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POETRY

To Traduceor Transfigure
On Modern Verse Translation -- By GEORGE
STEINER

T nfinitions
A X~ x ~ S untranslatable is one of the de-
offered of poetry. Whatremains
In short: because a poemenlists the maximal
range of linguistic means,becauseit articulates
after the attempt, intact and uncommunicated, the code of any given language at its most in-
is the original poem.So affirmed du Bellay, the cisive-all other poemsin the language being a
French poet and rhetorician of the early I6th part of the informing context--poetry ~ay be
century, so, more recently, Robert Frost. A paraphrased, imperfectly mimedbut indeed
poemis language in the most intense modeof cannot be translated." To which Dr. Johnson
expressive integrity, languageunder such close adds, "and therefore it is the poet that preserves
pressure of singular need, o£ particularised language."
energy, that no other statement can be equiva-
lent, that no other poemevenif it differs only in BuxLETus OBSERVr the argumentclosely. It cuts
one phrase, perhaps one word, can do the same much deeper than verse. It implicates even
job. The poemis because nothing exactly like rudimentary acts of linguistic exchange, the
it has been before, because its very composition attempt to translate any word or sentence from
is an act of unique designation, of namingsome one language into another. A language is not
previously anonymousor inchoate experience as a passive representation of reality, it does not
Adamnamedthe creatures of life. A painting restrict itself to being a mirror. It is an active
divides space betweenitself and the whole; so world image, selecting certain possibilities of
a poemdivides experience between itself and humananalysis and behaviour, certain ways of
"otherness." Howcan identity be translated initiating, structuring, and recording experience
into anythingbut itself? This is the admonition froma total potentiality of representation. Each
of Borges’ acid fable of a mantranslating Don language cuts out its segment of reality. We
Quixote into identical Spanish, line by line and live our worldas we speakit (to ourselves or to
word for word. others), as it feeds back to us through the par-
Addto this the nature of poetic language. ticular linguistic code most immediateto our
The distinctive beat of any given tongue, that culture and personal upbringing. Wecast the
sustaining undercurrent of inflection, pitch re- net of our ownlanguage over the multiplicity
lations, habits of stress, whichgive a particular of living forms. Loosely woven,it will drawin
motion to prose, is concentrated in poetry so experience in gross, indiscriminate lumps; the
that it acts as an overt, characteristic force. landscape of being is made incoherent and
Poetry will not translate any more than music. monotonous by illiterate speech. Close knit, the
Verse forms, the shape of the stanza, the con- language-net makesavailable to us the largest
ventional or innovating directives of rhyme,the possible range--possible to our physiological
historical, stylistic discriminations whicha lan- and historical condition--of differentiated, mas-
guage makes between its prosaic and poetic tered, potentially related elements.
idiom, the counterpoint it sets up betweencol- A large vocabularysignifies a literal wealth
loquial and formal, these also defy translation. and concretenessof felt life. A developedsyntax
As does the immediate visual code of long and engenders those perceptions of interrelation,
short words, of capitalisation and accentual those creative re-groupings of thought and
mark in German,say, or Spanish. And howcan action called metaphor. Without metaphor a
a translation carry over into a Romana~phabet society remainsstatic, repetitive, as is a child’s
the pictorial suggestions, the relations oispace song. Our world, the way we move among
and graphic incitement which are a vital part its total possibilities, spring from grammar,
of the total statement made by a Chinese or from the pattern by which we relate identity,
Persian lyric? verb, and object. Each grammardiffers in some
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TakethatPerique
inThree NunsTobacco:
First
wecutit, hangit,
separate
it, clean
it, twist
it,
andthen place
it snugly
intooak barrels.
Then
weapply pressureto bathe
theleavesintheirown juice.

Two weeks later


we
rework it, untwist
it,
airit, then retwist
it.

We
dothisatleast
three
times,
often
moreoften.

