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Gwyneth Lewis – Ⅰ

Mother Tongue 




‘I started to translate in seventy-three

in the schoolyard. For a bit of fun

to begin with – the occasional “fuck”

for the bite of another language’s smoke

at the back of my throat, its bitter chemicals.

Soon I was hooked on whole sentences

behind the shed, and lessons in Welsh

seemed very boring. I started on print,

Jeeves & Wooster, Dick Francis, James Bond,

in Welsh covers. That worked for a while

until Mam discovered Jean Plaidy inside

a Welsh concordance one Sunday night.

There were ructions: a language, she screamed,

should be for a lifetime. Too late for me.

Soon I was snorting Simenon

and Flaubert. Had to read much more

for any effect. One night I OD’d

after reading far too much Proust.

I came to, but it scared me. For a while

I went Welsh-only but it was bland

and my taste was changing. Before too long

I was back on translating, found that three

Languages weren’t enough. The “ch”

In German was easy, Rilke a buzz…

For a language fetishist like me

sex is part of the problem. Umlauts make me sweat,

so I need a multilingual man

but they’re rare in West Wales and tend to be

married already. If only I’d kept

myself much purer, with simpler tastes,

the Welsh might be living…

Detective, you speak

Russian, I hear, and Japanese.

Could you whisper some softly?

I’m begging you. Please…’