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Unread 07-31-2009, 04:40 PM
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Chris Childers Chris Childers is offline
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Default Welcoming Rachel Hadas

It's a great thrill for me to open our 2009 Translation Bake-off by welcoming Rachel Hadas to the Distinguished Guest forum. An accomplished poet, scholar, teacher, writer of essays and memoirs, and translator, she is fully worthy of this forum and our previous guests whose luminary company she now joins. Two months ago I slathered the boards with links to her biography at Poets.org; you may find the same information at her website, as well as a substantial selection of her work. The following is from the introduction to a 1997 interview with Gloria Brame, and more interesting than your average publication list:

Quote:
The daughter of one of the world's eminent classical scholars, Columbia Professor Moses Hadas [for reflections on her father's life and work, go here--cc], Rachel spent her childhood in the rarified atmosphere of literary high culture. But the early death of her father, while Rachel was still a girl, shocked the calm of this world. And her life soon took an extraordinary turn when, in her early twenties, she married a young Greek man and moved abroad to live with him on his native island. There Rachel was ultimately arrested and imprisoned on charges that she set fire to an olive oil factory--the victim of xenophobia gone mad in their peasant village.

Yet, even before her twenties were done, her life transformed once more: she began what were to become lifelong and artistically important friendships with poets James Merrill and Alan Ansen; and she returned to New York City to pursue her graduate studies and to know early success as a poet and writer.
Moses Hadas was one of the first old school philologists to champion teaching the classics in translation. He said, "Let each age put down the classics in its own language, just so long as they keep the spirit of the original," and proceeded to sweep out the Victorian cobwebs from an astonishing array of Latin and Greek authors with his own modern translations rendered in clear and unadorned prose. Now a professor at Rutgers University, Rachel continues in her father's footsteps, having produced, besides her original poetry, Other Worlds Than This (Rutgers UP 1994), a collection of translations from French, Latin, and ancient and modern Greek; Euripides' Helen (U Penn Press 1997); Seneca's Oedipus (Hopkins 1994); & Racine's Iphigenie en Aulide (unpublished, but go here for an excerpt). Her latest book, due out from Norton in December 09 & co-edited with Edmund Keeley, Peter Constantine, and Karen Van Dyck, is a vast anthology of Greek literature from Homer to the present, and contains many of her original translations.

Of the art of translation, Rachel says:
Quote:
I love the double sense I have in translating of serendipity and surrender. Translating is also--among other things--a way of negotiating a dry passage: taxing one's verbal skills while pouring oneself into a formal vessel not of one's own choosing. Forcing myself to render ideas and feelings as skillfully as I can, I forget to worry about my own lack of inspiration.

Am I saying that whatever one thinks one is doing at the time, any project that seizes the imagination turns into another version of the self, another chapter in the ongoing oeuvre? Something like that.

I'm proud of my translations. Maybe I'll be remembered (if I am, which is a huge if) in the future as a gifted translator who also had a career as a poet.
Here and now we acknowledge and applaud her as all of the above. Please join me in warmly welcoming Rachel Hadas to the Eratosphere, and stay tuned for a subsequent post with samples from her work.

Last edited by Chris Childers; 08-03-2009 at 04:09 PM.
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Unread 07-31-2009, 04:52 PM
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Default Rachel Hadas - Sample Poems and Translations*

Rag Rug

It has arrived at last—the long rag rug
.....multiply folded. On top, one alien hair.
..........I put my face to the folds and smell despair
...............palpable as salt air
..........in all those rooms and houses, small and smug—
enclosures I passed through on my way where?

Whoever did the weaving appears old
.....in my mind's eye. I can't make out her face,
..........can only conjure up the faintest trace
...............of an abstracted grace,
..........clack of the loom. Does she know they'll be sold,
these precious things, in some unheard-of place?

