Poet-translators.

For some reason this popped into my head as I was lying abed trying to get to sleep: what famous poets are also famous translators? The first examples that came to me were the obvious ones: Pound (Cathay, Homage To Sextus Propertius), Pasternak (Shakespeare), and Robert Lowell (Imitations). I thought of Basil Bunting (“Chomei at Toyama” and translations from Persian and Latin) and Hugh MacDiarmid (great Scots translations of Russian poems in A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle — see this LH comment), but (sadly) they just don’t qualify as famous except among specialists. Famous translators who also wrote poetry of their own don’t count (I once had Robert Fitzgerald sign my copy of Spring Shade, and he was touchingly pleased that someone knew his original poetry), and neither do great poets who wrote translations that are not much read (Mandelstam would be an example). I’m sure there are others, but I’m feeling lazy, so rather than rack my brains I’ll toss the question out there to the assembled multitudes.

Comments

  1. jamessal says:

    Louis Zukofsky?

  2. jamessal says:

    Ooh, how about Kenneth Rexroth?

  3. Rexroth is a good one; I’m afraid Zukofsky is even less well known now than he was at his peak, which wasn’t very. (And he’s known for A and his short poems, not for translations.)

  4. January First-of-May says:

    Some of the Russian children’s poem authors from the Soviet era also translated some children’s poems originally written in other languages into Russian; e.g., apparently both Samuil Marshak and Sergey Mikhalkov translated some of Julian Tuwim’s work.
    That said, they probably aren’t often consciously perceived as “famous translators” – many of their translated poems are well-known, and said poems are usually listed as translated, but most readers just don’t think about those authors (or, for that matter, about many of those poems) that way.

    Was the Nabokov who translated Alice in Wonderland into Russian (as Аня в стране чудес) the same person as the Nabokov who wrote Lolita (and Pale Fire)? If so, he would probably count as both a famous poet (to the extent that he is a poet at all) and a famous translator.

    Boris Zakhoder is a weird example – IIRC, most of his output was translation. He does apparently have some fairly well-known original poems, though.

    Not familiar enough with translators into English to think of any examples in that category, unfortunately.

  5. W. S. Merwin (speaking of Mandelstam) and David Ferry are the first ones that came to my mind. Another favorite contemporary poet of mine, A. E. Stallings, is a translator as well.

  6. jamessal says:

    Samuel Beckett, obviously famous, and both a poet and translator of other poems, though that would be what he’s least famous for: http://www.fupress.net/index.php/bsfm-sijis/article/view/9711

  7. Among the Americans: Eliot (although I’d guess his translation of Anabase is not much read now), Jarrell, Wilbur, Merwin, Bly. Among the Brits and Irish: MacNeice, Heaney, Sisson for starters.

    Yves Bonnefoy and Eugenio Montale seem to be highly regarded in their home countries for translations from the English inter alia.

  8. jamessal says:

    Yeah, Guy Davenport wrote that Zukofsky will be our Melville, or the like, shamefully unknown and likely to be appreciated late in our century.

  9. jamessal says:

    Mark Ford doesn’t qualify, on either count, but he does both, and I’m just a big fan.

  10. He’s not famous, but the American poet David Cameron has published a strangely fascinating “distorted” translation of Les Fleurs du Mal.

    There’s also, off topic, a very good Scottish poet named David Cameron, who AFAIK hasn’t published translations.

    Even more off topic, there’s a former British PM named David Cameron. These are three separate people.

  11. jamessal says:

    Oh, Mark Strand. Maybe the most famous English language poet today (well, after Billy Collins), and it’s pretty well known that he translates Russian poetry — definitely the higher bar, famewise. But if he doesn’t qualify, I don’t see how even Jarrell and Wilbur do.

  12. Giacomo Ponzetto says:

    In Italian, Quasimodo is probably as famous as translators get, both for classical Greek and for some Shakespearean plays at least. Ungaretti also seems famous enough as a translator of poetry. To end the triad of the most canonical “contemporary” poets, Montale translated too, professionally but I believe less famously. Pavese seems more famous for his prose than his poetry, but he was also a prolific translator of American authors.

    Differently and more than a century earlier, Monti and Pindemonte achieved enduring fame with their verse translations of the Iliad and Odyssey respectively, but it’s common knowledge they were also poets themselves. I wouldn’t say their original poetry is famous anymore, however.

