is illustrated by Tadeusz Makowski (1882-1932), a Paris-based Polish artist. His primitivist woodcuts, inspired by folk iconography, reflect the atmosphere of friskiness and humour of Czyżewski’s pastorals.

Woodcut of baby Jesus jumping on his legs in a crib while wearing a highlander’s hat. Shepherds, standing next to him, are playing instruments.

Illustration from Pastorałki by Tadeusz Makowski, showing shepherds playing highlander instruments to amuse the baby Jesus. Source: Polona 

References:

Alicja Baluch, “Wizualność poezji Tytusa Czyżewskiego”, Rocznik naukowo-dydaktyczny 101 (1986), 199-137. Ac.9234.eb.

Czeslaw Milosz, The History of Polish Literature (Berkeley, 1983), 400-401. X.950/37574

Kazimierz Wyka, Rzecz wyobraźni (Warsaw, 1977)

‘De herdertjes lagen bij nachte’ (‘The Shepherds lay by Night’)
Chosen by Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

‘De herdertjes lagen bij nachte’ (‘The Shepherds lay by Night’) is a popular Dutch Christmas song. It is thought that it originated in the 17th century when children would sing it in the streets of Utrecht, but it was first written down in its current form by Joseph Albert Alberdingk Thijm and features in his collection of ‘Old and New Christmas Songs’ of 1852.

Lyrics and musical notation for ‘De herdertjes lagen bij nachte’

‘De herdertjes lagen bij nachte’ from Joseph Albert Alberdingk Thijm, Oude en nieuwere kerstliederen … (Amsterdam, 1852). B.893.

The song has four verses, but usually only the first one, and sometimes the second one, are sung. Children stick to the first verse, and I cannot remember singing the others. The first verse tells how the shepherds were in the fields, having counted their sheep and then heard the angels sing, ‘clearly and fluently’ of the birth of Jesus upon which they went to Bethlehem to find him. In the second verse they see three beams of light shooting from above and from the crib – they ‘see the light’ and, in the third verse they decide to stay with the Holy Family until the New Year and leave their flock to the angels to look after. The final verse ends with a prayer for salvation.

Illustration of shepherds from Egerton MS 1070 f032v

The Angel appearing to the Shepherds,  from a 15th-century Book of Hours Egerton MS 1070, f32v

Alberdingk Thijm was a devout Catholic and an influential figure in the 19th-century Catholic revival in the Netherlands (and also a supporter of the Flemish movement). His faith is reflected particularly in the third verse of the song with its emphasis on Mary and Joseph’s responses, which I don't think would have been found so much in Protestant circles. The last line of the verse differs in Protestant and Catholic versions. The Protestant one has ‘and found the little child there’, and the catholic one ‘it was nearing the new year’, also suggesting that for some this was more of a New Year’s rather than a Christmas song.

‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’
Chosen by Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections

Although it might sound like a very old English Christmas Carol, Ding Dong Merrily on High is the product of several nations – and centuries!

The tune first appeared in the 16th century as a French secular dance tune known under the title Branle de l'Official (the branle or brawl was a type of French dance danced by couples in either a line or a circle, and popular throughout Europe). It was recorded in Orchésographie, first published in 1589, and written by the French cleric, composer and writer Thoinot Arbeau, the anagrammatic pen name of French cleric Jehan Tabourot (1519–1593).

Illustration of a drum and drummer from Orchésographie

Page from Thoinot Arbeau, Orchésographie (Lengres, 1589). C.31.b.3. Image source: Library of Congress

The illustrated Orchésographie provides information on social ballroom behaviour and on the interaction of musicians and dancers. It contains woodcuts of dancers and musicians and includes instructions for the steps lined up next to the musical notes, an innovation in dance notation. The lyrics however are from English composer George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848–1934), and the carol was first published in 1924 in his The Cambridge Carol-Book: Being Fifty-two Songs for Christmas, Easter, And Other Seasons (E.1485.f.).

Vignette of Bells from the Cover of 'A Christmas Carol', BL 012622.g.37

 

23 September 2020

Shining a light on Wilkie Collins and the Low Countries

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Today is the 131st anniversary of Wilkie Collins’s death.

Portrait of Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins in Hollandsche illustratie, 1 May 1871. Reproduced in P.L. Tissot van Patot, Wilkie Collins: Bibliographic overview of the Dutch language translations (The Hague, 2017). Awaiting shelfmark

Collins was well known in the Low Countries during his lifetime. His novels and plays were translated and performed widely. A great source of information for anyone interested in Wilkie Collins and his connection to the Low Countries is P.L. Tissot van Patot’s Wilkie Collins: Bibliographic overview of the Dutch language translations. This gives a comprehensive description of all aspects relating to Wilkie Collins and the Low Countries; which of his works were translated into Dutch, the publishers involved, which theatre companies performed his plays and where and when, even Dutch language books held in his own library.