I perch her on a hill, precariously
.....beyond the reach of the waves' daily boom.
..........Sun blazes overhead, but her dim room
...............(no bigger than the loom)
..........is proof against the violence of the sky.
From it I further spin what I once called my home:

Endless horizons fading into haze,
.....the mornings dawn came up so rosy-clear;
..........snails in the garden, sheep bells everywhere,
...............the brightness of the air,
..........terraces, valleys organizing space
and time's cessation. So this package here

I'm now unwrapping, in New York, today
.....(rugs like rainbows, woven with a grace
..........my strands of language barely can express;
...............dishrags of dailiness
..........dispersed and recombined and freshly gay)
comes to me imbued with images,

slowly and faithfully across the water,
.....across the world. It represents a time
..........I myself snipped and recombined as rhyme
...............as soon as I went home,
..........if that is where I am. These rugs recover
the sense of stepping twice into a single river.

Pass It On, I

Like a huge tree house out of mortal reach,
high platforms thickest foliage nearly hides.
Instead of speech,
hands reach across and down to help us up.
Translation: crossing over the abyss,
handing the little ones, the old ones over
to who'll receive them. Carryings
from here to the invisible and endless.
Tradition: handing on and handing down
and handing up, a laying on of hands.
Hand over hand pass on, press in
the secret of ascent:
gravity's up. The jungle is too lush
to walk in, so we all find other ways
of navigating: flail, wade, bracchiate,
hooting like happy apes,
or silently, staggeringly, smoothly
swim, angels, fishes, forward through the green
gloom towards a height, a waterfall
or treefall one can climb? A gap; a dome;
more reaching hands; and a pervasive light.

Fleshly Answers

Doomed beauties, my companions, my familiars,
your long arms braceleted with snakes of danger,

a question twines in all the undergrowth.
How can we tell the living from the dead?

Puvis de Chavannes's tall pearly figures
dressed as sturdy Spartans at the chase

turn out to be pale paper dolls in space.
And how can we be sure that we're alive?

Our bodies, aging, changing, slow and stiffen.
On flesh if not yet quite inert increasingly opaque,

bite or bruise or blemish pose the questions
Where have you been? What have you been doing?

My sister's leg, scaled by a manic cat
nearly three years ago, still is scored and punctured.

Last September I picked blackberries
bare-armed; here are the scratches ten weeks later.

We are passing through the world.
This is some of what it does to us.

Moments of Summer

The horizontal tugs me more and more.
Childhood hours spent reading with my father
rise in a kind procession once again.
Disparate gravities of our two ages
dissolve as we lie back and let the pages
take us, float us, sail us out to sea.

What special spell (not always narrative:
the winter we read De Senectute
I was fifteen; you had two years to live)
braided our endless differences to one?
Today a mother reading to my son,
I savor freshly that sweet nourishment,
especially if we are lying down.

Teaching The Iliad

Teaching the text, I feel
the little hairs along my forearms rise
and shield my eyes
against the nimble letters on the page.
They spell a man
who weeps and weeps alone
for his brief golden age.
Presently the line where sea meets sky
fills with silhouetted men. An army
deployed behind him comes between
margin and horizon like a screen
on which hexameters drum down like rain.

Winged Words

Trying to speak means flailing with
gestures half-sculpted out of need,
eloquent in the way of myth—
monumental, hard to read.
How does anything get said?
A nascent, feebly struggling thought,
hard to collect and to recover,
contrives to spit its substance out.
Words are the wings that lift us over.

Garbling a recollected tongue,
swamped in simultaneity,
latecome words go down among
syllables learned by the age of three.
Look light kitty love you me
for every flight from the teeth’s gate,
as Homer has it, others are
prisoners, crying “Let us out,
out of this dumbness, away from here!”

See me, poised and ready for
writing the words that cluster round.
My moving pen is an open door
releasing syllable into sound.
Sprung from dumbness by my hand,
a few words fly. By some stern law
of choice or chance the empty air
fills—with what I scarcely know.
Writing it down might make it clear.