We doall thesevery
complicated
things sothatwhen
youputThree
Nuns in your
pipeand
smoke
it, you’ll
simplyenjoy
it.
t theounce
6/11~

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Poetry 49
degree from any other. Thus there is not the verse translation are arguments against all
samelife-image in j’ai real ~ la tdte as in mi translation. The difference is one of intensity,
duole il capo. Neither is exactly equivalent, of technical difficulty, of psychological appre-
though one is nearer than the other, to I have hension. Because a poemsprings from the core
a headache. Notwo languages mesh perfectly, of a language, commemoratingand renewing
no two languages--and there maybe some. three the world view of that language at its deepest
thousand spoken by men--set the world mthe level, the risks taken in translation are greater,
sameorder. the waste or damagedone more visible. But a
gritty colloquialism will frequently offer a re-
EV~.NTIar SlMVLEST words, indeed they espe- sistance as vital and obstinate.
cially, carry a charge of specific energy,of his- Each act of translation is one of approxima-
torical association, social usage, and syntactic tion, of near miss or failure to get within range.
tradition. They rise to the surface of speech It tells of our fragmented legacy, and of the
fromgreat depths of national or regional sensi- marvellous richness of that legacy--howmeagre
bility, barnacled with undeclared remembrance. must the earth have been before Babel, when
Pain is not whollyrendered by bread. It has to all spoke alike and communicatedon the in-
a French ear resonances of want, of radical stant. Thecase against translation is irrefutable,
demand, which the English word does not; the but only if we are presented, in Ibsen’s phrase,
two wordsdiffer in historical texture as does a with "the claims of the ideal." In actual per-
French from an English loaf. There is no formancethese claims cannot be met or allowed.
synonymin either French or English for the They have been discarded, obviously, in our
GermanHeimat(though terroir carries someof economic,Poht~cal, private affairs. Mens unde-
the relevant overtones). The interweaving of takings proceed by linguistic barter in a zone
concrete and spiritual patrimony, of obligation of approximate, utilitarian definition. School
and pride, concentrated in the Germanterm has primers, tourists’ phrase-books, manuals of
no full equivalent in the English vocabulary commercial and technical usage, our ordinary
nor, through crucial, necessary correspondence lexica, establish a neutral ground of rough-
of idiom with world-image,in English historical edged but indispensable concordance. The
and political practice. Wecan define the Greek multiplicity of scientific developments,the fact
optative as a moodof the verb articulating wish, that science operates internationally and at its
desire, tmcertain hope; but no optative can be own forward edge, have made of the transla-
completely reproduced in a grammar, one tion of scientific papers a large-scale, urgent
would almost say in a metaphysic, which lacks enterprise. Someof the difficulties met resemble
this particular shade of futurity. Or to cite an those whicharise in the translation of poetry,
examplefamiliar to Biblical translation: as there the main difference being that mathematicsis a
is no concept of snow, hence no word for it, true esperanto, a perfecdy conventional yet
in a numberof African languages, the conven- dynamic code such as no artificial or inter-
tional equivalent for white as snowis white as language can be.
egret leathers. This "equivalent"is entirely de-
void of the tactile, emotive overtones, of the TRANSLATION IS equally essential to humanism,
latent metaphors of chill, shrouding action, to the continued life of feeling. Wetranslate
even of the colour-spectrumassociated with our perpetually--this is often overlooked--whenwe
Middle-English, ultimately Sanskrit word. read a classic in our owntongue, a poemwrit-
ten in the i6th century or a novel published in
x78o. Weseek to recapture, to revitalise in our
consciousness the meaningsof words used as we
T languages differ, total
H E R E A R E N O translations: because
because each languagere- no longer use them, of imaginings that have
presents a complex,historically and collectively behind them a contour of history, of manners,
determined aggregate of values, proceedings of of religious or philosophicpresumptionsradically
social conduct, conjectures on life. There can different from ours. Anyonereading Donneor
be no exhaustive transfer from language ~/ to Jane Austen today, or almost any poem or
language B, no meshingof nets so precise that fiction composedbefore igx5 (at about which
there is identity of conceptual content, unison date the old order seems to recede from the
of undertone, absolute symmetryof aural and immediategrasp of our sensibility), is trying to
visual association. This is true both of a simple recreate by exercise of historical, linguistic
prose statement and of poetry. response; he is, in the full sense, translating.
The point is worth stressing. Wherethey en- As is the player whoacts Shakespeare or Con-