Front cover of Wilkie Collins: Bibliographic overview of the Dutch language translations

 Front cover of Wilkie Collins: Bibliographic overview of the Dutch language translations

The Lighthouse is one of Collins’s plays. Written in 1855, it is regarded as one of the first detective stories, together with The Woman in White. Four manuscript versions of The Lighthouse have been preserved: two in Britain and two in the US. One is held by the British Library at Add MS 52967 H; another is held at the V&A and has never been published before. Two translations also appeared as serialisations in French and Flemish newspapers. Tissot van Patot has recently brought all six versions together in a synoptic edition with an introduction.

Front cover of Wilkie Collins The Lighthouse: Six versions in one document with an image of a lighthouse

Front cover of Wilkie Collins The Lighthouse: Six versions in one document, ed. by P.L. Tissot van Patot (The Hague, 2018) Awaiting shelfmark

Page from Wilkie Collins The Lighthouse: Six versions in one document, showing six versions side by side.

Page 7 of Wilkie Collins The Lighthouse: Six versions in one document, showing six versions side by side.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

27 August 2020

Dutch Debut Wins International Booker Prize 2020

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“I am as happy as a cow with seven udders”, was Marieke Lucas Rijnevelt’s reaction to the announcement that they (Rijnevelt’s preferred pronoun) and translator Michele Hutchison had won this year’s International Booker Prize for The Discomfort of Evening (London, 2020; DRT ELD.DS.490780), a translation of their debut novel De Avond is Ongemak.

Front cover of The Discomfort of Evening with an illustration of a person with a jacket pulled up over their nose and mouth

Front cover of The Discomfort of Evening

Well, that got everybody’s attention. It may-be a less surprising remark when you know that Rijnevelt is a dairy farmer as well as a writer.

This year’s International Booker is one of ‘firsts’: the first win for a Dutch novel, by the youngest winner ever, for their first novel. Not bad going.

The comment caused as much a stir in the media as the book itself. Ted Hodgkinson, the chair of the jury, said of the book that it is “shocking” and “absolutely arrests your attention” (The Guardian 26/8), “not a book you can sit back from”.

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld self portrait photograph

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, self portrait photograph (Source: Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA 4.0) 

Rijneveld doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to telling the story of how a deeply religious farming family deals (or not) with the death of their young son in an accident. The story is told through the eyes of one of the daughters, who is ten when the accident happens and nearly twelve when the book ends. The book is based on Rijneveld’s own loss of a sibling in their childhood. They always knew they had to write a book about it. That became De Avond is Ongemak which became The Discomfort of Evening. Critics are full of admiration; calling the book visceral and virtuoso in its language, the best debut they ever read, and so on.

The International Booker Prize is equally divided between the author and translator. Michele Hutchison is one of the top translators of Dutch literature. She has translated works by Esther Gerritsen and Tom Lanoye, and she was one of the translators in the Frisian literary anthology Swallows and Floating Horses (London, 2018; YC.2019.a.5165)

Her translation of the winning novel opens up the claustrophobic, isolated world Rijneveld conjured up so well in the Dutch version with an immediacy and totality seldom seen in translations.

I look forward to reading both versions: the English, and the Dutch, once the latter has a shelfmark. The book was received at the end of March, just after the Library closed due to COVID-19. It may yet take a while before it gets to the shelves, but meanwhile I’ll entertain myself with the English, digital version. It will be udder delight!

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

19 May 2020

Esperanto and Endangered Languages

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Esperanto can be described as the language of hope, peace, and solidarity as Professor Renato Corsetti, General Secretary of the Academy of Esperanto has discussed in his previous posts for the European Studies blog. Hope remains the governing principle, as the name of the language attests (espero in Esperanto).

Driven by hope for enhancing linguistic diversity, dedicated Esperantists have been translating minority language literatures into Esperanto, ranging from local stories to epic poems.

Local stories of the Pyrenees are featured in Christian Lavarenne’s translations from Occitan: Kvar mirindaj rakontoj el la Pireneoj and Mirindaj rakontoj el la Pireneo (Balagué, 1998; YF.2019.a.18502 and YF.2019.a.18517).

Portrait of Federic Mistral

Portrait of Federic Mistral from La poemo de Rodano (Laroque Timbaut, 1988) YF.2011.a.10850. Image courtesy of the Esperanto Museum at the Austrian National Library, Vienna. A digitised copy is also available.

The gem of classic Provençal literature, Mirèio by Federic Mistral was translated into Esperanto (Mirejo) by Paul Champion and Eugène Noël in 1909. At the time Mistral was still active and Esperanto was still a new language.

Mistral’s other masterpiece, the pensive Le Poème du Rhône en XII. Chants (Paris 1897; 11498.b.64.), translated into Esperanto as La poemo de Rodano (Laroque Timbaut, 1988; YF.2011.a.10850) by Rajmundo Laval or Valo has a particular resonance for us now as it tells the story of the end of an era.

Cover of Le Poème du Rhône en XII. Chants 

Cover of Le Poème du Rhône en XII. Chants 

Cover of the Esperanto translation of Le Poème du Rhône

Cover of La poemo de Rodano. Image courtesy of the Esperanto Museum at the Austrian National Library, Vienna. A digitised copy is also available.

