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  #11  
Unread 07-31-2023, 11:36 AM
Carl Copeland Carl Copeland is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by W T Clark View Post
"How, then, to respond as a translator? To imitate the structure of the poetry would be to violate the essential principle of Mandelstam's prosody, which is the organic, indivisible relationship of sound and meaning. The only possible course is to obey that principle, to reimagine the poem, in a way re-hear it, in one's own language and in one's own time."
Great quote, Cameron. I’m happy to read people’s “reimaginings” of Mandelstam and try thinking that their blank or free verse or whatever is giving me the same experience that Russian readers got from his formal verse a century ago. But I feel the need of a traditional form to convey the experience of unorthodox content in orthodox forms. Mandelstam didn’t invent unique forms to embody his meaning. He worked within traditional forms inherited from nineteenth-century Russian poets, who adopted them from Western Europe. Anyone who writes an IP sonnet, as Mandelstam did a few times, is doing it in the Shakespearean (and/or Petrarchan) tradition. Do I have to ignore that and invent some new form (or lack of form) to be faithful to the originality of Mandelstam?

Last edited by Carl Copeland; 07-31-2023 at 11:42 AM.
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  #12  
Unread 07-31-2023, 12:15 PM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
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I agree with that Davis quote. I believe that those who object to what he is saying don't really understand what literary translation is. They don't want to think of it as something that requires artistry, talent, skill, craft, and poetic insight. They want to delude themselves into thinking that a translation is just a mechanical, ministerial exercise, not a creative act on the part of the translator, and they don't want to have to trust the aesthetic judgments and decisions of the translator (as if those judgments and decisions could be dispensed with in favor of something they would call literal).

Ultimately, much depends on what the reader of the translation is looking for. If they just want a tool that will allow them to read the original, that's one thing. But if they never intend to look at the original, and they are simply looking for the enjoyment of reading a poem that happens (now) to be written in English, it's another thing entirely.
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  #13  
Unread 07-31-2023, 02:06 PM
Carl Copeland Carl Copeland is offline
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Sorry, Roger, but I’ve already adopted Jim Ramsey’s term (which he didn’t mean to apply to me) and call myself a member of the Dead Twin School of Poetry Translation. It’s a cooler name than the Mechanical, Ministerial School.
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  #14  
Unread 07-31-2023, 02:57 PM
Christine P'legion Christine P'legion is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by W T Clark View Post
"Is it then so strange that the gorgeous pyrotechnics of Mandelstam's response in Russian should become, in contemporary English, a subdued, a dogged muttering?"
This question reminds me strongly of one of my grandmother's (unpublished) poems:

YEVGENY YEVTUSHENKO
(Born in 1933, Died in April 2017)

In nineteen-ninety-seven or so
at Stetson University
in Deland, Florida,
the great Russian poet
Yevgeny Yevtushenko
(author of “Baba Yar”)
read in his native tongue
“City of No, City of Yes.”

I felt pity for the translator.
“No” has such an open sound.
How could he express
the sneering nastiness
of Yevtushenko’s “Nyet”?
The cruel word snaps its fingers
underneath your nose.
“Nyet, nyet, nyet!”

No simpler grows the task.
Our sweet-tempered “yes”
nonetheless contains a hiss.
Yevgeny Yevtushenko
foresees the problem,
takes back the microphone.
“Da,” he says, consenting as a kiss.
“Da!” his audience murmurs
with international content.

[Tangerine Bell, undated draft]
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  #15  
Unread 07-31-2023, 03:17 PM
Carl Copeland Carl Copeland is offline
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I love it, Christine. A real situation illustrating the real impossibilities of translation. (Cameron likes to say that translation is both impossible and necessary.) Glad you’re upholding the family tradition.
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  #16  
Unread 08-01-2023, 12:43 PM
W T Clark W T Clark is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Riley View Post
Are the Davis translations "dogged muttering?"

Maybe I don't want to know.
Here is Davis' version of a poem from the Voronezhe notebooks:

Breaks in round bays, and shingle, and blue,
And a slow sail continued by a cloud—
I hardly knew you; I've been torn from you:
Longer than organ fugues—the sea's bitter grasses,
Fake tresses—and their long lie stinks,
My head swims with iron tenderness,
The rust gnaws bit by bit the sloping bank...
On what new sands does my head sink?
You, guttural Urals, broad-shouldered Volga lands,
Or this dead-flat plain—here are all my rights,
And, full-lunged, gotta go on breathing them.

February 4, 1937

And Here is James Greene's version:

Breaks of the rounded bays, shingle, blue,
And the slow sail continued as a cloud –
I’m parted from you, scarcely having known your worth.
Longer than organ fugues and bitter is the twisted seaweed,
Smelling of long-contracted falsities.
My head is tipsy with the tenderness of iron
And rust gnawing gently at the sloping shore …
Why does another sand lie under my head?
You – guttural Urals, muscular Volga,
These steppes – here are all my rights, –
And I must still inhale your air with my entire lungs.
(366) 4 February 1937
Or these lines. Davis:

Like a postponed present,
That’s how winter feels —
From the first I’ve loved
Its uncertain extent.