gage, as they must, the root fact of linguistic greve, making that which was conceived in a
autonomy,the fact that different grammarsde- society, in a style of feeling, in an expressive
lineate different realities, arguments against convention sharply different from that of the
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5O Poetry
modern,actual, active to the touch of our mind no more. To find active echo, a poem must
and nerve. incite to a poem.
No language, moreover, however comprehen- Because it is unalterably itself in its own
sive, however resourceful and inclusive its language, a poemyields little of its genius to
syntax, covers more than a fraction of human prose. Thoughthere are styles (the Neoclassic,
realisation. There are, at every momentand on for instance) which appropriate the sinew and
every horizon, worlds beyond our ownwords. directness of prose, the two mediaare in essence
Hencethe urge to cross the barriers of national different. The poemdoes not accept the routine
speech, the effort to makeother insights, other and shorthand of experience set downin prose,
tools of awareness, available. What manhas thinned out in the mainlyinert figures of daily
the linguistic wealth needed to read in the speech; by constant definition the poemworks
original, Homer,the Bible, Shakespeare,Pascal, against the grain of the ordinary. This creative
The Brothers Karamazov, the poems of Li Po insurgence is the very start of the poem; the
and .4 Tale o] the Genii? Yet which would one poet seeks to scandalise our acceptances, to
be prepared to do without or discard from the makenew and rebellious. Thus even at its most
advenfure of literacy? A major, perhaps a domi- spacious a prose paraphrase signifies a good
nant elementin our culture, in the fabric of our deal less to a poemthan does a piano trans-
consciousness, is inevitably translation. "Say cription to an orchestral score.
what one will of its inadequacy," wrote Goethe
to Carlyle, "translation remainsone of the most
CONSIDER THREE VERSIONS Of a passage from
important, worthwhile concerns in the totality
of world affairs." Withoutit we wouldlive in Book V[ of the Iliad (Glaukos’ answer to
arrogant parishes bordered by silence. Diomedes’war-challenge):
Like leaves on trees the race of manis [ound,
Nowgreen in youth, now withering on the
SOalmost
st ucH will probably be allowed by
anyone. But what of the more special
ground;
Anotherrace the followingspring supplies;
argument thatpoetry should not be translated They[all successive,andsuccessiverise:
into poetry--that the only honest translation of So generationsin their coursedecay;
a poemis a literal trot or a prose paraphrase? So flourish these, whenthose are passedaway.
This is clearly implied in Dante’s statement, Butif thoustill persist to searchmybirth,
Thenheara tale that fills the spaciousearth.
"nothing which is harmonised by the bond of (POPE)
the Musescan be changed from its own to an-
other languagewithout having all its sweetness As is the generation o/ leaves, so is that o/
destroyed." It is the conclusionarrived at by Sir humanity.
Richard Burton when considering the transla- The windscatters the leaves on the ground,but
the live timber
tion of Arabic verse. Today it is put most burgeonswith leaves againin the seasono[ spring
drastically by Vladimir Nabokov: "The returning.
clumsiest literal translation is a thousandtimes So one generation o[ men will grow while an-
moreuseful than the prettiest paraphrase." To otherdies.
say that Dante and Nabokovhave themselves Yet i[ you wishto learn all this andbe certain
producedbrilliant verse translation, that the art o~ my .genealogy: there are plenty of menwho
of poetic translation is almost as old as poetry knowit.
itself, that it continues intensely alive, is true (LATTIMORE)
enough. But it is no refutation. The case for Menin their generationare like the leaves of
the interlinear or the prose paraphrase is, in the trees. The windblowsand one year’s leaves
fact, a strong one. are scattered on the ground;but the trees burst
It can be met only if the exercise of poetic into bud and put on fresh ones whenthe spring
translation exhibits advantages,meansof critical comes round. In the same way one generation
understanding, qualities of linguistic gain flourishes and another nears its end. But if you
which no prose version matches. It must be wishto hear aboutmyfamily, I will tell youthe
tale--most people knowit already.
shownthat there is even in the inevitable com- (R~Eu)
promiseof verse translation, even in its neces-
sary defeats--perhaps characteristically in these Pope’s is undoubtedlythe most satisfactory of
--a creative residue, a marginof experiencedif the three versions, for its discipline and alert
not fully communicatedillumination which no pace; the fourth line illustrates howthe energy
trot or prose statementoffers. It is precisely this, of precise etymology~Pope’sconfident control
I think, which can be shown. A "clumsy literal of the Latinate successive--quickens our entire
translation" of a living poemis none at all; a imaginative response, so that we very nearly
prose paraphrase is an important auxiliary, but experience a graphic action. But it is the best