  13. Another contender: John Hollander. It’s a high bar: fame in the two categories of being a poet and being a translator. Rexroth is my strongest contender, for sure. I mean, Strand gets more sales than all these contemporary poets put together, and though his translating fame does depend on that fame, it’s big enough that he’s had more than a few interviews just on translating. Hollander, though not as famous as either, is better known, I’ll bet, than many poets that people well versed in poetry would think of first; and he’s known as a scholar/critic, i.e., his reputation is such that people unfamiliar with his translations would still guess, if asked, that he’s done a good deal of translating. I’ll let those more knowledgeable decide, but he seems to me a stronger contender than many named thus far.

  14. Steve, given our recent discussion, I feel a little silly throwing this name out there, but if famous means famous among poets or among serious students of poetry, Don Paterson would qualify pretty easily on both counts. He’s won the TLS Prize twice for his own poetry, among many others, and he’s published several books of translated poetry, about which he’s been interviewed several times. Even just typing his name into Amazon — all departments — the first three books are his own poems and the fourth a translation of Rilke. That’s pretty impressive as far as fame and translating and poetry all go.

    https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/don-paterson

  15. There’s Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf, of course, and Richard Wilbur’s translations from French. Robert Hass has translated Milosz, Issa, and Neruda. Speaking of Milosz, there was a time when he was known in America more as Zbigniew Herbert’s translator than as a poet in his own right.

  16. Gary Snyder. Alexander Pope. Jose Angel Valente. Charles Baudelaire. Paul Celan. Eugenio Montale. Hiroaki Sato.

  17. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Alexander Pope?

    (Hugh MacDiarmid probably counts as famous within Scotland, but not famous as a translator.)

  18. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Harvard Professor of Modern Languages. His Michelangelo’s are beauties. His version of Manrique’s Coplas is lovely.

    Carles Riba, the Catalonian poet, translated a wild range of things in to Catalan: Homer, Holderlin, Cavafy, Sophocles, Rilke. All of European poetry, made Catalonian.

    Just random choices. I am now used to seeing that modern Italian, Portuguese, and French poets were also translators. It is a typical biography, not an unusual one.

  19. what famous poets are also famous translators?

    Um I must be misunderstanding the rules of this game, because I couldn’t name many poets nor translators. And yet: does Robert Graves not count amongst the “obvious”?

  20. David Marjanović says:

    Even more off topic, there’s a former British PM named David Cameron. These are three separate people.

    There is a rap video of the third one, though, and it goes like this.

  21. Bathrobe says:

    Yosano Akiko translated Japanese classics into modern Japanese. I don’t know if that counts.

    Akutagawa Ryūnosuke translated Yeates and Anatole France.

    Tanikawa Shuntarō is also noted as a poet and a translator.

  22. In Eastern Europe it was apparently common for poets to double as translators in order to pay the bills. Examples I can readily think of are Sándor Weöres and Arseny Tarkovsky. Their translations don’t strike me as particularly trustworthy, as they didn’t actually know the foreign languages in question. The poets simply asked scholars to create literal or interlinear translations, and then they versified these. It was like an entire society of Stephen Mitchells.

  23. Lots of good suggestions here; how could I have omitted Heaney, Wilbur, and Pope?

    In Eastern Europe it was apparently common for poets to double as translators in order to pay the bills.

    Yes, it was pretty much de rigueur; my example in the post was Mandelstam — there are a couple hundred pages of translations in his collected works, but as far as I know they’re not much read.

    Was the Nabokov who translated Alice in Wonderland into Russian (as Аня в стране чудес) the same person as the Nabokov who wrote Lolita (and Pale Fire)? If so, he would probably count as both a famous poet (to the extent that he is a poet at all) and a famous translator.

    Yes indeed, and he’d be a great example except that I’m not sure he’s thought of as a poet, even though Pale Fire, one of his most popular novels, is focused on a long poem (which other people have a far higher opinion of as poetry than I do).

    Um I must be misunderstanding the rules of this game, because I couldn’t name many poets nor translators. And yet: does Robert Graves not count amongst the “obvious”?

    I’m not sure what you’re misunderstanding, since you seem to have grasped the idea perfectly well, and yes, Graves is an excellent example (and should have been obvious to me).

  24. I guess my rule of thumb would be: if “Did you know X did translations?” would be a useful line at a cocktail party (a literary one, obviously), then X doesn’t count — the translations have to be well known to anyone who knows the poet. (For example, quite a few people think that Cathay and Homage To Sextus Propertius are the best poetry Pound produced.)

