How I write – Alfred Palma
by Marie Benoit
All my life I have been the slave of three muses: art, music and literature, and, as far as I can remember, I have always had this urge to write, write, write: poetry, short stories, essays and what have you; but my greatest obsession was with translation. At school, my translation exercises were a sheer joy; the harder and more challenging, the better. But the most amazing thing about all this, was that translation came so naturally to me that, at times, all I had to do was just put pen to paper, with no effort at all. Soon as I read something interesting, particularly something which really pleased me and interacted with my mind: voilà! It was as good as translated! And the more difficult the challenge, the better! Uninteresting literature fared less well with me; it only took me more time to translate! And this flair for translation intensified the more I grew up. At school, I had already been captivated by Dante, Shakespeare and other literary giants, and had already tried a hand here and there, in spite of the immense difficulties that such giants invariably posed. Both as a read and the more so to translate. But I met each challenge with the non- chalance of youth, always confident that one day I’d have a go at these colossal giants and their oeuvres.
In 1964, Erin Serracino Inglott published the first part of Dante’s Commedia in Maltese, an excellent translation but, alas! unrhymed. And, quite disappointed, I asked myself: can the Commedia be translated into Maltese and rhymed? At school I had already tried a line here and there, (both of Dante and Shakespeare) and although by then I already had a job, I had never neglected either literature or the other two arts, with which I had also carried on regardless with comparative ease and great personal satisfaction.
And a little voice inside me whispered: “Yes, the Commedia can be translated into Maltese and rhymed.” And that was that! Literature took me in her arms, and for the next 20 taxing years, very much aware of the immense commitment I had decided to face in the 26th year of life, I just couldn’t let go. And in the autumn of 1986, with a long, long sigh I penned the last line of the Paradiso.
My work was received with a mixture of acclaim, surprise, admiration, a little awe, and some very dark green envy. But I was not deterred. I simply reverted to Shakespeare, concentrated on him and, to date, I have translated all his 38 plays. Voltaire’s Candide then proved a delightful interlude between Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde, after which I really concentrated on the latter. Eventually I translated his Salomé, The Picture of Dorian Gray, De Profundis, and his four great plays. Between intervals I continued to paint and to play the piano, vowing for the umpteenth time to lay down my pen. But my pen remained restless! And I knew that one way or another I’d pick it up again. My greatest temptress brought me to a new edition of Shakespeare’s celebrated Sonnets which, because of their immense difficulty, I had postponed translating. Not this time however; it was a challenge to which I simply had to finally capitulate.
And quite recently I put the finishing touches to the Maltese translation of these exquisite, fiendishly difficult, and highly polished gems.And, once again, I am very pleased to have picked up the glove. The Maltese language, as with the other major literary works I have translated to date, will be richer thereby.
What now? Will I (at last) set my pen down? I have been asking myself this question for many years, but Literature, wooing me anew, will sooner or later fall again into my arms and, once again I will sigh and pick up my pen. And if the subject will be right, I will definitely give in to her wiles!