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Poetry 51
version primarily because Pope’s idiom is most shell of our consciousness); poetic translation
fully committedto the fact that the Iliad is a plays a unique role inside the translator’s own
poem,that its design and effect are poetic. For speech. It drives inward. Anyonetranslating a
all its formulaic scruple, Richmond Lattimore’s poem,or attempting to, is brought face to face,
text is, at this particular point, far less per- as by no other exercise, with the genius, bone-
suasive; and this so exactly in the measurein structure and limitations of his native tongue.
which its looser syntax and vocabulary incline Becausethat tongue is our constant landscape,
to the very different precisions or contractions we almost growoblivious to its horizon, we take
of prose (genealogy, there are plenty o] men it to be the only or privileged space of being.
who know it). E. V. Rieu’s translation is by Translation taxes and thus makesinventory of
muchthe feeblest of the three. Inspired by the our resources. It compelsus to realise that there
wish--at the time almost a social, expressly are rawmaterials welack, stocks of feeling, in-
didactic motive--to make Homerwidely popu- struments of expression, inlets to awareness
lar, to present the Iliad as a timeless yarn, Rieu which our own linguistic territory does not
sacrificed poetic form to an agile, colloquial possess or has failed to exploit. This last recog-
prose. But not altogether; Rieu’s uneasi.ness nition can be a powerful stimulus: witness
about the enterprise leads, in the passage Baudelaire’s and Mallarmr’s determination to
quoted, to the bits of interior rhyme(ground/ import from Poe-a brand of unreason and
round, year’s/nears) and "fossil" cadences of murky brilliance which they felt lacking in
blank verse, both damaging. French, or Goethe’s efforts to bend a European
language towards the greater multiplicity of
erotic nuance, of amorous-philosophic con-
T rX ~ v o ~ r~ T is simplythis: thoughalways gruence which he had observed in oriental
imperfect,a verse translation, in that it re- poetry. Poetic translation enriches by what it
presents, re-enacts that selection of language, reveals of our poverties.
that stylisation or innovationof syntax insepar- Its necessary failures, the fact that the
able from the nature of poetic composition, is original cannot be rendered exhaustively, that
moreresponsible to the intent, to the movement we cannot retrace the steps of the poet had he
of spirit in the original than a downward trans- conceived the poem in our ownlanguage, are
fer into prose can ever be. often uniquely positive. The inadequacies of a
This example makes a second point. Each significant translation are creative of insight,
time a poemis translated, initiating a new critically revealing as no other reading of a
poem, the original finds new and active life poemis. To the poet whotranslates and to the
in present sensibility. Translation gives to the reader whohas access to both languages that is
metaphorof classic survival, of the unbroken the justifying paradox. What remains uncom-
forward-actingrole of literature a solid reality. municatedafter translation is not the poemor
As it could in no other way, the Homericepic, even its essential elements. Dependingon the
in the uninterrupted sequence of translations case, whatfails to comeacross maybe structures
from Chapman and Hobbes to Robert Fitz- of spirit peculiar to the original language, net-
gerald and Christopher Logue, is at work in works of historical or phonetic association, a
English literature, is inwovenwith the fabric grid of immediate symbolic recognitions or
of the language of the English and American idiomatic shorthand unrecapturable because
poetic tradition. Verse re-presentations of they are so firmly localised in a specific cultural
Horace and Catullus are fully implicit in the milieu, society, historical epochremotefromour
developmentof English satire, of the English own.Notranslation by a later poet (unless, per-
domestic lyric and love poem. Shakespearean haps, he is working from an African or
translation is crucially a part of the late growth, aboriginal context) can simulate the collective,
of the coming to self-awareness, of German orally conceived resonance of Homeric for-
classic and romantic verse. The classic wanes mulae. Dante’s difficulties and goodfortune in
to the status of the academicor falls silent unless composing,literally, a newvulgate, cannot be
it is re-appropriated by translation, unless the fully mirrored in any translation using a lan-
living poet examinesand affirms its relevance guag.e already established and burdened with
to the current idiom (for want of vital transla- poetic precedent. The relative interchange-
tion Lucretiusis, at present, inert). ability of the parts of speech in a Germansen-
But poetic translation is not only a living tence, of which Rilke makes a means of
spark, a flow of eneqgybetween past and pre- suspendedmotion and contrary definition, will
sent and between cultures (immersion, so far not pass into Frenchsyntax.
as we may experience it, in another language
being as close as we can cometo a secondself, Bur ~.^cr~ oF rnEsr DSFZ^rS is creative. It pene-
to breakingfree of the habitual skin or tortoise- trates and identifies the genius of the original;

