Sunday

Translation Blues (or Would that be Yellows?)



A hot bed topic about poetry currently occupies the realm of translation.  Is it good bad doable impossible?  Is the music lost replaced transposed?  Is the meaning shifted beyond repair or killed only to be resurrected by the translators hand?  All interesting questions on a certain kind of day.

New England poet Donald Hall wants no part of it.  His is an isolationist policy that would exclude all but  English language poets for English language readers.  No Wislawa Szymborska for him. Pity. The great and mighty-high Edward Hirsch does not deign to consider the problem as problem as his first generation childhood  created a preference for the determinedly polyglot.  Robert Hass connects easily to all who cross his path it  would seem and in Berkeley that path crossing is global.  Or so I have gleaned from my reading of their respective Poet's Choice annotated anthologies.

Last post I considered the clear message of the first stanza of the Tao Te Ching: that which is named Tao is not Tao.  I was able to do this with an air of authority  informed as I have been been by an astounding 100 translations of that very first stanza.  Movement or lyricism in construct and combination of words shifted considerably between translations.  Music was present in some and in others not at all.  Meaning, however, stayed put.

White blossoms of the Bartlett Pear tree are the first of massed whites to grace our spring.  They have not been translated, they have no need for translation that I know of.  This year they are as plainly and beautifully exact as they were last year.  The most reassuring of nature's repeating gifts are so often the loveliest.  These are among the handful of thoughts that carry any kind of certainty for me.  The authority of  a Bartlett Pear, if you will.  Translatable without hesitation to all.  In whatever the country whoever its speakers may be, it stays put.