Words are flighty. But once set down,
utterances give form to life,
celebrate pleasure, focus pain.
Every writer wields a knife
sharp with danger. Nothing’s safe.
When offered up to clarity,
memory acquires mysterious power.
With each i dotted and each crossed t,
intimate histories appear.

Is it for love of you I read
your sentences as points of pain,
or does attention always breed
phantoms of meaning like a stain?
Show me that page you wrote again.
Now I sense an undertow
drawing you far away from here.
What you felt and saw and knew
crosses the paper like a scar.

A child is curled in his mother’s arm.
The lamplit page or hammock’s sway
create a zone exempt from harm,
devoted to one kind of play.
Dream all night and read all day.
Tell it again, the precious tale
of what we lose, seek, reacquire.
Sunset again. The sky goes pale.
A great page flickers with words of fire.

Eye usurps mind and mouth. Exclusion
of idle chat holds death at bay.
Silence allows no clear conclusion
except she has no more to say.
Today’s no different from yesterday.
Read her the news; or improvise,
when you can bear to read no more,
some speech that needs no lips or eyes.
Conversation is metaphor.

Theh lips are locked. What else is left?
I can no longer read the gaze.
Pity for a life bereft
of power to tell, amuse, amaze . . .
Reduced to stillness, year-long days
pass in a fog of who can tell?
I’d say the password’s Nevermore.
Other conclusions loom as well.
What was language ever for?

All we have done, all we will do—
Helplessly we write and read,
Opening the veins of what we know.
Even when pain is understood
the mildest scribble may draw blood.
Why does the dark authority
of written language reassure?
This fearful self is more than me.
Our words are bodies. We write on air.

Words are the wings that lift us over
out of this limbo, away from here.
Writing it down might make it clear.
Intimate histories appear,
cross the paper like a scar.
A great page flickers with words of fire.
Conversation is metaphor.
What was language ever for?
Our words are bodies. We write on air.

THREE TRANSLATIONS

The Voice
.....by Charles Baudelaire

My cradle stood against the bookcase, Babel
Of murky voices. Novel, science, fable,
Greek dust, and Latin ashes made one stew.
When I was tall as a big folio,
Two voices spoke to me. The first was firm,
Also seductive: "This world's full of charm.
What I can do for you, my boy, is make
Your hunger equal to this endless cake."
The other: "Come to dreamland! Come explore
Beyond the merely possible and known!"
This voice was like a wind along the shore,
A rootless phantom singing on its own
With a caressing, terrifying sound.
I answered "Yes! Sweet voice!" And so began
Whatever you might call it—say my wound
And my fatality. Behind the scenes
Of this enormous stage, in an abyss
Of blackness, I see other worlds than this.
Privileged victim of a clear-eyed fate,
I drag along with serpents at my feet.
And since that time the prophet within me
Loves above all the desert and the sea;
I laugh at funerals and weep at feasts,
And in the sourest wine find some sweet taste.
Many a humdrum fact I call a lie,
And fall in holes through gazing at the sky.
My Voice consoles me: "Keep your mad dreams, far
Fairer than the dreams of wise men are!"

Spirochaeta Pallida
.....by Konstantine Karyotakis

Beautiful, taken all in all, those scientific books
with blood-red illustrations. After several dubious looks
at these, my friend (another beauty) giggled secretly;
and there was beauty too in what her fleeting lips gave me,

which gently yet persistently came knocking at each head.
We opened up so she could march imperiously in,
Mistress Madness. Once inside, she locked the door again.
Since then our life is like a story strange and old and sad.

Logical thought and feeling now are luxuries, excess.
We give them both away for free to any prudent man,
while holding onto childish snickers, wild impulsiveness.
Whatever is instinctive we've committed to God's hand.

Since all of His creation is a horrid comedy,
the author and producer—his intentions are the best—
has rung the curtain down so that we do not have to see
the dazzling performance lost in dimness, dreams and mist.

Beautiful, taken all in all, our little purchased friend
that winter twilight long ago when, enigmatically
laughing, she leaned forward for a kiss. And she could see
like a yawning gulf the way it probably would end.