  25. SFReader says:

    Pushkin was a famous poet, but not so famous translator. (His translations are so good that they are not even regarded as translations)

    He translated poetry from French, Italian, English, Spanish, German, Ancient Greek, Latin, Old Russian, Old Church Slavonic, Serbian, Polish and Ukrainian.

  26. Did you know that Auden translated The Magic Flute? 😉

  27. Oh, here’s an obvious one: Thomas Wyatt.

  28. Good one!

  29. “Pale Fire, one of his most popular novels, is focused on a long poem (which other people have a far higher opinion of as poetry than I do).”

    I always assumed that Nabokov intended the John Shade poem to be pretty lame, and so anyone praising it as poetry would be missing the point.

  30. J.W. Brewer says:

    I see (I had to use control-F after not seeing it while scrolling) that MacNeice got mentioned once upthread. I don’t know how much translation work he did other than his version of Goethe’s Faust, but I’ve only read two or three English versions of Faust and MacNeice’s is one of them. I’m not sure how his reputation as a poet has done over the last half-century. My own sense of “canonical” 20th century poetry in English is heavily influenced by an anthology that my father had bought for a class he took in the l ate 1950’s (quite possibly per some googling the Oscar-Williams-edited “Little Treasury of Modern Poetry,” but I’m not 100% sure of that) which I read and reread quite a lot when I was in high school in the early ’80’s, and that MacNeice was important enough as of probably 65 years ago to be included in that collection isn’t a strong predictor of his current reputation.

    Merwin I like not least because having and acting on the thought “hey, I’d like to translate Dante, but why don’t I just start in the middle with the Purgatorio, which is the part everyone usually skips over” is such a punk-rock and uncommercial approach. I actually read his Purgatorio straight through while lounging on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean in what must have been the late ’90’s. I can’t recall the exact year or island, but I’m confident it was before the birth of my first child (in 2001), because beach vacations became much less oriented toward long stretches of reading volumes of poetry once I became a parent.

  31. I always assumed that Nabokov intended the John Shade poem to be pretty lame, and so anyone praising it as poetry would be missing the point.

    That’s how I feel about it, but an awful lot of people feel differently.

  32. ktschwarz says:

    Speaking of Dante, what about John Ciardi? I can’t find if he translated anything besides Dante, yet nowadays that seems to be his most famous work.

  33. Huh. You’re probably right, but that’s kind of sad.

  34. Rodger C says:

    In Place Of A Curse
    by
    John Ciardi

    At the next vacancy for God, if I am elected,
    I shall forgive last the delicately wounded
    who, having been slugged no harder than anyone else,
    never got up again, neither to fight back,
    nor to finger their jaws in painful admiration.

    They who are wholly broken, and they in whom
    mercy is understanding, I shall embrace at once
    and lead to pillows in heaven. But they who are
    the meek by trade, baiting the best of their betters
    with the extortions of a mock-helplessness

    I shall take last to love, and never wholly.
    Let them all into Heaven—I abolish Hell—
    but let it be read over them as they enter:
    “Beware the calculations of the meek, who gambled nothing,
    gave nothing, and could never receive enough.”

  35. Like Baudelaire, Mallarmé translated Poe, although I don’t know how famous he was for that. Boris Vian deserves a mention here: his poetry included some 500 songs, many still popular, and he was a diligent translator of American fiction (Raymond Chandler, A. E. Van Vogt, Nelson Algren, and others).

  36. Weöres

    Where does Hungarian orthographic <eö> come from?
    (As also Eötvös.)

  37. Well, in Russian literature, pick almost any poet starting from the 18th century — all of them at least dabbled in translation. Trediakovsky, Barkov, Lomonosov, Zhukovski, Pushkin, Lermontov… all the way to Pasternak, Akhmatova, Brodsky (who translated Cavafy without knowing any Greek — using подстрочники, word-by-word translations) and more recent poets.

    I believe it would be safe to say that there’s never (or almost) been a Russian poetry translator who wouldn’t be a poet in his or her own right as well.

  38. And Borges! Why didn’t I think of him before?

  39. Shaul Tchernichovsky, in the top-five famous modern Hebrew poets, at least in Israel, is also famous for his translations. Most well-known are Rumpelstiltskin and Romeo and Juliet, but I’m sure there’s plenty of acclaimed others.

