Hilde Domin

English translations by Meg Taylor and Elke Heckel

Elke Heckel

I was born in 1963 in Germany. I moved to England in 1986. It was at grammar school where I discovered a passion for poetry. Two large German poetry anthologies have moved with me ever since. It was in one of those we found further poems after the initial postcard. I currently work as a midwife but started out as a German teacher.

Translating the Hilde Domin poems was a very dynamic process where both our strengths could be utilised to maximum effect. Many industrious hours were spent in Meg's kitchen, where we worked from the rough translation to the refined version with mounting excitement.

For me it was a very moving experience to combine my German origins with the English half of my life.

It was particularly poignant when we discovered that Hilde Domin died when our translation output reached its peak. Shortly after her death our translations received enthusiastic praise from the editor of 'Poetry Review'.

Meg Taylor

I started learning German in 1964 when I was twelve as a second language after French, but I had got an intimation of it from some years earlier. One of my aunts had a German calendar (I can't think why, she didn't speak German) in the Gothic script, which I found quite fascinating. It was easy to work out the months and I found März exotic because of the umlaut: it was intriguingly similar to and different from English.

I continued German to A-level at a very academic direct grant grammar school and my German teacher wanted me to take it at university. I didn't, partly because I was frightened of the idea of spending a year abroad but also because I didn't think I would ever be good enough to be an interpreter or translator and I didn't want to be a teacher. Within the last few years a friend who translates from Dutch into English has told me that the important thing with translation is how well one can write in one's mother tongue. I have kept a free-form diary for over forty years and that has provided the kind of practice which concert pianists get from playing scales. I can produce well structured sentences easily.

I have also written poetry on and off since the age of fifteen. Poetry is language which is particularly condensed, both linguistically and emotionally. And since I have become increasingly disabled language remains one of most important things left to me. I read an article about a Jewish mystical tradition. At the base of one's spine there is a space unique to each of us where our soul is expressed. To some people it might be spirituality or politics, for others parenthood and the love of their children. As soon as I read this I thought: words.

So I am an unqualified, enthusiastic amateur.

I should like to express my heartfelt thanks to:

Elke Heckel
who has always fostered my creativity and jouissance, even while my physical capacities are waning

Stuart Salisbury
who sent me a postcard of the poem Bitte

Agata Radzka
for her unobtrusive practical support and theological input

The memory of Dr Alice Apt
another well educated German Jewish woman in exile who taught me German to A-level and who honoured me with the Betty Hanneman Prize in 1970