THE THURSDAY BOOK: A Fine Lyricism Bedevilled by Brooding ; the Bloodaxe Book of Modern Welsh Poetry Menna Elfyn and John Rowlands (Editors) Bloodaxe, Pounds 10.95

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THIS BOOK is the first truly comprehensive anthology of 20th- century Welsh-language poetry ever published in English translation. There have been less comprehensive ones - a fine volume from the Welsh publisher Gomer, for example - but never anything of this scope and ambition. The editorial team is a sound one, too: the excellent bilingual poet Menna Elfyn, and novelist and critic John Rowlands.

So much for the praise. The book is still something of a disappointment from the point of view of quality. Why should this be so? It is of course notoriously difficult to carry poetry from one language to another, and Welsh presents its own difficulties. The language, as everyone knows, is extremely musical, and one of its chief glories is its lyric verse. Unfortunately, music often either gets lost in translation or is transformed into cliche as the translator gropes for some aural equivalent.

There are other inadequacies. Too many of the poems read as if they do not merit inclusion. There is too much lame doggerel of which the following is a very good (very bad) example: "The only dream of a country lad/ Was to live by his sweat as had his dad." There is a fair bit of tired nature verse. And there is the question of the quality of some translations. Time and again, we come across a poem which sounds like a tolerable precis of what would surely have been a fine, moving piece of work - if it had only been translated well.

Yet there remains much in this book to praise: Tony Conran's delightful versions of the poems of Waldo Williams, for example; Richard Poole's excellent translations of TH Parry-Williams; and, scattered throughout, the work of Joseph P Clancy. …