Fear makes it beautiful,
Something terrible might occur —
Before this forestless circle
Even the crow’s lost its nerve. (44)

And Greene:

Like a belated present,
Winter is now palpable:
I like its initial,
Diffident sweep.
Its terror is beautiful,
Like the beginning of dreadful deeds:
Even ravens are alarmed
By the leafless circle.
But precariously more powerful than anything
Is its bulging blueness:
The half-formed ice on the river’s brow,
Lullabying unsleepingly …
(336) 29–30 December 1936

I like Davis version of this poem:

And I don’t paint, I don’t sing,
Don’t rosin the black-voiced bow:
Just empty myself into life, and love
To envy the seditious imperious wasp.

If only I, stalling sleep and death,
Could somehow, someday catch
The chirp of the air and summer warmth,
Hear the slipping earth, the slipping earth … (68)BANNED POST
And Greene's:

I neither sing, nor draw,
Nor scrape a black-voiced bow across a string:
I only sting life, and love
To envy the energy of subtle wasps.
Oh if only heat of summer, sting of air,
Could – sidestepping sleep and death –
Some day goad me into hearing
The buzz of earth, buzz of the earth.

Which, do you think are more pyrotechnical?
But I do not have the Davis. If anyone has a pdf of it, I would love for them to send it to me.

Last edited by W T Clark; 08-01-2023 at 12:46 PM.
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  #17  
Unread 08-02-2023, 06:16 AM
Carl Copeland Carl Copeland is offline
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I don’t know how to gauge pyrotechnics, but here are a few comments on the latter two translations (all I have time for at the moment):

L2: M’s verb doesn’t have the harshness of “scrape,” and once he’s chosen that verb, Greene has to add “across a string” to clarify it. Davis’s “rosin,” though less literal, solves those problems and is lovely.

L3: M’s verb means something like “dig into.” (Mayakovsky used it to describe a tick digging into an ear in “Brooklyn Bridge.”) Greene’s “sting” is closer, though it implies the inflicting of pain, while Davis’s “empty myself into” opens up avenues of thought that just aren’t there in the original.

L4: A more literal translation would be “mighty, cunning wasps.” Davis’s “seditious, imperious” is too grand, and Greene’s “energy” isn’t quite right either.

L5: Davis’s “stalling” is a nice word, but “bypassing,” “skirting” or “sidestepping” is M’s meaning.

S2: Greene follows M’s grammar here, while Davis has “reimagined” the stanza, adding “catch” and “chirp” and making the N a potentially active hearer, rather than one forced to hear. (Literally, M says, “If only the goad of air … could force me to hear,” but I like the way Greene has replaced “goad … force” with “sting … goad.”)

L8: The original wording is “earth’s axis, earth’s axis.” There’s no “slipping” or “buzz,” but M is playing on the similarity between os (axis), osa (wasp) and Osya (short for Osip), so some reimagining is justified here.

As a free verse poem in English, I suppose Davis’s is more satisfying. As a translation, I vote for Greene’s. It’s closer to the original sense, and the iambic undertow throughout and hint of rhyme in S2 keep us from completely forgetting M’s form. To be fair, Davis’s more even line lengths also give a hint of formality.

Last edited by Carl Copeland; 08-02-2023 at 08:05 AM.
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  #18  
Unread 08-02-2023, 10:55 AM
Carl Copeland Carl Copeland is offline
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To be honest, I’m unready to deal with the “belated gift” poem. Mandelstam’s grammar in S3 is all but impenetrable to me. I’m dubious of Davis’s aphoristic S3L1, but I can’t even be sure of that. I do prefer Greene’s “brow” to Davis’s “temple,” which, though more literal, sounds too much like a place of worship.
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  #19  
Unread 08-05-2023, 01:17 PM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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.
The name Osip Mendelstam came crashing into the Eratosphere like a meteor, thanks to David Callin's poem. A kerfuffle ensued and Cameron's staunch defense of Mendelstam's spirit caused me to pick up a copy of The Selected Poems of Osip Mendelstam, translated by Clarence Brown and W.S. Merwin and I'm glad to have it.

The artistry of literary translation is perhaps the most alchemic of all the arts. I am in awe of those who do.

.
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  #20  
Unread 08-05-2023, 02:52 PM
David Callin David Callin is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim Moonan View Post
.
Cameron's staunch defense of Mendelstam's spirit caused me to pick up a copy of The Selected Poems of Osip Mendelstam, translated by Clarence Brown and W.S. Merwin and I'm glad to have it..
That's the one that I have, Jim. I love it, although I suspect that Carl (politely) deplores it.

I share your awe at the necessary artistry.

David

P.S. Extra points for your exemplary use of "kerfuffle".
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