The poem is in the form of a letter sent from Ecuador to a loved one, far away. Mitad del Mundo, Middle of the World, is the name of the imposing Equator monument there. The phrase equally means Half the World (Hemisphere) which suggests the distance the letter will travel.

The poem’s two halves make a mirror image: in this translation, as in the original, the rhymes are perfect, and each line rhymes with, and is precisely the same length as, its counterpart equally far from the middle.

The monument consists of a globe mounted on a tall plinth that tapers upwards from its square base. La Condamine in 1735 took geodesic measurements here. Similar work in France later set the length of the new international unit: a metre, defined as one forty-millionth of the earth’s circumference. This prevailed over the older idea of the length of a pendulum swinging for precisely one second.

The true position of the Equator was found to be a little distance away. Even the amusing unofficial museum may not be plumb on the line. Blurring and inaccuracy are a theme of the poem.

***

Right, well I’m writing to you … a sort of stepped pyramid made of stone

marks the midpoint of a tourist town whose end-size can’t be reckoned
all round are mountains of glassy black and quarries and craters
wind full of sand · for this the earth has been levered
up from its axis here and put on the plinth of a monument
as if at high noon it suddenly suffered suspended animation
I cannot propose any reason at all for my equanimity
it’s as if the total absence of shadow brought everything into true
blurred shaky postcard photos in shops of souvenir tourist tat
the girth of the earth the colourised prints of an hispanic fortuna
holding her globe · I’ve a memory it’s that turquoise blue

of pointed shoes displayed for sale that you found too blue
and so didn’t want · phrases heard by chance, like pedir la luna
and noticeboards of celestial mechanics, all describing what
mock-ups quite simply make obvious · a dusty light flares through
the void, for nothing else is on board the deserted sky
and in answer to your questions I can unearth no explanation
apart from … but by this stasis our ceaseless orbit was sent
down from above at last and is at least manoeuvred
on to the equable level · in the old days they said the equator’s
where they defined the metre, as far as a pendulum swings in a second
it’s further away than I’ve been from you, whenever I’ve upped and gone.

Translated from the German by Timothy Adès
Mitad del Mundo, Raul Schrott, Weissbuch © 2004, Carl Hanser Verlag München


Timothy Adès is a rhyming translator-poet working from French, German, Spanish and (rarely) Greek. He has awards for versions of Jean Cassou, Robert Desnos, Victor Hugo, and Alfonso Reyes; other favourite poets are Brecht, Sikelianós and Ricarda Huch. He runs an occasional bookstall of translated poetry. His newest books are: Florentino and the Devil, by Alberto Arvelo Torrealba (Venezuela); Loving by Will, our national Bard’s 154 amorous talismans put into lipograms without avoiding A, I, O, or U; and Robert Desnos’s, Surrealist, Lover, Resistant. In all three books, his text faces the original.

Raoul Schrott born 1965, is a prominent and prolific Austrian poet, translator, critic and broadcaster. A book of his poems in English translation is being prepared by Iain Galbraith, who kindly made this version easier to write.

 

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