While the title implies the poem is about the river Rhône, it is actually about the river’s people, the bargemen, the Coundriéulen (Provençal), Condrillots (French). Fitting to a monumental opus, the bargemen are portrayed in the opening stanza as giants who can only be described by the beauty and strength of their natural environment, the river, the sun and the trees:

From Lyons at the blush of early dawn
The bargemen, masters of the Rhône, depart,
A robust band and brave, the Condrillots.
Upright upon their crafts of planks of fir,
The tan of sun and glint from glassy wave
Their visages have bronzed as with gold.
And in that day colossuses they were,
Big, corpulent, and strong as living oaks,
And moving beams about as we would straws.

Translation: K. Katzner

First stanza of the Esperanto translation of Le Poème du Rhône

First stanza of the Esperanto translation of Le Poème du Rhône. Image courtesy of the Esperanto Museum at the Austrian National Library, Vienna. A digitised copy is also available.

The beginning, however, foreshadows the end: the strength of these natural giants succumbs to a new era’s unnatural giants, the steamboats of industrialisation. It is a tragic story not only of the lovers on board but also for lovers of the past. Although the bargemen lose their barge, hauling horses and people on board, they keep their dignity. After an epic journey, literally and metaphorically, we can see them on the shore, saying not a word about their loss, but moving forward. A digitised copy of the original Provençal and French text is available via Project Gutenberg.

Bargemen on the river Rhône

Bargemen on the river Rhône. From Joannès Drevet, Aux Environs de Lyon: préface de M. Coste-Labaume. Édition illustrée de 250 dessins de J. Drevet, etc. (Lyon, 1892.) 10172.g.9. 

Mistral was more than a storyteller. His ambition was to revitalise Provençal, the language of southern France, particularly Provence. With his magnificent poetry Mistral connected the rough 19th-century bargemen and the better-known refined Provençal singers, the troubadours of the 12th and 14th centuries, and expressed his hope that the language would thrive, whoever its speakers came to be.

Illustration of Troubadours

The Troubadours of the 12th-14th centuries were the best-known Provençal singers. Image from J.B.M. Challamel, La France et les Français à travers les siècles (Paris, 1882.) 9226.m.1.

Today the surviving variants of Occitan and Provençal are designated as ‘definitely’ and ‘severely’ endangered languages according to UNESCO’s Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger.

Map of Occitan dialects speaking regions

Map of Provençal dialects speaking regions

Maps of Occitan (above) and Provençal (below) dialects speaking regions (yellow: definitely endangered; orange: severely endangered) UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger 2010 © UNESCO

Inter-generational transmission is the most prominent of the nine factors considered in the designation.

Definitely endangered means ‘children no longer learn the language as mother tongue in the home’.

Severely endangered refers to a language which is ‘spoken by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves’.

Keeping a language alive can take many forms, even in translation. For example, Jomo (Jean-Marc Leclerq), a French Esperantist promotes Occitan in songs.

The British Library’s Esperanto collection contains works translated from over 50 languages, including some in anthologies. The most translated languages, not surprisingly, are the larger ones: English, Russian, French, German and Polish, followed by Chinese, Czech, Hungarian, Italian, Dutch and Spanish, Swedish, Japanese, Bulgarian, Portuguese, Croatian, Serbian, Danish, and Romanian. The list is indicative of the languages spoken by the most active Esperantists. However, within the collection a special corpus is dedicated to translations of minority language literatures including Occitan, Provencal, Basque, Walloon, and Welsh. 

In addition to books, Esperanto journals, most importantly Literatura Mondo (1922-1949; ZF.9.b.266), La Nica Literatura Revuo (1955-1962; ZF.9.a.7040) and Beletra Almanako (2007- ; ZF.9.a.7847) have also regularly published translations, both poetry and prose, from various languages.

Etnismo, an international organisation with an online newsletter, connects Esperantists who are interested in minority issues including minority languages.

Translators of minority and endangered language literatures into Esperanto often publish dictionaries as well. These are either embedded in the translated book as addendum or constitute stand-alone titles, for example: Basque-Esperanto dictionary (Bilbao, 2015; YF.2016.a.2481), and Catalan-Esperanto dictionary (Barcelona, 2014; YF.2015.a.22072).

So, why is it important to translate endangered language literature into Esperanto? By raising awareness of endangered languages and making their literature accessible to a larger readership through translations, Esperantists promote linguistic diversity. As Professor Renato Corsetti explains: ‘Esperantists think that all languages, large and small, are equally valuable, and Esperanto wants to contribute to the revitalization of all languages.’

Andrea Deri, Cataloguer

With contributions from:

Olga Kerziouk, former Curator, British Library Esperanto Collections

Renato Corsetti, Professor Emeritus of Psycholinguistics, La Sapienza University Rome, Former president of the World Esperanto Association, General Secretary of the Academy of Esperanto

Acknowledgement

We would like to thank Professor Corsetti for his generous assistance in acquiring images from La poemo del Rodano from the Esperanto Museum at the Austrian National Library, and Candide Simard and Phil Hatfield for their helpful suggestions.

