“Translating Brecht,” from the Greek of Yorgos Kentrotis

/ /

i.m. Franco Fortini

Said Brecht to me (in a dream): now you’re translating me,
I see you’re set on literalness, i.e, rendering cleanly, purely.
But if you add your own words and thoughts, surely
the value of mine will increase. As for my texts, let them be

more like direction-finders or guides
but not rules or frames. I never endorsed shrinking
from chaos or disorder. My ways of thinking
draw strength from the dialectics of barricades.

That’s why I’m telling you: I like having my texts betrayed.
What that’ll show is, they’ve been fully and firmly grasped.
They need to be questioned – so that transmuted, not obeyed,
through your words my meanings will be unclasped.
And in this there’s no harm for a poet. So, here is
the solution: my intentions will best be served
when transformed by your challenges and queries.
Free beings like us refuse to be enslaved.


Μεταφράζοντας Μπρεχτ

Στη μνήμη του Φράνκο Φορτίνι

Eνώ με μεταφράζεις (μου ’πε ο Μπρεχτ μες στ’ όνειρό μου),
σε βλέπω που κολλάς στις λέξεις μου με αδιαλλαξία.
Αν λέξεις-σκέψεις πρόσθετες δικές σου, στην αξία
των στίχων μου θα πρόσθετες αξία. Το υλικό μου

για μπούσουλα και δείχτη δες το. Και όχι με του νόμου
τη νόρμα ή τις συνέπειες. Κι εγώ την αταξία
εξ άλλου επρέσβευα παντού, και πάντα υπεραξία
ιδεών αντλούσα μεσ’ απ’ τη διαλεκτική του δρόμου.

Γι’ αυτό σου λέω: μ’ αρέσει η προδοσία του κειμένου·
μου αποδεικνύει πως σε βάθος μ’ έχεις καταλάβει.
Εν αμφιβόλω θέτε τα γραπτά μου, προκειμένου
τη γλώσσα μου να βάλεις στη δικιά σου να μιλήσει!
Σ’ αυτό όσοι από ποιητική νογάν δεν βλέπουν βλάβη.
Εσύ γνωρίζεις την καλύτερη για μένα λύση.
Τι λέω εγώ το πιάνει αυτός που θα με αμφισβητήσει·
τους όμοιους μας τους νοιάζει να ’ν’ ελεύθεροι, όχι σκλάβοι.


Yorgos Kentrotis was born in 1958 in Laconia, the Peloponnese. Following studies in Law at Greek and German universities, he was eventually won over by literature and translation. He is currently Professor of Translation Theory at the Ionian University in Corfu. Since the early 1980s he has steadily produced translations from ancient Greek, Latin, German and Russian–of works by, among others, Plato, Cicero, Robert Musil, Pablo Neruda and Vladimir Mayakovsky. He has published numerous essays and monographs on comparative literature, poetics and translation. A first collection of his poems appeared in 2006; Kentrotis has produced five collections since. In 2014, he put out a collection of no less than 500 of Brecht’s poems in Greek translation, as well as a selection of epigrams from the Palatine Anthology. A similar edition of Paz’s poetry is forthcoming. In 2015, he published the long-awaited Greek translation of Giambattista Vico’s La scienza nuova (1725) and most recently in 2018, a new version of Charles Baudelaire’s Le Fleurs de Mal.

‘Translating Brecht’ borrows its title from an Italian poem by Franco Fortini, also a translator of Brecht. It appeared in Kentrotis’s most recent collection, published in 2016, which contained original poems as well as versions – and thus it includes also his Greek translation of Fortini’s ‘Traducendo Brecht’ (poignantly this is dedicated to Kentrotis’s son, Dimitris; while Kentrotis’s own poem exists ‘in memory of’ Fortini). For the original Italian see: