The remarkable fluency that Valles attains and maintains over nearly six hundred pages may owe something to her complete immersion in the translation process over a relatively short period of three years. She is nothing if not tuned in to Herbert's eerily astringent voice. Her introduction testifies to this sensitivity to tone: She chooses to defend having changed a passage of the Milosz-Scott translation of "Apollo and Marsyas" in order to convey more precisely the sound the flayed Marsyas should make. In Polish, the fourth stanza reads:
tylko z pozoru
i sklada sie z jednej samogloski
Milosz and Scott originally translated this as follows:
is the voice of Marsyas
and composed of a single vowel
Valles's version restores the stifled shriek of "A" that gives Herbert's poem so much of its bite. The form of the satyr's distress embodies a refusal to elaborate, and you can see, even in these five lines, how much more condensed and impacted Herbert is in Polish. Valles writes:
I chose to remove the "aa" added, restoring the simple "A" of Herbert's poem. To my sense it is crucial that though this poem is "composed" around a cry of pain, Herbert does not explicitly sound it in the poem, but points to it and portrays it in a series of metamorphoses—a landscape, a choir, a petrified nightingale. To translate it into a cry is to remove animating ambiguities in the poem.
Herbert's treatment of Marsyas and Apollo is no less political than Ovid's. This is a brilliant and perplexed parable of victor and victim—the pain the victim is subjected to gives rise to new sounds beyond the range of the oppressor's hearing. Marsyas accomplishes the unthinkable by striking fear into an impervious god. And once this happens, the old regime will inevitably topple.
Causes Alissa Valles Supports
Human Rights Watch
Southern Poverty Law Center
Voice of Witness
Global Fund for Women
Bat Conservation International