Further reading:

Moseley, Christopher (ed.), Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, 3rd edn. (Paris, 2010).

Reinhard Haupenthal, La unuaj libroj de Schleyer (1880) kaj de Zamenhof (1887): pri la lanĉo de du plan-lingvoj (Schliengen, 2000) YF.2008.a.12642

15 May 2020

Fairytales across borders

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As part of its 15th anniversary celebrations and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Belarus Free Theatre (BFT) has launched a fairytale-inspired campaign called #LoveOverVirus. Members of the theatre company, as well as a number of famous figures including Stephen Fry and Juliet Stevenson, are reading extracts from their favourite fairytales and short stories every evening at 6pm until the end of May. In addition, BFT has opened up its archive to stream 24 productions between April and June. Each show can be accessed for 24 hours and English subtitles are available for performances in Russian and Belarusian. The theatre company is banned in Belarus; its co-founding artistic directors, Natalia Kaliada and Nikolai Khalezin, came to the UK as political refugees in 2010, and rehearse its underground performances in Minsk via Skype.

Stephen Fry’s contribution to the Love Over Virus project is a reading of The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde. First published in 1888, the tale is part of Wilde’s collection of short stories for children and adults, The Happy Prince and Other Tales (a free digitised copy is available to download from Project Gutenburg). Influenced by traditional fairytales, the seemingly whimsical stories offer an astute social commentary on Victorian society, depicting poverty, suffering and cruelty, but also love, kindness and sacrifice.

Cover of Shchasʹlivy Prynts with a drawing of the swallow and Egyptian pyramids

Cover of Shchasʹlivy Prynts (The Happy Prince) translated by L. Khvalʹko (Watenstadt, 1947) 12256.dd.8.

The title-story from the collection, The Happy Prince, similarly aimed to bring solace to children and adults when it was translated into Belarusian as part of Displaced Persons (DP) camp publishing activities in 1947. At the end of the Second World War, approximately 11 million people had been displaced from their home countries, with seven million in Allied-occupied Germany. They included concentration camp survivors, and former forced labourers and prisoners of war. DP camps were set up in Western Germany, Austria and Italy, and largely organised by nationality.

Double page from Shchasʹlivy Prynts with a drawing of the statue of the Happy Prince

Final pages from Shchasʹlivy Prynts with drawings of an angel and the swallow

Pages from Shchasʹ livy Prynts with illustrations

During the German occupation of Belarus between 1941 and 1944, approximately 380,000 Belarusians were deported to Germany as labourers. Thousands more subsequently fled the returning Soviet regime in 1944 (Silitski and Zaprudnik, pp. 135–136). Following the end of the war, Belarusian refugees lived in DP camps throughout Western Germany before they were resettled.

This translation of The Happy Prince (Shchasʹ livy Prynts in Belarusian) was reproduced from a typewritten copy and translated from the English by L. Khvalʹko. The text is accompanied by simple yet powerful pen and ink illustrations throughout. It was published in a camp in Watenstedt in the British zone (now incorporated into the city of Salzgitter) in Lower Saxony, Germany, by the Belarusian Relief Committee (Belaruski dapamahovy Kamitėt).

Photograph of a series of buildings at the A1 Heerte displaced persons camp in the Salzgitter region of Germany, 1946

Photograph of a series of buildings at the A1 Heerte displaced persons camp in the Salzgitter region of Germany, 1946. Museums Victoria Collections [Accessed 11 May 2020]

Salzgitter had been the site of Reichswerke Hermann Göring, a state-owned iron and steel complex that used slave labour during the war. Prisoners were housed in concentration camps in the area. After the war, DP camps were established for the some 37,000 (mostly Polish) displaced persons in the city (Neumann, p. 28). Many DP camps were set up on the sites of former German concentration camps and conditions were extremely difficult. Nevertheless, political, educational, religious and cultural activities, including publishing, flourished.

The British Library holds a handful of other Belarusian publications produced in Watenstedt between 1946 and 1948. These include a collection of poems by Maksim Bahdanovich, considered to be one of the founders of modern Belarusian literature (011586.pp.27.); a religious book ‘for the Belarusian family and school’ (4385.c.13.); and copies of the periodical Shliakham zhytsʹtsia (P.P.7615.yh.). To find more items published in Watenstedt, search by place of publication in our online catalogue in Cyrillic and using transliteration. The Library also has a growing collection of other DP camp publications in Belarusian and a number of other languages, including Russian, Yiddish, Latvian, Ukrainian and Polish.