Chorus from Euripides's Helen

Mother of oars, the sea is your lover.
Phoenician galley, skim swiftly over
the grey-green breakers, wind at your back—
dancing dolphins, daughter of Ocean.
Pull at the oars, sailors, sailors,
over the breakers skimming, skimming,
till Helen can touch her land once more
by the swirling river, again can see
the temple dances and festivals,
and can embrace Hermione,
her virgin daughter whose bridal torch
is still unlit.

Give us wings and we would fly
like a flock of birds over the plains,
leaving Libya's winter rains,
led by their commander's cry
over the desert, keeping pace
with clouds that scurry through the sky,
cleaving a path through the Pleiades,
past Orion's midnight glow.
Cry aloud at the river: Oh,
Menelaus has fought and won!
Menelaus is coming home!

With horse-drawn chariots hurry, come,
Castor and Pollux, Tyndareus's twins,
under the star dome, heaven-dwellers,
come here quickly and save your sister.
Over the ocean's salty swell
and dark blue crests of foam that spill,
come on the wings of heaven's wind
and purge the rumor from every mind,
wipe out that persistent lie
about where lovely Helen lay,
the lie that blames her for the war
although she never went to Troy—
never set foot in Apollo's towered city.

*These are all taken from Halfway Down the Hall: New and Selected Poems (Wesleyan UP 1998).
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Unread 07-31-2009, 05:34 PM
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Mary Meriam Mary Meriam is offline
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I'm thrilled to see Rachel Hadas here. Welcome, and thanks.
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Unread 07-31-2009, 06:05 PM
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Janice D. Soderling Janice D. Soderling is offline
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Awesome. And for once the word is used as it is meant to be: inspiring awe.

Welcome indeed.
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Unread 07-31-2009, 06:08 PM
Gregory Dowling Gregory Dowling is offline
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Rachel,

It is great to have you here with us. Welcome!

Gregory
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Unread 07-31-2009, 06:30 PM
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Maryann Corbett Maryann Corbett is offline
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We are very fortunate indeed to have Rachel here. Welcome!
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Unread 07-31-2009, 07:52 PM
David Rosenthal David Rosenthal is offline
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Welcome, and thanks for participating in th bakeoff. It is an honor to have you with us.

David R.
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Unread 08-01-2009, 04:21 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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Heartfelt thanks in advance to Rachel for sharing her knowledge with us, and a warm welcome to boot!
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Unread 08-01-2009, 05:08 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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The warmest of welcomes to the Sphere, Rachel. Chris, thanks for giving us such a dazzling selection of Hadas. Rachel, it strikes me that we live in an extraordinary time for verse translation. I believe that our friend and fellow Eratospherian, Dick Wilbur, set the bar at an unprecedentedly high level with his Molieres. Dana once told me Dick should collect all his translations in one book and title it "Look on my works ye mighty and despair." Yet now it seems to me that a great many poets are clearing that bar, making English poems that are beautiful yet faithful to their originals. Indeed we saw a great deal of that here last August, and I trust that this week we shall again. I can think of no other time to compare to ours in this regard. I wish your father could have seen it. Your thoughts?
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Unread 08-01-2009, 03:09 PM
Rachel Hadas Rachel Hadas is offline
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Tim,

I have been most impressed by what I've seen in the Bakeoff. Hadn't thought (for some reason) of wondering what my father's thoughts would be, but it's worth pondering. These are, by and large, excellent translations that give the lie to the dichotomy between beauty and accuracy.

More as more occurs to me, perhaps. One thought: my father and John Mclean in 1936 translated 10 plays of Euripides into serviceable prose, as a sort of antidote to Gilbert Murray (see my essay "The Many Lives of Moses Hadas" on www.rachelhadas.com). Moses thought Murray's Swinburnian floweriness was an added strike against the hapless reader, perhaps on the G.I. Bill, making his way through tragedy in translation.

Thanks for writing.

Rachel
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