31 mar. 2005

"In my head I am walking but I am not in my head."


It's springtime, time for my seasonal put-down of Brodsky. Perhaps Brodsky does not travel well. He may very well be a great poet in Russia, but his reputation in the US is based on his poems in English--whether translated from the Russian or written directly in English. For the most part, his American admirers don't know any more Russian than his detractors do. What makes us think Wang Wei is a great poet? I have no doubt he is, even though I don't know a word of Chinese. There is something that comes through even in mediocre translation. I have no idea whether Creeley would work in Russian translation either.

Here is what I call the "generic" translation blurb. It is a real blurb, I'm just leaving out the names:

"X's translations, while remaining faithful to the meaning and spirit of the original, are consistently imaginative in language and effective as English poetry."

How false this is. X's translations are wonderful translations in some respects, and are imaginative, but they are not "effective as English poetry." Milosz and Brodsky in translation are not effective as poetry in English, and for me, at least, I don't have the unshakeable conviction that the original is great, either. Rigorously speaking, I have to be agnostic. I simply don't know. I can suspect that I would hate Brodsky in Russian too, but this is only a suspicion. Certainly Milosz was ill-served by being translated by mediocre American poets like Pinsky. Brodsky didn't have anyone honest enough in his circle to tell him NOT to write poems in English.

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