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

Further reading and references:

Jan-Hinnerk Antons, “Displaced Persons in Postwar Germany: Parallel Societies in a Hostile Environment.” Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 49, no. 1, Jan. 2014, pp. 92–114

Marc Buggeln, Slave Labour in Nazi Concentration Camps, translated by Paul Cohen (Oxford, 2014). YC.2016.a.2083

Klaus Neumann, Shifting Memories: the Nazi past in the new Germany (Ann Arbor, 2000). YC.2001.a.17690

Vitali Silitski and Jan Zaprudnik, The A to Z of Belarus (Lanham, MD., 2010).

https://www.yadvashem.org/articles/general/displaced-persons-camps.html

https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/holocaust-refugees-displaced-persons-immediate-post-war-years/

27 April 2020

PhD Studentship Opportunity – The Michael Hamburger Archive: Mediating European Literature

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We are delighted to announce that the British Library, in collaboration with the University of Bristol, is offering a fully-funded PhD studentship (fees and living allowance) on the theme: The Michael Hamburger Archive: Mediating European Literature. The project will be co-supervised by Steffan Davies and Rebecca Kosick (University of Bristol) and Rachel Foss and Pardaad Chamsaz (British Library).

Box of drafts and correspondence from the archive

One of the 94 boxes of drafts and correspondence from the archive. Photo by Jen Calleja

In 2012, the British Library acquired the archive of Michael Hamburger (1924-2007), one of the foremost mediators of modern European—mainly German and Austrian—literature to readers in English. Born into a German family of Jewish descent, Michael Hamburger came to the UK as a refugee in 1933. He became a poet, a literary critic, and the translator of a very broad range of writers, including Hölderlin, Goethe, Rilke, Celan, Brecht, Ernst Jandl, Hans Magnus Enzensberger and W. G. Sebald.

Copy of BBC schedule for a recording of Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s poems in 1967

Copy of BBC schedule for a recording of Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s poems in 1967. Translations and notes by Michael Hamburger. Photo by Jen Calleja

The Archive comprises 94 boxes of drafts of translations, poems and essays; correspondence with writers, publishers and friends; and diaries and personal reflections among many other documents. The Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) offers a unique opportunity to illuminate processes that have been at the core of Anglo-German relations in the past three-quarters of a century: the translation of literature; the writing of literary criticism; and reflection on translation and cultural transfer. Equally, the existence of such a full archive makes this an outstanding opportunity for Translation Studies research.

Alongside the PhD research, the studentship will involve a significant contribution to the organisation and cataloguing of the archive, and to the evolving approaches to and understanding of translators’ archives in the Library. The research could approach the Archive from many angles, focusing on, for example: Michael Hamburger as translator; a methodology for archive-based translation studies; connections between the creativity of the poet and that of the translator; a critical reappraisal of translation as cultural mediation; and the (in)visibility of the translator figure.

Title page of draft of String of Beginnings: Intermittent Memoirs, 1924-1954 by Michael Hamburger

Draft of String of Beginnings: Intermittent Memoirs, 1924-1954 by Michael Hamburger. Photo by Jen Calleja

The project is part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) scheme, which offers doctoral studentships as part of collaborations between a Higher Education Institution and an organisation in the museums, libraries, archives and heritage sector. The doctoral grant will cover fees and pay the student a stipend; the British Library will also provide a research allowance of up to £1,000 a year for agreed research-related costs. In addition to being able to draw on the researcher development opportunities and postgraduate community in both the School of Modern Languages and the Bristol Doctoral College at the University of Bristol, the successful student will become part of a vibrant cohort of collaborative doctoral researchers at the British Library, and benefit from staff-level access to its collections, resources and training programmes.

Die Zeit article by Michael Hamburger

Die Zeit article by Michael Hamburger. Photo by Jen Calleja

The deadline for applications is 5pm on Monday 1 June. Applicants must have a very good reading knowledge of German and meet the standard UKRI residency requirements for Training Grants. The successful student will be expected to begin on 1 October 2020.

For further details of the studentship, and the CDP programme, see the British Library Research Collaboration page or visit the University of Bristol website.

If you are interested in applying, you are welcome to contact the following for an informal discussion about this opportunity in advance of submitting an application: Steffan Davies (steffan.davies@bristol.ac.uk), Rebecca Kosick (rebecca.kosick@bristol.ac.uk), Pardaad Chamsaz (pardaad.chamsaz@bl.uk) and Rachel Foss (Rachel.Foss@bl.uk).

23 April 2020

Poems from the Edge of Extinction II

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This blog continues our theme of poetry in languages on the edge of extinction. It is part of a collaborative mini series with our Americas and Oceania collections colleagues. 

Cover of Swallows and Floating Horses

Cover of Swallows and Floating Horses (details below)

Frisian

Frisian is the language closest related to English. As the old saying goes: ‘Bread, butter and green cheese is good English and good Friese’. In Frisian this reads as ‘Bûter, brea en griene tsiis, etc.’

Otherwise Frisian and English are each other’s opposites. For a long time, Frisian was scarcely written down. Over the centuries it has stubbornly refused to die out, but it has changed with the times and is as strong now as ever. It is now the second official language of the Netherlands.