  40. Well, in Russian literature, pick almost any poet starting from the 18th century — all of them at least dabbled in translation. Trediakovsky, Barkov, Lomonosov, Zhukovski, Pushkin, Lermontov… all the way to Pasternak, Akhmatova, Brodsky (who translated Cavafy without knowing any Greek — using подстрочники, word-by-word translations) and more recent poets.

    Yes, but the question is which ones are known for translation. That certainly doesn’t include Pushkin, Lermontov, Akhmatova, or Brodsky. (Well, Brodsky is known for translating himself, but…)

  41. January First-of-May says:

    Well, in Russian literature, pick almost any poet starting from the 18th century — all of them at least dabbled in translation.

    True. However, in most cases, either their translations are fairly obscure (at least, compared to their other works), or they are not recognized as translations (or, of course, both) – “the translations have to be well known to anyone who knows the poet” and “did you know X did translations?” are perfectly compatible if the translations are well known but thought to be original (e.g. Pushkin’s A Feast in Time of Plague, which almost nobody knows is translated from [a section of] a play by John Wilson).

    (It likely also happens sometimes, of course, that the audiences of X the poet and X the translator have little intersection – Nabokov came close [to the extent that he was a poet] – in which case the people who know the poet might not know much about the translations even if those translations are otherwise well known. But that’s beside the point.)

    Boris Zakhoder is an interesting exception – most of his translations probably aren’t very well recognized as such (since he mostly translated children’s poetry in similar style to his original works; IIRC, he did make it clear which works are translated, but most readers likely wouldn’t recall those disclaimers), but of course that only adds to his fame as a poet, and he does have at least one famous translation under his belt that is widely known as a translation (that being Winnie the Pooh – his translation of Alice in Wonderland is somewhat less extremely famous, but I wouldn’t call it obscure either).

    EDIT: I should have remembered Nikolay Zabolotsky, not-really-famous absurdist and modernist poet, and famous translator of The Knight in the Panther’s Skin and “translator” of Tale of Igor’s Campaign.

  42. CuConnacht says:

    Schiller translated Shakespeare; Herder also translated from English.

    Dryden translated the Aeneid.

  43. Willis Barnstone?

    Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop maybe, depending on the rules. That they were translators is a well-known part of their life stories, and not dinner party trivia. But whether those translations are themselves famous is debatable.

    Sir Philip Sidney and Mary Herbert must deserve mention as brother-sister poet-translators.

  44. I almost mentioned Elizabeth Bishop in the post, but then it occurred to me that maybe not everybody was as familiar with her translations as I was.

  45. Shaul Tchernichovsky, in the top-five famous modern Hebrew poets, at least in Israel, is also famous for his translations.

    He should also be famous for that head of hair!

  46. I am not sure how about other languages, but in Russian there are translations and translations. Some are more formal affairs, trying to reach or at least claiming maximum fidelity to the original. Others are works more inspired by the foreign original and the Russian verse strays fairly far away from it. I guess, most Pushkin’s translations are of the second kind and exactly nobody reads them if they are interested in the original text. Lermontov has a couple extremely famous translations of the second kind from Heine and Goethe, but I am not sure how many people know that.

    Brodsky, of course, has a famous translation from Martial 🙂 Probably his (Brodsky’s) most famous verse.

  47. Heine did French-to-German translations (and translated his own works into French) during the quarter century that he lived in Paris. I suspect that his translations probably did not get much traction though. He had quite a bit of trouble getting his work published in his native Germany after he emigrated to France. (Metternich detested him specifically and had Heine added to a pan-German censorship convention, meaning that his works had to be individually approved as free of seditious liberal content before they could be sold in the German Confederation.)
    So I doubt he qualifies, unfortunately.

  48. Nothing to add about Tchernikhovsky, except that my dad, when he was little, once got to ride with him in a fire engine (T. was a doctor by profession.)

    Bialik (paired with Tchernikhovsky, as the two great poets of their era) translated Don Quixote (from an abridged Russian translation).

    Avraham Shlonsky, one of the finest poets of the following generation, was a prolific translator. My first exposure to Shakespeare was his translation of Hamlet (from the French and Russian translations). His translation of Evgeny Onegin is miraculously perfect (Decades later it inspired another wonderful work, Maya Arad’s Another Place, a Foreign Town, an Onegin-like tale in verse set in 1990s Israel, and written in a very distinctly Shlonskyan Hebrew.)

