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Translating into Love Life's End


                   The bicycle                                                           @HF

                   (to be found on the cover of her book)


Translating into Love Life's End

Since I cannot touch you

with my tongue

I translate my passion.

I cannot communicate

so I transubstantiate;

I cannot undress you

so I dress you with the fantasy

of a foreign tongue.

Under your wings

I cannot nestle

so I fly around you

turning the pages of your dictionary.

I want to know how you strip

how you open up

so I look for your habits

in between your lines

for your favourite fruit

your favourite smells

girls you leaf through.

I'll never see your punctuation marks

naked, I work hard on your adjectives

so that I can recite them in the sururrations

of another religion.

But my story has aged

my volume adorns no shelf

and I imagine you now

with a rare gold leather binding

in a foreign library.

Because I should never

have indulged in the luxury of nostalgia

and written this poem

I am reading the gray sky now

in a sun-drenched translation.

Katerina Anghelaki Rooke's “Translating Into Love Life’s End” was published by Shortstring Press, 2004


Translating own poetry since the love of life

Katerina undertakes for the first time in her long career as poetess the task of translating her own poems into English. She does so after realizing that a great deal of her life has been spend with her British husband Rodney. This gives her a more natural way of entering the English language compared to what most people experience in their daily life. Still, she hesitates since expressions in one’s own language, Greek in her case, are really untranslatable.

In this book she observes many puzzles. She tries to reflect words like sky, in order to find out what it defines and what not, the difference like the hope grandmothers carry within them for children yet to be born. That makes her become attentive to meanings conveyed over generations, and which alters form and content of hope itself.


Form and Content of Hope


Hope contains the dream

the miracle.

Hope is conversative

like grandfater and grandmother.

Hope is subversive

like children.

Hope is generous:

we all have a life waiting for us.

Hope is selfish:

let him die so that I can live.

Hope is natural:

it forces you to cohabit

with the monster of survival.

Hope is abstract:

besides hunger everything else is undefined.

Hope is precise:

I am waiting for this flower

dressed in that way

with this light round the neck.

Towards the end

hope will marry terror

and thus you'll be hoping and trembling

with the same breath

that you may stay and suffer

or quit life.


When she came back from readings in Paris, Oxford and Sofia, Katerina Anghelaki Rooke expressed a natural desire for life. In her poem 'Present Eternity' she gives a sample thereof. The poem is based on her observations of life.

Present Eternity

From my window I observe the traffic –
Cars parked in the void
Or speed up in order
To catch themselves returning.
The world seems indefinable, dim
As if I were blinded by the steam
From some distant cauldron
Where the evil of creation
Is stewing in its own juice.
The infatuation bodies used to provoke –
Where has the infatuation gone?
How can a wounded memory
Count absences?
Has the content of life changed
Or does my person no longer offer
Sufficient future
For life to contain me?

Never before have so many questions
Weighed down my poems
Never before has imagination
Omitted to give me
So many answers.
From now on you’ll find
Hardly any descriptions of nature
In my lines;
This is because
I’m concentrating totally
On trying to imagine the face
Of the one who will promise me
Present eternity
For just one moment.

By posing such questions, the poem shows how observations of life can be transformed into a childlike wonder. It comes so natural to her and once translated into a poem, it marks her source of philosophical inspiration.

Although the poems end up being powerful poetic expressions, they are equally philosophical reflections of life. That is her secret. It adds strength to her booming voice. She conveys through her voice a capacity to reach other people without any inhibition. "I have always been myself, never ran after anything and do not ask for favors!"

Yet she sees as well what burdens people, a key element thereof being fear, but a fear experienced not just anywhere, but within a force field which brings about a hierarchical order of things.

A Frightful Oligarchy

Fear is an absolute monarch;
Nothing overshadows
His omnipotence.
Next to him Queen Despair
Has fewer competences
Since it is as if everything has been lost by now.
When she doesn’t feel young and strong enough
To plunge into mourning
Sailing-souls, she asks the assistance
Of her exclusive nurse, sadness
Who doesn’t charge much, is no trouble
Does not shout, seeks no ties.
If you don’t send her away, she remains
Faithful next to you, with you
Contemplating with empty eyes
The emptiness within you.

One of her most loved words is “really”. Often she would use it with some sly or rather witty smile in her eyes. For instance, she would ask the other to reaffirm what he or she has just said by asking: “do you really mean it what you said?” Then, as if not really waiting for an answer, she flings without hesitation her great love at the person and trusts her wit by encircling the arguments of the other as putting the arms around the other. She would conclude: “I take you for what you said”.

Believing and not believing is her case not about being hurt by what others say or not about others. She does not care so much about that. Rather she pays literal attention to what is being said, in order to discover if it has a ring of truth to it. By giving it a poetic reason, she transform this expression into another form of diction.

All of her poetry takes serious the stuff reality offers. Also she accepts humbly how human beings are made. Naturally she sees that some facts of life overcome them like the law of gravity. There are things to her mind which cannot be disputed. That is her stand for reason: we human beings live after all on this earth. But then poetry is there to uplift the human spirit, so that the human voice can be heard! It is by-passing or transcending the law of gravity, but she wishes to say things out of her association with life. These then make up the other contents of life and underline her love for life. By translating all of this into life's end meaning love, it brings out all her resistance against death as long as she lives.


When you die, I won’t be there
To keep your feet warm
Between my antiquated breast
To recite poems dedicated
To the living air and say:
“Your legs, your lies
The tufts of your hair, all so well made!”
But when you die you’ll find me
Having carpeted long ago
The corridor leading to the next room – life
With my ancient flesh.
My whisper will welcome you saying:
Look what a magic thing
The body is even one beaten by darkness
How sacred tears are
When shed for what you never experienced…
“Make room” you’ll say to me when you die.
“Make room for me to sit,
I like this flowerbed
You chose to wait for me
I like the green chaos.
How did we use to call this back on earth?
Unfulfilled something?

Poetry is all about resistance, but mind you, she would caution, provided all that is said in a very short form. She would add, you know that I am not a believer of long poems.

Hatto Fischer

Athens (First text: 2005, updated 14.2.2015)

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