Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Selected Poems

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Selected Poems

Article excerpt

Selected Poems, by Victor Hugo, translated by Brooks Haxton.

Brooks Haxton's method of translation in this selection of Hugo's poems suffers from a kind of schizophrenia. Haxton begins his note on the translation by telling us "I have begun by trying to find in English the most effective literal rendition of the French." He begins with this method, but further on we learn that "where liberties serve my version of the poem, I have altered and substituted freely. I have also omitted words or phrases, in some cases sentences at a stretch, that in English fail to suggest the intensity of the original poem." On balance, this second description of Haxton's method seems closer to its reality, and the reader is more than once taken aback by entire stretches of blank page in the facing English of this bilingual edition. The translation of "A Theophile Gautier" presents an especially striking example. This is one of Hugo's finest poems, but Haxton does not even attempt some of its most exhilarating passages, such as the extended metaphor that finds Gautier cheering a personified drama that has seized Paris like prey, and is compared to a Hippogriff driving out a Pegasus. …

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