The above image is from Swallows and Floating Horses: An Anthology of Frisian Literature (London, 2019, awaiting shelfmark), published last year by Francis Boutle as part of their series ‘Lesser Used Languages of Europe’. It covers 1,000 years of Frisian poetry and prose, in English and Frisian. In February 2019 at UCL it was presented to the British public, with Frisian poet Tsead Bruinja, currently Poet Laureate of the Netherlands, performing some of his poems. You can read and listen to his poem, ‘Gers dat Alfêst Laket’ (Grass that’s Started Laughing) from Swallows and Floating Horses here

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections 

Cover of Sovremennaia literatura narodov Rossii. Poeziia. Antologiia

Cover of Sovremennaia literatura narodov Rossii. Poeziia. Antologiia (Moscow, 2017). YF.2019.b.1108

Russia

In 2017, the well-known Moscow publishing house OGI (The United Humanitarian Publishing House) published a really unique book – an anthology of poetry in 57 minority languages spoken in the Russian Federation in original languages and Russian translations (BL YF.2019.b.1108). The editor of the volume was Maksim Amelin, himself a poet, translator, publisher and literary critic. In the foreword to the book, it is compared to an encyclopaedia of living national languages, cultures and worldviews. Here you can see several pages of this book and read poems (alongside their translations into Russian) by:

  • Anisa Kettunen, who writes in Finnish. Although 5.4 million people in the world are native speakers of Finnish, it is a minority language in the Russian Federation, where we see permanent decrease in the use of the Finnish as a native language.
  • Pimagomed Aslanov and Giulbika Omarova, whose poetry represents 129,000 speakers of the Tabasaran language from the Lezghin group of the Nakh-Dagestan language family. Apparently, this is one of the most difficult languages to learn.
  • Georgii Tsvetkov and Radmira Bogdanova – two poets who use for their creative expression the North Russian dialect of the Romani language. 128,000 people speak the Romani language in Russia.
  • Brontoi Bediurov, who in his native Altai language created a ritual verse on the spring worship to the Holy mountain Babyrgan.Altai, 

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections 

 

Cover of People like us. Seļļizt nemē mēg

Cover of People like us. Seļļizt nemē mēg (details below)

Livonian

Livonian (līvõ kēļ or rāndakēļ), currently spoken by around 20 people (three of them poets!), is on the UNESCO list of endangered languages. For centuries it was spoken in fishing villages along the Livonian Coast of Latvia. Unlike Latvian, which is a Baltic language, Livonian belongs to the Finnic branch of the Uralic language family and is related to Estonian, Finnish and Karelian. Even though the last native speaker of Livonian is thought to have died in 2013, there is a sustained interest in Livonian language and culture. In 2018 the University of Latvia Livonian Institute, the first research institution solely focused on the history, culture and language of Livonia, was established. In May 2019 the Institute’s director Valts Ernštreits, who is also a poet writing in Latvian and Livonian, took part in the European Literature Night: Poetry and Performance event held at the British Library. The poem below comes from Ernštreits’ first bilingual (Livonian and English) collection of Livonian poetry People like us. Seļļizt nemē mēg, translated by Ryan Van Winkle and Ernštreits (London, 2019, awaiting shelfmark).

Siz ku kievād virgõbõd
tallõ vied allõ maggõnd līndõd,
nänt tūrgõd āt vel kažžizt,
nänt ēļ um vel kardõ,
nänt kēļ um vel ȭnõz ja vȭrõz.
Ku kivīd virgõbõd, paļļõd ja ōgizt,
ne nūzõbõd ilzõ jõugõst ja viedstõ, ja mūldast,
lougõ ja sitkõ,
addõŗi murdõs ja
kējid jālgad sil akkõs.
Nänt kēļ neku nänt eņtš sidām
vel um vizā, lǟlam ja tijā;
amād sõnād āt ūd,
set set sindõn,
set pimdõmst ulzõ tunnõd;
abbõrz sieldõm kūoŗ nēḑi katāb.
Kievād, ku lūomõd ja liestād,
pūošõd ja neitsõd
āt īdlimist jagdõd
pids randõ,
līndõd ja kivīd rõkāndõbõd
ūds kīels,
missõn jūŗi äb ūo
äbka īrgandõkst,
äb ka tutkāmt.

–––––

In spring, birds wake
from their underwater slumber,
their feathers damp,
voices cracked and croaking
in an empty, foreign language.
Stones, naked and grey, rise up
from the sand, soil, sea – stubborn
and heavy – breaking ploughs,
getting under your feet.
Their rocky tongues,
just like their hearts, are cold
heavy and hollow. Their words;
new born
fresh out
of darkness, swaddled
in a thin, eggshell light.
In spring, when beasts and fish
and all the young men
and all the young women
get dispersed fairly and evenly
throughout the coast,
the birds and stones
speak their rootless language,
a tongue
with no beginning, no end.

Ela Kucharska-Beard, Curator Baltic Collections

 

Photograph of José María Iparraguirre playing guitar

José María Iparraguirre, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Basque

Basque, or Euskara, is a pre-Indo-European language spoken today in four provinces of Spain and three in France on both sides of the Western Pyrenees. It is an ‘isolate’, i.e. it is unrelated to any language group. Attempts have been made to find connections between Basque and an extraordinary variety of languages, living and dead. However, only the surviving fragments of Aquitanian, a language of S.W. Gaul, have revealed any meaningful coincidences.