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52 Poetry
it communicatesthat genius to us by what it bear "¢nco~e l’immorwlle parole," Mallarm~’s
fails to re-produce. A great poetic translation-- expression for thc notion of a univcrsal,
H61derlin’s Sophokles, Val~ry’s restatement of immediate tongue from which English and
Virgil’s Eclogues, Robert Lowell’s readings of French had broken off.
Osip Mandelstam--is criticism in the highest
sense. It surrounds the original with a zone of Happy,wholike Ulysses or that lord
unmastered meaning, an area in which the Whorapedthe fleece, returning[ull andsage,
original declares its ownsingular life. With usage and the world’s wide reason stored,
With his ownkin can wait the end o[ age.
Myeyelash prickles--a tear boils up ]rom my Whenshall I see, whenshall I see, Godknows!
chest. Mylittle village smoke;or passthe door,
I’m not afraid. I knowwhat’s on the calendar-- The oht dear door of that unhappyhouse
a stornL That is to me a kingdom and muchmore?
Someonemaruellousis hurrying me on to [orget Mightier to me the house my lathers made
euerything. Than your audaciousheads, 0 Halls of Rome!
It’s stuffy here. It’s boring howmuch1 wantto Morethan immortal marbles undecayed,
live o The thin sad slates that cover up my home;
1 li# myheadat the first noise ]romthe bunks. Morethan your Tiber is my Loire to me,
I look aroundme wildly, hall asleep. ThanPalatinemy little Lyre there;
I amlike a conuict singing his roughsong. elnd morethan all the windsof all the sea
Whenmorningwhitens the thin strip abovehis Thequiet kindnesso[ the Angevinair.
prison.
(Moscow,~93I) This experience of what the Germancritic
Walter Benjamintermed a "lost totality," an
It is the job of all genuineliterary criticism to underlying unison in the mystery of human
fall short, to makeexplicit by its ownprecisely speech, is the ideal towards which translation
honest inadequacy,the genius of that it focuses strives. It cannotbe fulfilled.
on. The piece of criticism accumulateswhatever Translations range from those which traduce
linguistic, historical, referential insights it can to those whichtransfigure. Transfiguration, the
commandand make relevant; but it must show version which surpasses the original as Baude-
in the process that this accumulationcomesto laire excels Poe, is perhaps the more lasting
less than the sum of the poem. Whatthe poem betrayal. But the attempt to translate must be
says criticism cannot fully restate; criticism is made, the risks taken, if that tower in Babel
most valid where it makes the margin of dif- is to be morethan ruin. It has been made,with
ference lucid, where it draws around the work particular wealth and vigour, in the period
of the poet a barrier of light. from ca. ~87oto the present.
The poetic translator does the same, but goes
deeper because he takes larger risks. The circle
he traces aroundthe original illumines not only
the text he is translating but his ownart and T Lowell has been anfrom
H E P E R I O D Rossetti to Robert
age of poetic transla-
raerSon. In Roy Campbell’s versions of Baude-
ire we note a three-fold action and radical
tion rivalIing that of the Tudorand Elizabethan
masters. In range of linguistic response it has
honesty: a..re-,presentm.ent of Baudelaire’s clearly surpassed the x6th century. Whyshould
poems, a crmcal percepuon of the genius of this be?
those poemsby virtue of what is incomplete There is no single, obvious answer. A con-
in the translation, and a necessary disclosure of trary force has been at work in the modern
what maybe facile or coarse-grained in Camp- sensibility-.. . a hunger,for lineage, for informing
bell’s ownidiom. The process of perceptive tradluon, and a s~multaneous impulse to make
engagementis stricdy comparable only to that all things new. Both currents wouldlead to the
which occurs when a composer sets a major revaluation and "modernisation" of classic and
poem, whenBritten, for example, "translates" medievalliterature. There has also been a char-
Blake or Rimbaud. acteristic internationalisation of the poetic
At its best, the peculiar synthesis of conflict temper. Wefind in the work of Eliot, Pound,
and complicity between a poemand its trans- Apollinaire, Val~ry, Rilke, Mayakovsky,
lation into another poemcreates the impression Neruda, a shared logic of emotion, an agreed
of a "third language," of a mediumof com- code of reference and symbolic device. Modern
municative energy which somehowreconciles poets are alert to each other’s performance;
both languages in a tongue deeper, more com- muchmodernverse is directly or by force of
prehensive than eith, er. In the no-man’sland echo filled with cross-reference to other poetry,
between du Bellays Heureux qui ccrmme to other cultures. Poetic translation is the most
Ulysse and Chesterton’s English sonnet, so open, deliberate modeof allusion.
nearly exhaustive of the original, we seem to The instability of contemporary norms, the

