My friend Lena, a translator, claims that English is a cold language. Her husband died almost three years ago. After some time, she started writing her first poems in English. Short, unrhymed, formless.
“Have you ever written anything about him in Polish?” I ask her one day.
We’re in the park, sitting on one of the benches in the shade of a big maple tree.
“Yes, I have,” she replies. “But I could never share these poems with anybody.”
“Whenever I try to write about my grief in Polish, I have the impression that I’m overly dramatic, that I exaggerate my pain,” she says. “In English death becomes more theoretical than real. Do you know what I mean?”
Nearby a woman is pushing a child on a swing. A little girl with blonde pigtails. I think about all those times I tried to write or speak about my daughter in my mother tongue. My pen would fall out of my shaking hand. Or I would open my mouth and wasn’t able to utter a single word. Embarrassed, I quickly changed the subject. Perhaps in English, my daughter’s death would seem more remote, less final.
Lena says that sometimes the simplest words are the trickiest to translate. Their apparent accessibility is deceptive as you can easily get lost in the multiplicity of their meanings. Lena also says that when she translates a novel or a short story, her attention is focused on all the small details. She is interested in language, in its limitless possibilities.
Izabela Ilowska holds a PhD in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow. Her work has appeared in New Writing Scotland, Gutter Magazine, and Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine.