James Joyce’s ‘Chamber Music’ translated into Polish by English professor

Cover of Jolanta Wawrzycka, Ph.D., translation of “Chamber Music.”
Cover of Jolanta Wawrzycka's translation of “Chamber Music.”

In a project spanning nearly six years, Professor of English Jolanta Wawrzycka, Ph.D., recently published a full translation of James Joyce’s book of poetry, “Chamber Music,” in the style of the original 1907 publication.

To achieve that, Wawrzycka used old dictionaries to aid in her accurate translation of Joyce’s work into the appropriate language during that time period.

The cover artwork for Wawrzycka’s translation is an updated take on the original artwork with only minor changes. Directly translated back to English, the Polish title is “Intimate Music” rather than “Chamber Music,” an intentional decision Wawrzycka made to reflect the meaning of Joyce’s poems and the purpose behind his title.

“The reason that I used ‘intymna/intimate music’ as opposed to ‘kameralna/chamber music’ is that ‘chamber’ translates into Polish as ‘kameralna,’ which refers to ‘small room’ but does not include ‘chamber’ as in ‘chamber pot.’ Joyce loved puns and word games, and in ‘Ulysses,’ he refers to a chamber pot as ‘chamber music’ - intimate, indeed.”    

Among many challenges in translating Joyce is his use of repetition, a feature that the Polish language avoids, opting instead for synonyms.

“I insisted on repetitions, because Joyce had used them for a very good reason,” Wawrzycka said. “By preserving this feature, I managed to keep the artistic integrity of the poems.”

Slavic languages are an entirely different family of languages. It was a big challenge to reproduce the rhythm of Joyce’s language in Polish, because Polish tends to have longer, multi-syllabic words. The decision to preserve the rhyme scheme was also difficult, which is why Wawrzycka kept revising her translation for many years.

“It was hard to keep Joyce as close to ‘himself’ as possible, given the fact that I was working in a completely different language system,” Wawrzycka said. “I had to be as consistent with Polish as Joyce was with English.”

One such instance was when Joyce used a made-up word, which, to no surprise, does not exist in Polish either. Wawrzycka, instead of using a word that represents the meaning behind Joyce’s word selection, modified a Polish word to illustrate the same intent.

“It’s perfectly understood in Polish,” Wawrzycka said. “I was happy with my solution, because it allowed me to stay true to Joyce’s original meaning, his word choices and decisions as an author. As a translator, I was careful not inject my own meaning into the lines of Joyce’s poetry.”

In addition to her translation of “Chamber Music,” Wawrzycka lectured this summer at the Trieste Joyce School on her extensive knowledge of Joyce’s world-renowned works.

The dedication of Wawrzycka to authentically translating represents the continued dedication of faculty to their areas of research and expertise. Wawrzycka is a world-renowned scholar on James Joyce and has published multiple books analyzing the acclaimed author.

Dec 6, 2019
Max Esterhuizen