I just saw (and immediately bought) a book that could have been published expressly for me… and, I suspect, for certain other frequenters of Languagehat, which is why I’m mentioning it here. NYU Press has published an amazing book called The Multilingual Anthology of American Literature, edited by Marc Shell and Werner Sollors, which presents each work in its original language with facing page translation. Over 700 pages long, it starts with Pastorius‘ remarkable Bee-Hive of 1696 (in English, German, and Latin, with bits of Greek, Italian, French, and Dutch thrown in for spice), a couple of early documents in Massachusett, the Walam Olum or the Red Score of the Lenape (with pictographs and transcriptions of the Lenape myths and migration stories), a poem by Lorenzo da Ponte, and (perhaps the most amazing find) the 1831 Life of Omar Ibn Said, Written by Himself—in Arabic! (The original manuscript, with its beautifully clear writing, is reproduced.) It continues through nineteenth-century works in French, Spanish, German, Polish, Russian, and (Nic, Pat, are you listening?) Welsh, and for the twentieth century adds Yiddish, Swedish, Norwegian, Navajo, Hebrew, Chinese, Hungarian, and Greek. There is a “Brief History of Bilingualism in Poetry” and a satisfyingly detailed section of notes (“Omar’s construction is ambiguous; he does not use the past construction (kana) to indicate his previous religion. A literal translation would read: ‘Before… my religion is the religion of Mohammed.’”). And there is the recurring pleasure of seeing American names in unusual linguistic contexts, such as Arabic (“Ya ahl Nu-Karulin ['O people of North Carolina']! Ya ahl Su-Karulin!”) or Welsh (“Pan welais destynau Eisteddfod Granville, N.Y….”). I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
I’ll close with an excerpt from György Gyékényesi’s “Occidental Cantata”:
amint rigódalt jegyzett
sej rigómadár ne szállj fel a fára
s New Orleans-i ütemre rándult a keze
the saints go marchin’ in
the saints go marchin’ out
míg hömpölygött a Mississippi