Translation – Chairal Anwar: To a Friend

by indonotes

This is one of my favourite Chairil Anwar poems, bursting with a vitality combined with a sense of foreboding. Again, like Aku (for which see my previous post), the driving rhythm that the poem has in Indonesian is rather lost in translation.

I wrote this translation before referring to other translations, particularly that by John Echols, in Indonesian writing in translation (available to view free online at the Cornell Modern Indonesia Collection). When I read Echols’ translation, there were a few bits of his that I preferred, and some bits of my version that I preferred.  On one significant point I am somewhat undecided. Echols translated ‘putuskan’ as ‘to part’ whereas I have gone with ‘to resolve’ or decide. Both of these are plausible to me, but cast the poem in a somewhat different light: is this poem about parting words in the shadow of death or about two friends resolving together to blaze a trail regardless?

To a friend

Before fate draws near and betrays,
Grasping from behind when we’re not looking,
Whilst blood and feeling still surge in our breasts,

Not yet consigned to despair nor trembling,
Not forgetting how suddenly the night envelops,
A fluttering red sail disappears into the gloom,
Friend, let’s resolve here and now:
The fateful moment that draws us also strangles itself!

Fill the glass to the brim then empty it,
Scour the world and turn it upside down,
Embrace women, leave them if they seduce,
Choose the wildest horse, spur it on,
Don’t bind it to the day and night
Destroy everything you’ve made,
Dissapear without inheritance, without family,
Not begging forgiveness for all your sins,
Not taking leave of anyone!
Let’s resolve once more,
The death that draws us will feel the sky’s stillness,
Once more friend, one more line:
Drive your sword in up to the hilt,
Into anyone who dilutes the honey with water!!!

Kepada Kawan
Sebelum Ajal mendekat dan mengkhianat,
mencengkam dari belakang ‘tika kita tidak melihat,
selama masih menggelombang dalam dada darah serta rasa,
belum bertugas kecewa dan gentar belum ada,
tidak lupa tiba-tiba bisa malam membenam,
layar merah berkibar hilang dalam kelam,
kawan, mari kita putuskan kini di sini:
Ajal yang menarik kita, juga mencekik diri sendiri!
Isi gelas sepenuhnya lantas kosongkan,
Tembus jelajah dunia ini dan balikkan
Peluk kucup perempuan, tinggalkan kalau merayu
Pilih kuda yang paling liar, pacu laju,
Jangan tambatkan pada siang dan malam
Hancurkan lagi apa yang kau perbuat,
Hilang sonder pusaka, sonder kerabat.
Tidak minta ampun atas segala dosa,
Tidak memberi pamit pada siapa saja!
Mari kita putuskan sekali lagi:
Ajal yang menarik kita, ‘kan merasa angkasa sepi,
Sekali lagi kawan, sebaris lagi:
Tikamkan pedangmu hingga ke hulu
Pada siapa yang mengairi kemurnian madu!!!