Esperanto

Esperanto: Kabe - Second Eponym of Esperanto

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"Ho Kabe, Kabe, Kabe, Kabe, droninta vive en la morto!" (Kalocsay)

I first came across the name of Kazimierz Bein in the introduction to a book written by Dr Ferenc Szilagyi called Ellernu! That title means Learn thoroughly! and it is one of my favourite Esperanto textbooks. It's a "progresa," or intermediate-level, textbook (it would probably be regarded as advanced-level for any national language) and it can still be bought in Australia for only $7. (You can also buy a beginners' textbook by the same author called A Practical Course in Esperanto for only $2.) I hope to tell you a lot more about Szilagyi in later articles but I thought that I might as well introduce both him and Kabe ( the name under which Bein wrote) at the same time.

Both of the textbooks were written entirely in Esperanto and I'm sorry that my translation does not do justice to Szilagy's beautiful prose style.

"There is no doubt that Kabe was a skeptical figure within the Esperanto movement and his disappearance, although very regrettable, was expected. It would be interesting, someday, to analyse the reasons for that disappearance, because we, who learned from him, cannot ignore the author of the Vortaro, and the classical translator of the Faraono.

"In a way, Kabe was typical of the kind of person whose mood alternates between pessimism and optimism. And who can never during his whole life be entirely happy because the pessimistic side of his nature is too strong and always overcomes the optimistic side.

"However, we can learn a lot from these Kabe-characters. From their negativity, we can extract things of positive value. We need to pay close attention to the Kabes of the world so that we don't become blind and self-flattering, but are prompted to look in different directions and further than our own navel."

Szilagyi goes on to describe an Esperanto Conference in the earlier years of this century during which some of the delegates got carried away by their own enthusiasm. When there was general agreement that everybody should learn Esperanto, Kabe stood up an injected a sour (but much-needed) note into the proceedings by reminding the delegates that the first people who ought to learn it were the Esperantists themselves. He knew that too many of the delegates present were satisfied with an elementary or superficial knowledge of the language, and he also saw clearly that it would be difficult, if not impossible to convince others of the value of Zamenhof's International Language if they themselves could not use it fluently.

The lesson was certainly not lost on Szilagyi who, as well as producing very distinguished works of Esperanto literature, was renowned as a teacher and wrote the textbooks mentioned above. The second of them, which I always translate to myself as "Learn it Properly!" serves as a testimonial to Kabe's pragmatism and common sense.

Who was Kabe and what was the mysterious "disappearance" which Szilagyi referred to? To answer the last question first, Kabe suddenly ceased to have anything to do with Esperanto after having made an extraordinary contribution between 1903 and 1911. Only in 1957, after his 80th birthday and not long before his death, did he begin once more to show interest in Esperanto and it is said that he still spoke it fluently.

The Esperanto verb "kabei" means "to act like Kabe who, having been a very active Esperantist, suddenly left the movement completely."

As to the first question? Perhaps I need to treat it as two questions. First, who was K. Bein and secondly, who was Kabe and what exactly was his "extraordinary contribution?"

Kazimierz Bein was born in 1872 and died in 1959. He shared the same profession as Zamenhof and lived in the same city of Warsaw. He became acquainted with Esperanto after the publication of the First Book in 1887 but then, for political reasons, he was exiled for a number of years. A high achiever of the first order, he reached the top of his profession and became Director of the Warsaw Institute of Ophthalmology. He was also a very accomplished amateur photographer.

Kabe became active in the Esperanto movement in 1903 and between that date and his surprising withdrawal in 1911 his achievements were truly extraordinary. In 1906 he was already Vice-President of the "Lingva Komitato", the forerunner of the Academy of Esperanto,and also in that year he published his Vortaro. This was a dictionary but not a two-way dictionary, ie Esperanto-Polish, Polish Esperanto. In the Vortaro Kabe defined all the words in the Esperanto language, (now nearly 20 years old), in Esperanto. The definitions are very clear, very precise and very elegantly expressed.

Grabowski is in the same photograph. Unfortunately,you will see that in a version of this photograph published in Z. Adam's Historio de Esperanto, published in 1912, Kabe has really disappeared! A disgraceful and inexcusable bit of censorship, but an indication of how shocked and angry at least one contemporary Esperantist was at Kabe's "defection"! Fortunately the truth will out.

In 1907, Kabe published his translation of Boleslaw Prus's great novel The Pharaoh, an epic story of Rameses XIII and his brave but doomed struggle to reclaim the power of the Ramides Pharaohs from the all-powerful Egyptian priesthood, and avert the impending collapse of the XXth Dynasty.

How Kabe managed this enormous amount of work in so short a space of time is a mystery to me. I have a copy of La Faraono myself and am re-reading it at the moment. There are three volumes which contain just over 950 pages. I think that any kind of translation of such a huge book done so quickly and out of, not into one's own native language would have my respect. But this wasn't just any kind of translation: it was a great translation!

Kabe's language in is pure, clear, simple, elegant and free from all characteristics of the original Polish. The "spirit" of Esperanto, ie its true international quality, lives and breathes throughout the whole work and the sentences are perfectly balanced, with every word in its proper place, and easy to read. Following Kabe's example, writers of classical Esperanto now do not use the word "unu" to indicate an indefinite article ("a" or "an"), and also avoid the use of complicated compound verb forms to express past tenses. Thank goodness! (A ponderous English expression such as, "Having been informed that..." is translated in Esperanto as "Informig^ita, ke..."

La Faraono was re-published in 1957 (this is the edition I was fortunate enough to obtain) and it still remains the definitive model of classical Esperanto prose style, as well as being a great story. (Believe me, a book of nearly a thousand pages has to be good before I undertake to re-read it).

Kabe firmly believed that, during this early period of Esperanto, translations were more important than original work. I was surprised at first when I learned this, but Kabe's explanation is convincing. He said that a writer of an original piece will always be able to extract something out of himself to get his meaning over. He simply will not use difficult expressions or will substitute for them something easier. A translation of a great work, on the other hand, confronts the translator with challenges which must be met.

This insight helps us to understand the motivation which drove Zamenhof to undertake the very difficult and laborious work of translating such works as the Old Testament, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and a four volume translation of Hans Christian Anderson's fairy stories. And it may help to explain, at least in part, the reason why Kabe abruptly ceased his work in and for Esperanto. Like Zamenhof, he was a perfectionist and a tireless worker but unlike Zamenhof he was not driven by one, driving obsession. The duality of Kabe's nature meant that he could entertain many negative (and probably well-justified) feelings about the Esperanto movement and some of its adherents, and besides his main ambitions lay outside of this field of endeavour.

However, being a perfectionist and being the sort of person he was, I imagine that for Kabe it was a matter of all or nothing. If he were not to continue as President of the Polish Esperanto Association, Vice-President of the Language Committee and a translator and prose stylist of the very first rank, he would cease all activity connected with Esperanto completely. To scale down his efforts and take a less active and less prominent part did not sit comfortably with this brilliant, energetic and complex personality. He would rather just turn his back on Esperanto. And, whether or not my explanation is correct, that is, in fact, exactly what Kabe did. As mentioned in my previous article he excelled in his profession and turned to photography as a recreational pursuit but, fortunately, not before making an invaluable contribution to the development of an authentic Esperanto literature.

Although Kabe himself "kabeis" the legacy he left behind did not.

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