06 October 2008

Navigating the labyrinth

Reading notes on Translating Poetry: The Double Labyrinth, ed. by Daniel Weissbort

~ p. x: "Yet, as Ezra Pound remarked, translation is also a form of criticism, the highest in his view, since it represents a fusion of the creative and the critical."

~ p. xi: "Translation, as a specialised branch of practical criticism, of concentrated reading, is well worth exploring."

~ p. 10: János Csokits' discussion of how Ted Hughes translated János Pilinszky's work without knowing a word of Hungarian. (Csokits supplied word-for-word translations, plus notes.)

~ p. 18: Ted Hughes:
But even more exciting, for me, was the knack [Csokits] had of projecting a raw, fresh sense of the strange original--the particular and to me alien uniqueness of the original. I know from experience with quite a few translators that this is a very rare ability. Most translators, inevitably, translate the strangeness of the original work into the standard of their own sensibility--and the best one can hope for is that their sensibility can adapt itself interestingly. But again and again János Csokits transmitted the characters of several quite different poets, while introducing me to modern Hungarian poetry.
p. 36: John Felstiner on translating Celan: "A translator, I think, needs to become the reader par excellence--or perhaps I should say par exigence. Here I would borrow from Kafka's Trial, where Joseph K., trying to interpret the parable 'Before the Law', is told by a priest: 'The Scripture is unalterable and its interpretations often merely betray bewilderment at this.'"

~ p. 107: Weissbort interviews Stanley Kunitz on his collaboration with Max Hayward in his translations of Anna Akhmatova's poetry. (A similar procedure to that of Hughes and Csokits.)

~ p. 108: Kunitz: "During our sessions together he would read the poems aloud to me in Russian. This was of the utmost importance, for the soul of a poem, I have always felt, is in its sound. When I read my versions back to him, above all I wanted them to sound right."

~ p. 110: Kunitz: "What is most readily translatable is the matter of a poem, its substantive ground, which there is no excuse for betraying, even in the absence of equivalents. All the rest--its music, its spirit, its complex verbal and psychic tissue--one tries to suggest as best as one can."

~ p. 126: Rika Lesser on translating Sonnevi's poetry: "Perhaps it is because he is alive and still very productive and therefore I cannot devour and digest his works in my usual fashion; his next book may cast more light on an earlier book or books, which could make me read them and translate poems from them in a different way. Perhaps it is simply because there is so much more uncertainty about every aspect of a massive new undertaking, so much more inertia to overcome."

~ p. 139: W.S. Merwin (!): "I continue in the belief, you know, that I don't know how to translate, and that nobody does. It is an impossible but necessary process, there is no perfect way to do it, and much of it must be found for each particular poem, as we go."

~ p. 202: William Jay Smith: "Poets must translate poets; even if they know little of the other's language, something of the fine frenzy of the original will somehow work its way through."

~ p. 220: William Jay Smith: "Translating the poems of Andrei Voznesensky over the past twenty years has brought me closer to him, to his country and to his language. 'Form isn't what counts,' he has said; 'form must be clear, unfathomable, disquieting, like the sky in which only radar can sense the presence of a plane.' In my translations I have tried to keep the form--that clear, unfathomable sky--in which his lines may remain airborne as those of a poet of his talent and courage deserve to be."

~ p. 232: Paul Auster to Richard Wilbur on the latter's translation of Apollinaire's "Le Pont Mirabeau": "What strikes most about it is the thickness of the language, a feeling of texture...you've tackled the work as a whole, not just as a series of isolated lines, and the result is something that hangs together."

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