  49. I don’t think that Pale Fire is intentionally a mediocre poem. I love Nabokov’s novels, but he was not a poet. Of course he had the chops, but he didn’t have the fire. I imagine he was proud of Pale Fire the poem as much as he was of the rest of the book.

  50. Stephen Downes says:

    Well, Chaucer and Marlowe were famous as translators in their day, but that was a fair while ago, and they were neither Russian nor American; do they count? Is there anything to be said for Chapman’s Homer?

  51. Metternich detested him specifically and had Heine added to a pan-German censorship convention, meaning that his works had to be individually approved as free of seditious liberal content before they could be sold in the German Confederation.

    Goodness, Heine certainly did have a knack for pissing people off; I wrote about his problems with Count Platen back in 2004.

    Well, Chaucer and Marlowe were famous as translators in their day, but that was a fair while ago, and they were neither Russian nor American; do they count?

    Sure, there are no restrictions by time and place here. Chaucer is an excellent pick; what did Marlowe translate? (I know I could look it up, but I’m feeling lazy.)

  52. OK, Marlowe translated Ovid and Lucan. Live and learn!

  53. David Marjanović says:

    Schiller translated Shakespeare

    I didn’t even know that. The translation that “made Shakespeare a German Classic” was by Schlegel & Tieck. Sein oder nicht sein, das ist hier die Frage.

    Goodness, Heine certainly did have a knack for pissing people off

    Being feared & loathed by Metternich was really not hard to accomplish, though.

  54. @Y: My understanding is that “eö” is an archaic Hungarian spelling of a kind that’s only allowed nowadays in surnames.

  55. Is there anything to be said for Chapman’s Homer?

    Quite a lot, actually. I always sort of vaguely assumed that Chapman was someone Keats knew, but it turns out he was Shakespeare’s contemporary, and the first person to translate Homer directly from Greek, rather that from a Latin translation or even a French translation of a Latin translation. Before Chapman, educated Englishmen barely knew even the plots, never mind anything about Homer’s literary qualities.

    Chapman apparently spent much of his life on the translations, publishing them bit by bit as he got them done, often going back and improving them. Here’s the beginning of the Iliad:

    ACHILLES’ baneful wrath resound, O Goddess, that impos’d
    Infinite sorrows on the Greeks, and many brave souls los’d
    From breasts heroic; sent them far to that invisible cave
    That no light comforts; and their limbs to dogs and vultures gave:
    To all which Jove’s will gave effect; from whom first strife begun
    Betwixt Atrides, king of men, and Thetis’ godlike son.
    What god gave Eris their command, and op’d that fighting vein?
    Jove’s and Latona’s son: who fir’d against the king of men,
    For contumély shown his priest, infectious sickness sent
    To plague the army, and to death by troops the soldiers went.
    Occasion’d thus: Chryses, the priest, came to the fleet to buy,
    For presents of unvalu’d price, his daughter’s liberty;
    The golden sceptre and the crown of Phœbus in his hands
    Proposing; and made suit to all, but most to the commands
    Of both th’ Atrides, who most rul’d. “Great Atreus’ sons,” said he,
    “And all ye well-greav’d Greeks, the gods, whose habitations be
    In heav’nly houses, grace your pow’rs with Priam’s razéd town,
    And grant ye happy conduct home! To win which wish’d renown
    Of Jove, by honouring his son, far-shooting Phœbus, deign
    For these fit presents to dissolve the ransomable chain
    Of my lov’d daughter’s servitude.”

    It’s hard to know where to stop quoting, because of the systematic enjambment. The seven-stress lines aren’t familiar to us any more either, but I think they really work as a substitute for Homer’s hexameters.

    For the Odyssey, Chapman uses more conventional dramatic blank verse, but broken into what are something between stanzas and verse paragraphs, which however can be enjambed with respect to the couplets. Here are the first two:

    THE man, O Muse, inform, that many a way
    Wound with his wisdom to his wished stay;
    That wandered wondrous far, when he the town
    Of sacred Troy had sack’d and shivered down;
    The cities of a world of nations,
    With all their manners, minds, and fashions,
    He saw and knew; at sea felt many woes,
    Much care sustained, to save from overthrows
    Himself and friends in their retreat for home;
    But so their fates he could not overcome,
    Though much he thirsted it. O men unwise,
    They perish’d by their own impieties,
    That in their hunger’s rapine would not shun
    The oxen of the lofty-going Sun,
    Who therefore from their eyes the day bereft
    Of safe return. These acts, in some part left,
    Tell us, as others, deified Seed of Jove.