Greater centralization after the Revolution weakened regional identity in France and minority languages suffered in consequence. In northern Spain, the fueros (local laws) were abolished in 1876. Paradoxically, Basque culture and language underwent a renaissance that lasted until the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Use of the Basque language was forbidden under Franco, but it continued to be studied, initially clandestinely. Today, speakers of Basque number about 850,000. Its future is brightest in the Autonomous Community of Euskadi in Spain where it has co-official status. It is much less so in Navarra, where its status is more complex. The language is at greatest risk in the French Basque Country.

Poetry has always been a vital strand of literature in Basque. Indeed, the first book printed in the language was a collection of poems, Linguae vasconum primitiae (Bordeaux, 1545), by a parish priest, Bernart Etxepare. A feature of Basque verse, today and in the past, has been oral poetry. One of the most famous poems in the language, Jose Maria Iparragirre’s Gernikako arbola (c. 1853), is composed to a popular dance rhythm. Dedicated to the tree of Gernika, the ancient oak that symbolized the rights of the people of Bizkaia, it has become a de facto anthem of the Basque people and their aspirations. Iparragirre (1820-81) had himself been a defender of the fueros and he forms an indirect link to the cultural movement that grew up after their suppression.

The poem has 12 stanzas. We quote here the first in its original dialect spelling, as the whole poem can readily be found online:

Guernicaco arbola
Da bedeincatuba
Euscaldunen artean
Guztiz maitatuba
Eman ta zabaltzazu
Munduban frutuba,
Adoratzen zaitugu
Arbola santuba.

–––––

The Tree of Guernica
is blessed
among the Basques;
absolutely loved.
Give and deliver
the fruit unto the world.
We adore you,
holy tree.

Geoff West, Former Curator Hispanic Collections 

Further reading:

Luis de Castresana, Vida y obra de Iparraguirre. Seguida de la obra completa, original euskera y versión castellana, del autor del Gernikako Arbola (Bilbao, 1971). X.981/3103.

Nick Gardner, Basque in education, In the Basque Autonomous Community (Vitoria-Gasteiz, 2000) YA.2002.a.39245.

Luis Villasante, Historia de la literatura vasca, 2nd ed. rev. ([Oñate], 1979). BL HLR 899.92

 

22 April 2020

Poems from the Edge of Extinction I

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For this blog, the first of a mini series in collaboration with our Americas and Oceania collections colleagues, we have taken inspiration from last year’s timely anthology of poems, Poems from the Edge of Extinction (BL ELD.DS.463137), edited by poet and UK National Poetry Librarian, Chris McCabe. Published last year (the UN’s International Year of Indigenous Languages), the book celebrates linguistic diversity through poetic expression, gathering 50 poems in languages identified as endangered and presenting them in both the original and in English translation. It’s got us thinking about poetry written in lesser-known languages in our collections…

Cover of Nils-Aslak Valkeapää, The Sun, My Father

Cover of Nils-Aslak Valkeapää, The Sun, My Father, translated by Harald Gaski, Lars Nordström, and Ralph Salisbury (Guovdageaidnu, 1997), YA.2001.a.9397

Sámi

Spoken in Sápmi, the Sámi languages are part of the Uralic language family. As of August 2019, and the approval of an official Pite Sámi orthography, eight of the nine Sámi languages have written standards. That said, Sámi poetry is tied much more to an oral tradition, at the heart of which is the “joik” form of song. The joik is often dedicated to a person, animal, place, a landscape and its mode of expression is to evoke its subject directly and not to speak about it. The first Sámi poet to win the Nordic Council Literature Prize was Nils-Aslak Valkeapää for his Beaivi, áhčážan (‘The Sun, my Father’) (YA.1994.b.2494), a title referring to the myth that the Sámi are the children of the Sun. Written in North Sámi, the illustrated meditation on ‘everything of which humans form a part’ (Heith), connects us to nature fundamentally:

eanan
lea earálágán
go das lea orron
vánddardan

bivástuvván
šuvččagan

oaidnán beaivvi
luoitime loktaneame
láhppome ihtime

eanan lea earálágán
go diehtá
dáppe
máttut
máddagat

––––––

the land
is different
when you have lived there
wandered

sweated
frozen

seen the sun
set rise
disappear return

the land is different
when you know
here are
roots
ancestors

(From Valkeapää’, The Sun, my Father)

Valkeapää’s unpunctuated, short-lined flow moves us through the poem as if the voice is taking the reader on the very wander it imagines. It is well worth listening to Valekapää sing the lyrics. Contemporary Sámi poetry is thriving, and McCabe’s anthology points us towards a poem by Synnøve Persen, and we have recently acquired a range of titles from leading Sámi voices such as Persen, Inga Ravna Eira, Maren Uthaug, and Rauni Magga Lukkari, to name a few.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections 

 

Engraving of a 30 year-old La Villemarqué transcribing a song

A 30 year-old La Villemarqué transcribing a song. Engraving by Ernest Boyer, half-brother of the poet Brizeux, 1845, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Breton (Brezhoneg)

Before the revival movements of the 19th and early 20th century, most literature in Breton consisted of religious writings. This revival had been first generated by the publication and international success of La Villemarqué's Barzaz Breiz (‘Songs and Ballads of Brittany’; 20010.ff.45.), the foundation of Brittany's literary renaissance.