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Poetry 53
tendency to regard our morals and canons of liberation made possible by his raids on Proven-
taste as purely relative or provisional, has qal and French, on Latin and Chinese (be it off
meant that alien cultures, alien conventions of the silk-scroll or the tea-crate), on Whitmanand
feeling, exercise a peculiar fascination on the Heine. Within this general plunder, Pound’s
Western mind. The Javanese tone sequence in actual translations play a vitalpart. They have
a Debussy score, the African mask in a altered the definition and ideals of verse trans-
Picasso, the translations of Hindi or Nigerian lation in the 2oth century as surely as Pound’s
lyrics into English verse, embody a common
appetite for renewal, for the revitalising shock, ~ioetry has renewed or subverted modern Eng-
sh and American poetics.
and a common guilt towards that which we A first look at nearly any modern verse trans-
have too long pillaged or scorned as mere lation is enough to show whether it comes
colonisers. before or after the Homageto Sextus Propertius
There appear to be economic and sociological (~9x7/x934). But the "making new" of trans-
factors in the brilliance and profusion of modern lation had already occurred in Personae (~9o9)
poetic translation, particularly in America and Provenfa (~9~o). After "The River Mer-
(Marianne Moore, Richmond Lattimore, Robert chant’s Wife" (~9~5) the art of translation had
Lowell, Richard Wilbur, Robert Fitzgerald, entered its modern phase.
William Arrowsmith). In American culture the Pound’s actual repertoire and range of en-
desire for tradition, for precedent in the classic thusiasm were not as novel as might appear.
past, collides with a widespread ignorance of The focus on the Greek lyrics, on Catullus, on
foreign languages and history. Few know Greek Provensal and Tuscan poetry, on Villon, Baude-
in Athens (Georgia) or Latin in Rome(Illinois). laire, and Verlaine, had already been defined
Yet the sentiment that Homer and Juvenal are by the Victorian translators, by Rossetti, Swin-
part of the status of civilised consciousness re- burne, Arthur Symons, and Ernest Dowson.
mains genuine. It has found an influential Arthur Waley, four years younger than Pound,
economicand technological ally in the activities was at work independently, shaping and ex-
of the American university campus and in the ploiting a growing interest in Chinese and
hunger of the paperback. To keep the machines Japanese literature. Indeed, so far as actual
fed,-paperback publishers have raided the past range goes, the modern canon was essentially
and the foreign (half a dozen versions of Homer set down by the translators of the ~88os and
in the last ten years). Like the BBCin Eng- x89os. What they neglected or thought irrele-
land, American academic and commercial vant-Lucretius, Tibullus, Latin poetry of the
editors have direcdy commissioned much of the renaissance and baroque, the French neo-
best of recent verse translation. Robert Fitz- classics, the poetry of Goethe and Schiller--has
gerald’s Odyssey, William Merwin’s Spanish not yet moved into the light. Newrenderings
ballads, the versions of Greek drama by Arrow- of Villon continue incessant when there are, as
smith and the Chicago group, were made pos- yet, hardly any of Maurice ScSve, for instance,
sible by this new patronage and the mass- or Vigny. Pound broadened and gave critical
market of the campus book-store. orthodoxy to a body of values and emotional
As important as all these reasons put together, responses established by his pre-Raphaelite and
however, and central to the manner and con- Edwardian predecessors. What he revolutionised
troversial liberties of the modern form, is the was the idiom of translation, the notion of what
achievement of one man. If our age of poetic a translation is and of how it relates to the
translation rivals that of Golding, Gavin original.
Douglas, and Chapman, it is because of the Marianne Moore has summarised this revolu-
teaching and example of Ezra Pound. tion with her customary abruptness: "the
natural order of words, subject, predicate,
Tt~. Wr~OLU or Pound’s writing may be seen as object; the active voice where possible; a ban
an act of translation, as the appropriation to on dead words, rhymes synonymous with
an idiom radically his own of a fantastic rag- gusto." These precepts stand for a whole vision
bag of languages, cultural legacies, historical of active re-statement. Pound’s translations of
echoes, stylistic models. He has been the master Rihaku (Li Po), Andreas Divus, Laforgue,
jackdaw in the museum and scrap-heap of Sophocles, are re-enactments of the original
civilisation, the courier betweenfar places of the poetic deed in the cadence, tonality, idiomatic
mind, the contriver of a chaotic patchwork of stress of the modern. The translation exacts
values which, on decisive occasion, and by some from the original the utmost of felt relevance;
great gift of irascible love, fuse into a strange it carries to extreme Kierkegaard’s dictum "It
coherence. As A. Alvarez has said, Pound man- is not worth while remembering that past which
ages to write English verse as if Shakespeare cannot become a present." In Pound’s mimesis,
had not written before him, a scandal and Propertius and Cavalcanti "become a present"