    Now all the rest that austere death outstrove
    At Troy’s long siege at home safe anchor’d are,
    Free from the malice both of sea and war;
    Only Ulysses is denied access
    To wife and home. The grace of Goddesses,
    The reverend nymph Calypso, did detain
    Him in her caves, past all the race of men
    Enflam’d to make him her lov’d lord and spouse.
    And when the Gods had destin’d that his house,
    Which Ithaca on her rough bosom bears,
    (The point of time wrought out by ambient years)
    Should be his haven, Contention still extends
    Her envy to him, even amongst his friends.
    All Gods took pity on him; only he,
    That girds earth in the cincture of the sea,
    Divine Ulysses ever did envy,
    And made the fix’d port of his birth to fly.

    In short, Chapman leaves out things that Homer has put in, and sometimes adds things that aren’t in Homer at all. Accuracy isn’t what he’s about, any more than Urquhart’s treatment of Rabelais. But he certainly is “loud and bold”, or as Blake said, “Exuberance is Beauty.” Keats, of course, knew what beauty was.

    (Full texts are readily available online; search for “Chapman’s Iliad” and “Chapman’s Odyssey” so you don’t get swamped by hits for Keats.)

  56. David Marjanović says:

    Chapman’s rhymes, BTW, are probably all exact.

  57. On the whole, my impression is that those who are famous for their translations are so because they’re not famous for their poetry, and for those who are famous for their poetry, that fame very much overshadows their work on translations.
    Maybe it’s also that I put the bar of fame relatively high – a lot of the writers hatters mentioned in this thread may be fine poets, but I wouldn’t call them famous; would the average educated man in the street even have heard of them, not to mention know their works?
    Anyways, as an illustration, Schlegel & Tieck (mentioned by DM) really are famous for their translations of Shakespeare, and although Tieck was a well-known writer in his time, but I wouldn’t say that he’s famous for his non-translational works today. On the other hand, e.g. Brecht translated Kipling and Chinese poets, but that’s certainly not what he’s famous for.

  58. J.W. Brewer says:

    I wouldn’t say that Chapman is well-known for his non-translation poetry. The original Quiller-Couch Oxford Book of English Verse gives him exactly one selection. I don’t think I’ve ever read it before, and I can’t say it’s so amazingly good as to make it mysterious why it hasn’t made it into other standard anthologies of the relevant period.

    Bridal Song

    O COME, soft rest of cares! come, Night!
    Come, naked Virtue’s only tire,
    The reaped harvest of the light
    Bound up in sheaves of sacred fire.
    Love calls to war:
    Sighs his alarms,
    Lips his swords are,
    The field his arms.

    Come, Night, and lay thy velvet hand
    On glorious Day’s outfacing face;
    And all thy crowned flames command
    For torches to our nuptial grace.
    Love calls to war:
    Sighs his alarms,
    Lips his swords are,
    The field his arms.

  59. Stephen Downes says:

    Since this topic seems to be drifting towards good translators whose reputation as original poets is slight: how about Fitzgerald’s Rubiayat?

    Or Johnson’s imitations of Juvenal: ‘London’ and ‘The vanity of human wishes’? Hell, if Pound counts as a translator, Johnson should too. Fine couplets in both:

    Here falling houses tumble on your head,
    And there a female atheist talks you dead.

    and

    Mark now what ills the scholar’s life assail,
    Toil, Envy, Want, the Patron and the Jail.

    I have a small weakness for Richard Stanyhurst, 1547-1610, Anglo-Irish translator of Virgil, historian, very minor poet indeed, but well-regarded alchemist. I quote from his hexametric version of Aeneid book 4, the bit that corresponds to Berlioz’s Royal Hunt and Storm in ‘Les Troyens’: modernising the spelling is left as an exercise for the reader. I suspect “bullelo” is a Gaelic word. Read it aloud:

    “Thee whilst in the skye seat great bouncing rumbelo thundring
    Ratleth: downe powring too sleete thick hayle knob is added.
    Thee Tyrian feloship with yoouthful Troian asemblye
    And Venus hautye nephew doo run too sundrye set houses.
    Hudge fluds lowdlye freaming from mountayns loftye be trowlling,
    Dido and thee Troian captayne doo iumble in one den.
    Then the earth crau’s the banes, theare too watrye Iuno, the chaplay∣ne,
    Seams vp thee bedmatch, the fyre and ayre testifie wedlock.
    And Nymphs in mountayns high typ doe squeak, bullelo, yearning.
    That day cros and dismal was cause of mischief al after,
    And bane of her killing; her fame for sleight she regarded.
    No more dooth she laboure too mask her Phansye with hudwinck,
    With thee name of wedlock her carnal leacherye cloaking,
    Straight through towns Lybical this fame with an infamye rangeth.”

