Found in Translation1

By Jarman, Mark | The Hudson Review, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Found in Translation1


Jarman, Mark, The Hudson Review


Since 1948, when it was founded, The Hudson Review has published nearly 500 poems in translation from over 30 languages. Two of the magazine's founders, Frederick Morgan and William Arrowsmith, have themselves made significant contributions as translators from ancient and modern languages. Poetry in translation has been such an important feature of The Hudson Review in part because of the influence, direct and indirect, of the great Modernist poet Ezra Pound. In its early days, Pound offered The Hudson Review a steady stream of editorial advice from his residence in St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. The magazine published major translations by Pound from Sophocles and from Confucius. Pound's approach to translation was to turn the poets he translated into new creations and to break new ground for poetry in English. His translations recalled the languages and cultures of their origin, but as these were understood by Pound. His transformative practice of making-it-new is one of the two major traditions of translation found in The Hudson Review and in this anthology. The other, no less valuable but more self-effacing, seeks an appropriate form that preserves as much of the original as possible, including its literal meaning, while still making a good poem in English. The master of this tradition, Richard Wilbur, also published important translations in The Hudson Review, and many of the translations in the anthology reflect his approach.

These two traditions derive from one which begins in the Renaissance and combines both Pound's emphasis on transformation and Wilbur's attention to the original form. When the English poet Thomas Wyatt translated the Italian poet Francesco Petrarch in the sixteenth century, he introduced the Italian sonnet to English literature while making poems we think of as purely Wyatt's. In subsequent centuries we can see how John Dryden turned Virgil into a writer of iambic pentameter couplets, and how Alexander Pope did die same with Homer, in both cases making the translated sound very much like the translator. Samuel Johnson transformed Juvenal into yet anotiier maker of witty iambic pentameter rhyming pairs. Since translation from classical languages was an elemental part of English education throughout the Renaissance, it is possible to imagine William Shakespeare in his grammar school in Stratford doing early miracles with Ovid and Catullus. We know for sure that Ben Jonson did so in London, because he disparaged Shakespeare's grasp of classical languages and boasted of his own. Part of a poet's training in craft was by turning a hand to translation. The more gifted the poet, the more valuable the translation and the more likely that the translation would be a new addition to the poetic art.

In Pound's version of this tradition, translation is meant to transform one literature into another. A good poem translated should become another good poem - one belonging as much to the translator as to the original author. A good poet is probably the best catalyst for this metamorphosis. Pound innovated in translation in ways that exacting scholars of the languages he translated have found troubling, not to say exasperating. One of Pound's most ambitious experiments with translation is included in Ulis anthology. It is his translation of Sophocles' or as he has it Sophokles' drama Women ofTrachis. When the translation was first offered to The Hudson Review, the strongest editorial response to this extended work of Poundian chutzpah was from William Arrowsmith, who protested to Frederick Morgan, "I'm afraid this kind of thing challenges every good wish I have for the classics." Arrowsmith also speculated that Pound was eidier mad or ignorant. But the eminent translator and poet Robert Fitzgerald (represented by translations from Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, Catullus, and Horace) responded more tolerantly though not without a certain ironic humor by saying that it was "pure Pound, but Pound deep in the Greek and out die odier side. …

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