Our collections present a good selection of Breton poets, from War poet Yann-Ber Kalloc’h (1888 –1917) to Pierre-Jakez Helias (1914-1995). Born on the island of Groix, near Quimper, Kalloc’h was the son of a fisherman. Taking the name of Bard Bleimor (‘Sea Wolf’), Kalloc’h described himself as ‘not in the least bit French’ and wrote in autonomist and regionalist reviews and publications. His most famous work is the posthumous collection of poems, Ar en deulin, published by his friend Pierre Mocaer in 1925 (1963 parallel text edition at X.989/21387). This collection includes the famous poem ‘Me ’zo Ganet kreiz ar e mor’ (‘I was born in the middle of the sea’), which can also be found in Minhoarheu ha dareu. Sourires et pleurs. Poésies de Bretagne (Quimper, 1926; 10657.b.36.).

A major literary figure in Brittany (and in the whole of France) in the second half of the 20th century, Pêr-Jakez Helias directed a weekly radio programme in the Breton language and co-founded a summer festival which became the Festival de Cornouaille. Helias’s poetry includes two collections in Breton, Ar mên du (‘The Black Stone’; Brest, 1974; PP.4881.sdp.[niv.47/48.]) and An tremen-buhez ( ‘The Pastime’; Brest, 1979; X.950/1993). The Breton language itself is an important theme in his work: ‘Breton speaker that I am, my heritage lies on my tongue’.

The Library also has a collection of literary magazine Al Liamm (P.901/1500), first published in 1946. Many modern Breton authors have contributed to the magazine with poems, short stories, essays, and songs.

It is interesting to note another trend in later Breton poetry: Haikus. Contemporary Breton poets have taken to this art form, and seem particularly keen on experimenting, as in Paol Keineg’s 35 haiku (Morlaix, 1978; X.907/20940) and the recent Breton/Japanese haikus by singer and musician Alan Stivell, Amzer (2015; BL 1CD0378512)

And if you want to delve into the Breton language a bit more, we have also digitized the 1744 Dictionnaire françois-breton ou françois-celtique du dialecte de Vannes!

Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections 

 

Cover of Valzhyna Mort, Epidemiia ruzhau

Cover of Valzhyna Mort, Epidemiia ruzhau (2017). Awaiting shelfmark.

Belarusian

Belarusian is one of the two official languages of Belarus (the other is Russian), yet it is estimated that only around 10% of the population use it in everyday life.

In 1971, the first anthology of Belarusian poetry in English, Like Water, Like Fire (1971; X.981/2398.), was published as part of a UNESCO series of books aimed at highlighting literature in lesser-known languages. It contained works by 41 authors, from Francišak Bahuševič to Larysa Hienijuš and Maxim Tank, which were translated by the poet and translator Vera Rich.

Although still relatively little known outside of Belarus and the Belarusian diaspora, contemporary Belarusian poetry is thriving. In his 2015 book, Spring Shoots: Young Belarusian Poets in the Early Twenty-First Century (YC.2017.a.1460), Arnold McMillin introduces 40 poets born in or after 1980 and loosely connects them through common themes present in their poetry, including the use and defence of language, historical heritage, protest at alienation and repression, and religion.

One stand-out poet who does not feature in Spring Shoots (but is instead included in McMillin’s earlier work as a ‘poet of the future’) is the US-based Valzhyna Mort, who writes in both Belarusian and English. The British Library recently acquired Mort’s collection, Epidemiia ruzhau (‘Rose Pandemic’), which explores the themes of war and displacement, music and gardens, language and earth. In an article published on the website of Cornell University’s English Department, where Mort is a professor, she observes that, ‘The landscape of Belarus is burdened by silence, by the unverbalized history of war and colonization’ and describes the collection as ‘trying to untie the nerves of silence.’ 

Mort features on http://litradio.by/, an archive of audio recordings featuring writers, poets and translators reading their work and one of the many projects set up by Belarusian PEN Centre aimed at fostering and promoting Belarusian literature.

You can read and listen to Valzhyna Mort’s poem ‘Belarusian I’ (‘Belaruskaia mova I’) from Factory of Tears (Port Townsend, Wash., 2008; YD.2009.a.3260), which is included in McCabe’s anthology, here.

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections 

Further Reading:

Read more about the Endangered Poetry Project here

Anne Heith, ‘Putting an end to the shame associated with minority culture and its concomitant negative self-Images – On gender and ethnicity in Sami and Tornedalian literature’, accessed 7/4/20

Harald Gaski, ‘Song, Poetry and Images in Writing: Sami Literature’, Nordlit 15 (1), 2011, pp. 33-54.