  60. One person more famous as a poet than as a translator: the French poet Leconte de Lisle, who, I recently learned, translated a number of Latin and Greek works, including both the ILIAD and the ODYSSEY: Here is his translation of Chant I of the ILIAD (Which is much easier reading than Paul Mazon’s translation, which was the version I used when teaching myself some Ancient Greek in my misspent youth):

    https://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/Iliade/Rhapsodie_I

  61. I learn from Google Books that “Bullelo” is a common OCR error for Buffalo.

  62. Stephen Downes says:

    But why would a sixteenth-century Anglo-Irish author use “Buffalo” as a cry given by Carthaginian nymphs on the mountain tops lamenting a seduction of (or maybe by) the Queen of Carthage? Where was the nearest buffalo from Carthage, Rome (Virgil’s city) or Dublin (Stanyhurst’s)? Must speak to someone who knows more Elizabethan Irish than I do (not difficult). And if it’s Irish, why would S expect “Bullalo” to be understood by English readers? Maybe they had some knowledge of Irish: quite a few words passed into English during the interminable Tudor Irish wars (bog and whiskey being the most prominent). S earlier uses ‘coshering’ which is straight Anglo-Irish.

    Query: is this a very early version of “hullaballoo”, a lot of loud noise, especially made by people who are annoyed or excited about something. OED gives its earliest reported use as 1762 but doubts that it is an importation from India.

  63. @David Marjanović: I agree with you about Metternich. One thing that is particularly odd about Heine’s case is that his younger brother Gustav, despite being a Düsseldorf-born Jew, was ennobled in Austria in 1870. Gustav Heine von Geldern was an Austrian army officer and later an intensely pro-government publisher, although the publishing era of his career came mostly after Metternich’s 1848 fall. I suspect that like Heinrich, Gustav probably converted to Christianity at some point for professional reasons (for Heinrich, conversion to Lutheranism was part of his effort to obtain a university post in Germany, before he was permanently blackballed), although I cannot find any confirmation one way or the other.

  64. Three more names before this thread dies: Roy Campbell, Norman Cameron, Christopher Middleton. Probably only Campbell would meet the criterion of translations forming a substantial part of his work.

    And interesting how few women have been mentioned here. (I plead as guilty as anyone.) Only Bishop and, more contestably, Akhmatova. A few women on the edges of the modern canon (H.D., Marianne Moore) did translations but I’ve no idea if they’re still read. Apart from that, contemporary poets such as Anne Carson, Elaine Feinstein, Marilyn Hacker, none of whom are household names yet.

  65. But why would a sixteenth-century Anglo-Irish author use “Buffalo” as a cry

    You’re probably joking/riffing, but it’s so hard to tell, and just to be clear: that wasn’t a suggested solution, just a complaint about Google Books not being very helpful.

    more contestably, Akhmatova

    Contestably indeed — did she translate anything? None of my Akhmatova collections has a section of translations, and offhand I can’t think of any.

    Apart from that, contemporary poets such as Anne Carson, Elaine Feinstein, Marilyn Hacker, none of whom are household names yet.

    Carson is surely one of the most famous living poets, and I’d say she qualifies. And that reminds me of someone else I should have thought of: Christopher Logue, who I love and have posted about.

  66. J.W. Brewer says:

    “Bulello” sounds superficially closer to “ballyhoo” than to “hullabaloo,” doesn’t it? The etymology of “ballyhoo” is apparently disputed/conjectural, but there is an Irish-origin theory. Although unfortunately that conjecture just relies on the name of a village in Co. Cork that may (conjecturally? speculatively? I dunno) have had a reputation as a proverbially boisterous or rambunctious place, but whose name etymologically in Gaelic meant something very non-noisy like “ford of the apple trees.”

