Volta: A Multilingual Anthology “contains seventy-five poems in seventy-five languages. Seventy-four of these poems are translations of one poem, the seventy-fifth.” You can read the English poem (the original) at wood s lot for November 18, 2009, where I got the link; it and all the translations (in, among many others, Maltese, Mongolian, Nepali, Nigerian Pidgin, North Eastern English, and Norwegian) are available in pdf form via the first link. Here’s an etymological passage from the long introduction by the poem’s author, Richard Berengarten:
The title ‘Volta’ itself comes from Modern Greek. The noun βόλτα is a noun meaning ‘turn’ and also ‘walk’, ‘stroll’. The Greek expression πάμε βόλτα [pame volta] means literally *let’s go a turn,6 i.e. ‘let’s take a turn,’ ‘let’s go for a walk/ stroll,’ ‘let’s stretch our legs.’ The word βόλτα is also used to mean, more precisely, ‘evening promenade’, βραδινή βόλτα [vrathini volta]. The custom of the evening promenade is expressed in Italian by the word passeggiata and in Serbian, Czech and Slovak by the common word korzo. During certain hours of the early evening, around dusk, everyone in the town who might feel like going for a walk takes a saunter or stroll up and down the main street. The custom used to exist in widely different cultures, including for example, in Portugal. A version of it exists among Jewish communities on the Sabbath.7
The idea of ‘turning’ is embedded in the Modern Greek word and usage: βόλτα is a word of Latin origin (volgere [actually volvere—LH], to turn). So a volta in this sense is a ‘turn’, up and down and back again, in the pleasurable presence of an indeterminate number of other people who, for whatever reasons of their own, happen to be engaged in the same activity. The word volta also exists in Catalan, Galician and Portuguese, and is cognate with Spanish vuelta.8 In all these Romance languages the word has the primary idea of ‘turn’, ‘return’, and more or less the same idiomatic meaning of ‘taking a turn’ as in Greek.
Since the words passeggiata and korzo derive from Latin too, I can’t help wondering if the custom of walking up and down for pleasurable relaxation started with the ancient Romans, or whether it was assimilated into Latin from practice among various other cultures. My guess is that it was pre-Roman, possibly even Neolithic, and widespread in the warm climates around the Mediterranean. It certainly has a Mediterranean ‘feel’ to it.
So the setting and take-off point for the poem ‘Volta’ is an evening walk, a promenade, in a Greek seaside town, as the sun is setting on the horizon. That is: a self-turning, as day is turning into night and as light is evening itself out into darkness.
6. The asterisk before the expression denotes that it is not one that is actually used – in this case, in English.
7. The custom is known as the ‘Sabbath Stroll’.
8. Vuelta was the name of the literary magazine edited by Octavio Paz from 1975 until his death in 1998. I am indebted to Anthony Rudolf for reminding me of this.
I well remember those evening strolls from my visit to Greece. At the end, Berengarten adds:
As the time of writing this (October 28, 2009), I intend to go on gathering translations of ‘Volta’ into more languages. I hope that a future expanded version of this anthology will be published at a later date, possibly as a book. I would especially like to include more translations from African languages, Asian languages including the Indian subcontinent, languages indigenous to Australasia and North and South America, languages of transhumant and nomadic cultures, languages of small pockets, valleys and islands of speakers, and, above all, languages that are threatened with extinction.
Readers who would like to be involved in further developing, helping and advising in any way and with any aspects of this multilingual project are invited to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.