European Poetry in Scotland: An Anthology of Translations

European Poetry in Scotland: An Anthology of Translations

European Poetry in Scotland: An Anthology of Translations

European Poetry in Scotland: An Anthology of Translations

Excerpt

This is a collection of European poetry translated by twentieth-century Scottish poets and others living in Scotland and playing a part in the cultural life of the country. However, as a bow of acknowledgement to one of the great translators of world literature, who is also the father of Scottish translation, we have printed as a prologue a brief extract from Gavin Douglas's Eneados. Douglas's example was followed, both in Scots and in English, by some of the great poets of the first Scottish Renaissance, notably Drummond of Hawthornden. Thereafter, although Allan Ramsay, for instance, produced versions of Horace, La Motte and La Fontaine, it is hardly an exaggeration to say that no important translations of poetry were produced in Scotland until the work of Sir Alexander Gray and Hugh MacDiarmid in the twenties of the present century. It is with them that our story really begins.

In the Renaissance period, in several European countries, translation from the Classics had served to launch vernacular literatures on the road of autonomous dignity. For Ronsard and Du Bellay, for instance, French poetry had to took to the classics, not always in slavish imitation, but as an escape from limited provincialism. At about the same time, many of the European languages and literatures attained adulthood by becoming (through translation) the language of their culture's sacred text, the Bible. As we know, centuries were to pass before Scotland had its own Biblical translation.

A new Renaissance came. Like Ronsard looking to the classics, Hugh MacDiarmid had as one of his principal aims to take Scottish poetry back into the mainstream of European poetry, looking beyond England to the continent. In the Dunfermline Press of 5 August 1922 he wrote: 'If there is to be a Scottish literary revival, the first essential is to get rid of our provinciality of outlook and to avail ourselves of Continental experience'. His translations of the twenties into both Scots and English are a part of this campaign. One of the aims of his most influential magazine, The Scottish Chapbook (August 1922 -- November-December 1923) was 'to bring Scottish literature into closer touch with current European tendencies in technique and ideation'. Although he and other Scottish post-translators have by no means confined themselves to 'current tendencies', one can surely say that in the last sixty-five years MacDiarmid's ambition has been richly fulfilled. So much is evident, we believe, from the translations printed here, but also, of course, from the great body of important original poetry written between 1922 and today. Scotland does indeed belong in Europe.

The relationship between the work of translation and the writing of original poetry was well stated by George Steiner in the introduction to his Penguin Book of Modern Translation (1966): 'Poetry translation plays a unique role inside the translator's own speech. It drives inward. Anyone . . .

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