Boris Dralyuk

Leopold Staff (1878-1957)


Looking over some of my quaint and curious attempts at translation, I found a version of a nostalgic sonnet by the Polish poet Leopold Staff (1878-1957). It seems to have been inspired by Baudelaire’s “Le Voyage,” with that beautiful opening stanza:

Pour l’enfant, amoureux de cartes et d’estampes,
L’univers est égal à son vaste appétit.
Ah! que le monde est grand à la clarté des lampes!
Aux yeux du souvenir que le monde est petit!

Staff’s poem is called “Childhood” (“Dzieciństwo”):

The poetry of ancient wells, of broken clocks;
the attic; cracked, mute violins without a fiddler;
a yellow book, where dried foget-me-nots
still sleep – were to my childhood an enchanted woodland…

First I collected rusty keys… A tale
whispered that one key was a wondrous gift of gifts,
which opened castles hidden in a mist
where I would go – pale prince out of a Van Dyck oil.

Then I collected butterflies, a magic lamp’s
charmed marvels that appeared upon a papered wall,
and also, for a long time, postage stamps…

For they were like a crazy journey through the world,
full of departures to the earth’s four corners…
Sweet dream, ridiculous, like happiness… like happiness…