Saturday, 1 December 2007

Stoi na stacji lokomotywa

December begins, gloomy. The temperature has risen to +5C; it's raining, darkness descends earlier still, winter solstice is three weeks away. Time for some introspective musing. Almost every Polish child has had contact with Julian Tuwim's poem Lokomotywa. And I, growing up in London, was no exception. Two pictures (above, below) in the 1958 edition (illustrated by Jan Lenica) remained in my memory long after the book had been given away. A copy came into my possession thanks to Marek Kościński, seeing the two pictures after 40 or so years confirmed my original childhood emotions.

The matter of why these two images were so familiar to a three year-old boy living in a West London suburb is integral to my life-long quest to find answers about what I call Anomalous Memory Events that have been regularly occurring throughout my life. Viewing these pictures as a child triggered the earliest such anomalous memories that I can remember.

What I felt at the time was a total connection with the picture; I'd been here before, I can associate totally with the atmosphere, the look-and-feel of the places, even though I know I had never been there in my lifetime. And how could I have. Continental Europe; snow, steam engines. This is not the suburban London in which I was growing up.

The picture above came to mind a few years back when we visited one of our favourite places, a village called Augustówka, ( 51°58'58.81"N, 21°31'11.96"E, low-res on Google Earth) standing at the junction of three railway lines. Walking through the forest in winter, snow on the ground, I 'saw' the above picture just as I'd seen it in the book; the effect was like looking at a viewfinder image through a viewfinder - a sudden flashback of memory to a memory of a memory from outside my current lifetime. I need to know why.

If you've just Googled this page, let me tell you that this is one of the most popular pages on my blog, visited more often than my in-depth review of the Nikon D80 digital SLR camera. So here, just for you, is my translation (with one or two suggestions from Krzysztof) of Tuwim's Lokomotywa:


The locomotive’s standing at the station,
Huge, heavy, it drips perspiration –
Oily lubrication.

It stands and wheezes, it groans and gnashes
Its boiling belly stuffed full of hot ashes:
Arrrgh, what torture!
Phew, what a scorcher!
Panting and puffing!
Hissing and huffing!
It’s barely gasping, it’s barely breathing,
And still its fireman more coal keeps on heaping.

To it were coupled wagons of iron and steel
Massive and heavy, they weighed a great deal
And crowds of people in each one of these,
And one’s full of cows, another of – horsies,
A third one with passengers, every one fat,
Sitting and eating sausagey snacks.
The fourth was packed with crates of bananas.
The fifth one contained – six large grand pianos.
In the sixth a large cannon, cor! what a whopper!
Each of its wheels chocked up right proper!
The seventh, oaken wardrobes and chairs.
The eighth an elephant, giraffe and two bears.
The ninth, fattened pigs – no spare spaces,
The tenth full of trunks, baggage and cases,
Wagons like these – another forty remain,
Not even I could tell what they contain.
But if one thousand strongmen gathered right here,
And each one would eat one thousand burgers a year,
And each one strained with all of his might,
They couldn’t shift this colossal weight.

Suddenly – WHISTLE!
Suddenly – bustle!
Steam – eruption!
Wheels – in motion!

Slowly at first, like a tortoise just waking
Strains the engine, every single joint aching.
But it jerks at the wagons and pulls with great zeal,
It turns, and it turns, wheel after wheel.
It gathers momentum and takes up the chase
As it thunders and hammers and speeds up the pace.

And where to? And where to? And where to?
Straight on!By rail, by rail, by bridge, now it’s gone –
Through mountains and tunnels, through meadows and woods
It’s rushing, it’s rushing to bring on the goods,
It’s knocking out rhythms like banging a drum

It’s gliding so smoothly – no effort at all,
No engine of steel, just a little toy ball,
No massive machine, all panting and puffing
But a plaything of tin, that weighs next to nothing.

From where does it, how does it, why does it rush?
And what is it, who is it, gives it a push?
That makes it go faster, all thrashing and hissing?
It’s steam’s scalding power that keeps moving this thing.
It’s steam piped from boiler to a piston that glides
Back and forth pushing rods that turn wheels on both sides,
They’re striving and driving, the train keeps on bumping,
‘Cause steam keeps the pistons a-pumping and pumping,
Producing a rhythm so pleasing to some:

(copyright Michael Dembinski 2008)


scatts said...

Very reminiscent of L S Lowry's style of painting. I like them.

Anonymous said...

Naprawde bardzo dobre tlumaczenie, aczkolwiek uwazam ze w czesci z "najpierw powoli"lepiej by bylo zachowac oryginalny uklad- caly w nim urok. Ale naprawde wysmienicie! Gratuluje!

Maciej Chodakowski said...

W sama dziesiątkę tłumaczenie.

Anonymous said...

It says that in the eighth wagon there was an elephant, a giraffe and two bears however in the original version there was an elephant, a bear and two giraffes! Superb work - hats off !!

Anonymous said...

I did not believe that this thing COULD be turned out in English, preserving the rhythm and contents. Bravo!
What a pity the author was a sniveling scoundrel, creating paeans to Stalin while Polish patriots were receiving Stalin's nine grams in the backs of their heads mere furlongs from the great poet study!

Anonymous said...

I did not believe that this thing COULD be turned out in English, preserving the rhythm and contents. Bravo!
What a pity the author was a sniveling scoundrel, creating paeans to Stalin while Polish patriots were dying in a prison mere furlongs from the great poet study!