Among all the poems by Pilinszky that János Csokits and I translated, ‘The Desert of Love’ seem to be one of the most successful. Even now after such a long interval (and seventeen years since I first saw his literal version) I still do not see how I could take the poem further. A couple of places in it still trouble me slightly. ‘Numb with brightness’, in line 7, seems somewhat indistinct. I would have preferred ‘numbed by’ — but that releases a small avalanche of problems on into the next line. I see no way to recast the whole sentence and still retain what seems to me right about it. Then again, there has always seemed to me something inadequate about the last line, in my final version. That painful detail of feeling, focused in the tin cup, draws on the episode in the preceding verse, where the prisoner, tortured by thirst, begged for water and gulped it in such a way that the very sounds haunt him years after. But the consequent charge of anguish in that overturned cup is greatly sharpened, for me, by my experience of what a cup tends to do when you set it down in the straw with drink still in it. You think the straw is ideal for nesting the cup safely. What actually happens can seem almost diabolical.
KeywordsBurning Cage Assure Straw Poplar
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