To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Thursday, April 2, 2009

That Dada Strain, continued: Tristan Tzara’s “Chanson Dada” (poem & performance)

Translation from French by Matthew Rothenberg

this is the song of a dadaist
who had dada in his heart
he tore his motor apart
he had dada in his heart

the elevator lugged a king
he was a lumpy frail machine
he cut his right arm to the bone
sent it to the pope in rome

that’s why later
the elevator
had no more dada in its heart

eat your chocolate
wash your brain
gulp some rain


this is the song of a bicyclist
who loved dada from the start
she therefore was a dadaist
like all with dada in their heart

but her husband on new year’s day
learned everything & in a crisis
sent to the vatican right away
their two bodies in two suitcases

nor the bicyclist
nor the man
was ever happy or sad again

drink some bird’s milk
wash your sweets
eat your meat

[Performance by Noise 292 at with Kristin Martin (rhythm guitar), David Rives (lead guitar), Wendell Kling (trash percussion), Joanne Norris (drums), Matthew Rothenberg (bass, vocals). Translation originally published in J. Rothenberg & P. Joris, Poems for the Millennium, volume 1 (University of California Press, 1995).


Anonymous said...

a horrible translation. nothing like the original.

Matthew Rothenberg said...

>>a horrible translation. nothing like the original.

Hey, it's only rock 'n' roll! :-) As the (16-year-old) translator, I did indeed take liberties in spot to regularize the meter for our 4/4 beat ...

I do think that I honored the spirit of the thing and had some fun with the language. The intent certainly wasn't an exacting or exhaustive translation of Tzara's words.