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54 Poetry
so immediate to the ways we experience lan- Like an arrowhead ]rom a kneeling bowshot ....
guage and objectify emotion that the Latin or Hector, leaning over the horses
Provencal poem are inseparable from the As i[ the chariot was [astened to his belly,
As if his eyes, not horses, drew the Trojans in
grammar of modernity. Pound’s impact reaches
far beyond the texts he himself has rendered; Towardsthe boiling spiral.
War.
thus Ronald Knox’s re-creation of the "Lamen-
tations of Jeremias" plainly reflects the rhythm Dust like red mist.
and tone-colour of "The Seafarer." Pain like chalk on slate. Heat like Arctic.
The light withdrawn Jrom Sarpedon’s body.
Bur ^RE xar, sE "translations" by Pound and his The enemies swirling over it.
numerous successors Marianne Moore, Robert Bronze
k. fla
Lowell, Christopher Logue--translations in any Man against man; banner behind slatted
proper sense? Or are they what Dryden, follow- banner;
The torn gold overwhelming the Jaded blue,
ing on Ben Jonson, terms imitation, "where the Blue overcoming gold, both up again, both
translator (if now he has not lost that name) [rayed
assumes the liberty not only to vary from the By arrows that driJt like bees, thicker than
words and sense, but to forsake them both as autumn rain.
he sees occasion; and taking only some general The left horse Jalls. The right prances through
hints from the original, to run division on the blades,
ground-work, as he pleases"? A practice, adds Tearingits belly like a sll k balloon,
Dryden, that is "the greatest wrong which can And the shields inch Jorward under bowshots,
be done to the memoryand re~outation of the Andunder the shields the bali-lost soldiers thin
k,
"We fight when the sun rises. Whenit sets we
dead." count the dead.
The quarrel over Pound’s Propertius goes on What has the beauty oJ Helen to do with us?"
(with recent argument suggesting that Pound’s Hall-lost,
scholarship was not as hollow as pro!essional With the ochre mist swirling around their knees
Latinists would have it). Arrowsmith s treat- They shul~e Jorward,lost, until the shields clash
ment of Aristophanes and Robert Lowell’s --AOI!
Imitations of Baudelaire or Pasternak pose it Lines oJ black ovals eight Jeer high, clash
anew. It is, in part, a quarrel over semantics; --AOI!
the fact of radical change is no longer in doubt. Andin the half-light whowill be first to hesitate,
Or, wavering, draw back, and, Yes!... the slow
The contemporary translator and even reader Wavering begins and, Yes!... they bend away
of classic verse comes after Pound as the modern Jrom us
painter comes after Cubism. Inevitably much of As the spears [licker between the black hides,
contemporary translation implies and was made The bronze glows vaguely, and the bones show
possible by Pound’s enlargement of the term. Like pink drumsticks.
Thus I take translation to include the writing of
a poem in which a poem in another language (or One would exclude Auden’s "Shield of
in an earlier form of one’s own language) is the Achilles" which is a commentary on, a critique
vitalising, shaping presence; a poem which can from without of Homeric motifs. But the dis-
be read and responded to independently but tinction can never be absolute.
which is not ontologically complete, a previous Each poem in a book of modern verse trans-
poembeing its occa,s, ion, begetter, and in the
lation should have the original on the facing
literal sense, raison d ~tre. page. A prose paraphrase, perhaps bracketing
the principal difficulties, should fill the margin
T HXS X S the definition implicit in the
modern movement, in the extraordinary
as in a polyglot Bible. This is the only com-
pletely honest format for a reader and user of
wealth and energy of verse translation, repre- Oetic translation. Obvious, though none, the
sentation, imitation from Rossetti to George
MacBeth. It cannot be rigorous; there are
~e ss obstructive reasons of size, economy, ’gen-
eral appeal" often make this impossible. But any
border-line cases which poet and reader play anthology would defeat itself if it did not, in
by ear. One would include Christopher Logue’s whatever languages are accessible to him,
ferocious re-statements of the llit~d--in vThich
return the reader to the original; if it did not
every modern line seems to me explicitly
direct him from the living mirror, however
directed towards Homer’s survivance, towards
luminous, to the primary object. To translate
the presentment and "presentness" of his songs.
means to carry over from what has been silent
But they had gone. to what is alive, from the distant to the near.
Rolling across the plain together But also to carry back.