  67. Well, it’s better than the theory which detects the name of Allah in ballyhoo.

    Where was the nearest buffalo from Carthage, Rome (Virgil’s city) or Dublin (Stanyhurst’s)?

    Water buffalo have been in Italy and the Balkans at least since early mediaeval times, and possibly actually arrived in Italy with the Etruscans. For what it’s worth, bullelo makes me think of “Lillibu(r)lero”, the song that drove James II out of the three kingdoms.

  68. January First-of-May says:

    On the whole, my impression is that those who are famous for their translations are so because they’re not famous for their poetry, and for those who are famous for their poetry, that fame very much overshadows their work on translations.
    Maybe it’s also that I put the bar of fame relatively high – a lot of the writers hatters mentioned in this thread may be fine poets, but I wouldn’t call them famous; would the average educated man in the street even have heard of them, not to mention know their works?

    I highly suspect that the average educated man on the (Russian) street would still have heard of Boris Zakhoder both as a poet (though they might not perhaps use that term) and as a translator, due to being pounded with his works for much of their childhood.
    (I’m not sure to what extent this is still true for Marshak, Mikhalkov, Chukovsky, and the other children’s poets who aren’t much known for translation outside the genre of children’s poetry. Zakhoder is lucky in that his translations are (also) in prose, and at least one of them is even more famous than any of his poems.)

    Nabokov, as I’ve already mentioned, is a tricky case, in that his audience as a “poet” (to the extent, again, that he even counts as one) is mostly English-speaking and older, while his audience as a translator is mostly Russian-speaking and younger.
    This means that most people would probably not recognize him as both a “poet” and a translator (and even if familiar with both, might be uncertain that the names refer to the same person), but both are fairly likely to be known individually.

  69. LH: did [Akhmatova] translate anything?

    I mentioned her only because she was cited way up the thread as one of the many Russian poets who turned their hand to translation at some point. Google reveals that she translated from Ukrainian, Czech and Polish poets (including Słowacki, Tuwim, Szymborska) and, perhaps more surprisingly, from the Korean of Yun Son-do. I don’t know how much Korean she could read herself. She seems to have done most of these translations late in her life, when there was still little possibility of her original work being published in her homeland.

  70. @January: I’d say that Zakhoder is one of the few cases of someone being really famous for both their poems and their translations. To me, Nabokov is foremost a famous writer; this may be different for Russians – although the few Russians I have discussed him with still mostly associated him with “Lolita”.

  71. Trond Engen says:

    I’m trying to think of great Norwegian translators of poetry who a/were not also great poets in their own right. It may be relevant that Norwegian uses the term gjendikting, literally “re-poetry”, specifically for translation of poetry. The common view seems tp be that you need to be a poet of comparable skills to do justice to the original beyond the mere technical translation.

  72. Sorry, buffalo fans, I looked up the PDF of the book from archive.org, and it’s the much less intriguing “hullelo”, which I assume is just either an outcry onomatopoiea like “halloo” or the translator’s spin on the Latin “ululate” or both … so a scanning error was involved after all

  73. Whew — I’m glad that at least has been resolved!

  74. TE Lawrence was both a poet and a translator (of Homer) though he’s not primarily famous for either… McDiarmid also had a nasty habit of translating other people’s work into English and then passing it off as his own, which isn’t really done.

  75. Robert Z says:

    Two others come to mind: Sam Hamill and Rosmarie Waldrop.

  76. Bathrobe says:

    Although Natsume Sōseki (1867–1916) enjoys worldwide fame as a novelist, his work as a first-class kanshi 漢詩 (classical Chinese poetry) poet remains largely unknown to Western audiences. The Pursuit of the Dao: Natsume Sōseki and his Kanshi of 1916

    And a point that has been made here before:

    For many modern Japanese literary scholars, works in Chinese by Japanese writers are not considered Japanese literature and therefore do not warrant serious academic attention.This bias has resulted in the unfortunate neglect of kanshibun 漢詩文 (classical Chinese poetry and prose) studies in Japan and, even more, in the West.

  77. Yes, that’s a sad state of affairs, and I don’t know what can be done about it. Maybe someday there will be a revival because The Kids will decide it’s cool…

  78. Toil, Envy, Want, the Patron and the Jail.

    The first edition read garret instead of patron; Johnson changed it for republication after his logomachy with Lord Chesterfield.

    Louis Untermeyer translated the Threepenny Opera. I had at one time a recording of it being performed in his translation.

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