Tom Raworth’s ‘translation’ [Four Late Night Poems, Moving, 1971]

I’ve been trying to figure out how Tom Raworth’s two-line lyric, ‘translation’, one of ‘Four Late Night Poems’ included in 1971’s Moving, encourages the reader to think about translation, or to ask what is the second-order conceptual move necessary to connect the image-complex with the terrain staked out by the title. The poem is just:

crystal falls

i looked after her

As far as I’ve got is to say that each line can be read in multiple ways. In the first, ‘crystal’ may be a noun and ‘falls’ a verb conjugated in the third person; or ‘crystal’ an adjective qualifying the plural noun ‘falls’. Despite this seemingly binary division – down which path will we proceed? – the two senses are not unrelated, and might even be complementary “versions” of an unstable, obscured complex of visual image and downward motion, in which what is brittle and beautiful falls down, or the falls appear crystalline because of the reflection of light on water. In the second line a similar uncertainty announces itself between modalities of care and attention, which hinge on the two senses of the verb phrase ‘to look after’. As a way of understanding the inherent instability both within the arbitrary borders of a given language and between these discrete divisions, translation is one of the ways the brain processes ambiguity, in a ‘crystal’ prism that suspends divergent interpretations. Any advances on this would be gratefully received!

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