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Stanley Moss

God Poem
I
Especially he loves
His space and the parochial darkness.
They are his family, from them grow his kind:
Idols with many arms and suns that fathered
The earth, among his many mirrors, and some
That do not break:
l~ain kept sacred by faithful summergrasses,
Fat Buddha and lean Christ, bull and ram,
Horns thrusting up his temple and cathedral;
Mirrors--but he is beyond such vanities.
Easy to outlive
The moment’s death having him on your knees;
Grunting and warm he prefers wild positions:
He mouths the moon and sun, brings his body
Into insects that receive him beneath stone,
Into fish that leap as he chases,
Or silent stones that receive his silence.
Chivalrous and polite the dead take
His caress, and the sea rolling under him
Takes his fish as payment and his heaps of shells.

II
As he will,
He throws the wind arch-backed on the highway,
Lures the cat into moonlit alleys,
Mountains and fields with wild strawberries.
He is animal,
His taft drags uncomfortably, he trifles
With the suck of bees and lovers, so simple
With commonplace tongues ; his eyes ripple
Melancholy iron and carefree tin,
His thighs are raw from rubbing, cruel as pine,
He can wing an eagle off a hare’s spine,
Crouch with the Sphinx, push bishops down
In chilly chapels, a wafer in their mouths ;
Old men cry out his passage through their bowels.

III
No word, none of these, no name, "l~ed Worm
What name makes him leave his hiding place ?
Out of the null and void,
No name and no meaning: God, Jahweh, the Lord,
Not to be spoken to, he never said a word
Or took the power of death : the inconspicuous
Plunge from air into sea he gave to
Winds that wear axvay our towns .... Who breathes
Comesto nothing: absence, a world.

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