Saturday, August 16, 2014

Bodybuilders Contest

Text by Leon Wing
Poem by Wisława Szymborska

Bodybuilders Contest 

From scalp to sole, all muscles in slow motion. 
The ocean of his torso drips with lotion. 
The king of all is he who preens and wrestles
with sinews twisted into monstrous pretzels. 

Onstage, he grapples with a grizzly bear 
the deadlier for not really being there. 
Three unseen panthers are in turn laid low,
each with one smoothly choreographed blow. 

He grunts while showing his poses and paces. 
His back alone has twenty different faces. 
The mammoth fist he raises as he wins 
is tribute to the force of vitamins. 

This amusing poem by Maria Wisława Anna Szymborska is a translation from the Polish. Whoever did this translation performed a superlative job of transposing the sing song rhythm, with regular unstress and stress patterns, ending each pair of lines with a rhyme.

This poem shows up the ridiculousness of these bodybuilding competitions, where monstrously muscled men preen around onstage, covered in oil, the better to show off those "monstrous pretzels" of muscles. They have to act or go through these routines which look as if they are grappling with a bear or beating off panthers in slow motion. This monstrosity is compounded by backs having different faces and a mammoth fist. The humour and mockery are heightened at the end of the poem, when the ending line praises the force - not the benefits - of vitamins.

Every line in this poem is in pentameter, with five beats or feet. In order to sustain this regular beat, when reading this following stanza, for instance, you have to read a normally unstressed word or syllable as a beat, or have to promote an unstress, as in IN. And if a normally stressed word or syllable happens to fall in the place of an unstressed position, you have to do the reverse, to demote the stress, as in "slow". 

And this sort of thing is happening in most of the lines. But if you insist on reading in a normal manner, like in actual speech, you will lose the rhythm, thus depriving the humour, mockery and sarcasm in the descriptions.

From SCALP  to SOLE, all MUScles IN slow MOtion. 
The Ocean OF his TORso DRIPS with LOtion. 
The KING of ALL is HE who PREENS and WREStles
with SInews TWISted INto MONstrous PRETzels. 


About Maria Wisława Anna Szymborska [qviˈswava ʂɨmˈbɔrska] : A Polish poet, essayist and translator, she was born in 2 July 1923  and died in 1 February 2012. She won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature for "poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality". Her countrymen called her the "Mozart of Poetry".  She even sells more books than other famous prose authors, and is translated into English, European languages, Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese and Chinese.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The translation was made by Polish translator, poet, literary critic, scholar, editor, and lecturer Stanisław Barańczak.

7:44 AM, March 15, 2016  

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