A Teeming World of Translators.

Mridula Nath Chakraborty of Monash University writes for The Conversation about the lately vexed issue of translation, taking off from the unfortunate situation of Marieke Lucas Rijneveld feeling obliged to withdraw as translator of Amanda Gorman’s forthcoming collection because of controversies around cultural appropriation:

Usually invisible and taken-for-granted, acts of translation take place around us all the time. But in the field of literary translation, questions of authorial voice and speaking position matter. […]

The task of literary translation entails grappling with profound difference, in terms of language, imagination, context, traditions, worldviews.

None of this would enter our quotidian consciousness but for the translators who step into uncharted waters because they have fallen in love with another tongue, another world.

Her essay will be annoying to people who do not thrill to terms like “resistance,” “domination,” and “post-colonial sensitivity,” but, as Bathrobe (who sent me the link) says, some of the links are interesting: “Familiar topics like the Graeco-Arabic translation movement, the Indo-Persian translation movement, the deliberate mistranslation of the Treaty of Waitangi, to name just a couple.” And I like the conclusion:

The act and the art of translation requires the permission to transcend borders, the permission to make mistakes, and the permission to be repeated, by anyone who feels the tempestuous tug, and the clarion call, of the unfamiliar.

To rein in such liberty through categories and compartments that imprison our creativity is a disservice to the human imagination.

So let a thousand translations bloom: that would be a start and not an end to translation as we know it now.


  1. Kári Tulinius says

    What’s so bizarre about this article, and this has been a feature of most English-language articles about this subject, is that they completely ignore the actual complaint which was made in the first place. The original article by Janice Deul which sparked this particular wildfire, was making the point that in the Netherlands black translators don’t get high profile opportunities, that they are offered to white translators. The main point isn’t who *gets* to translate, but who *gets paid* to translate.

    Amanda Gorman’s book isn’t the only example of this, but it was the last straw.

  2. The theoretical point is, of course, valid, but in this particular case, as the article says, “Gorman selected Rijneveld herself.” It seems a particularly poor choice of last straw.

  3. And I deprecate the entire idea that only people of ethnicity X should be allowed (or, if you prefer, paid) to translate writing by people of ethnicity X.

  4. J.W. Brewer says

    Any number of people can try their hand at translating Emily Dickinson or Osip Mandelstam into Dutch. But since the English originals of Gorman’s poetry are protected by copyright in the Netherlands, there’s only going to be one translator (both “allowed” and “paid”), who will be selected by whoever controls the rights subject to whatever business and public-relations considerations they feel are more important than mere literary concerns.

    One problem with this approach is that it rapidly becomes impractical if you want to translate Gorman into a language (Japanese, Estonian, Farsi …) where there may not be a pool of plausible candidates of the skin color you seek. Maybe there are just enough competent to translate into Catalan, although perhaps that remains to be seen. I wonder if the fact that *some* degree of fluency in English is now so ubiquitous in the historically non-Anglophone parts of Europe that virtually anyone who fancies themselves a literary sort of writer in the local language is assumed competent to translate literature from English into that language?

  5. David Marjanović says

    I don’t know about literature, but popularizing science books are routinely translated by people who don’t even know what freshwater is.

  6. David Eddyshaw says

    If you have to choose your brain surgeon given no more information than their gender, you should go for the woman every time. She’ll have had (on average) to have been that much better to get there in the first place.

    Whether this principle generalises to poetry translation and ethnicity, I cannot say.

    This is, of course, in no way an argument for matching ethnicity. That whole set of concepts is essentially anti-human, even if deployed by the well-meaning. Nobody has the right to tell people to stay in their own lane.

  7. Here’s a nuanced look at the affair (by Haidee Kotze, a white Dutch professor of translation studies). I have to say I lean toward the cynical view of it: Gorman becomes instantly famous; eight publishers vie for an exclusive contract; the winning representative picks a likewise recently famous young author to translate the book, but miscalculates; or maybe the publicity will pay off anyhow. The story seems to me less about race relations, more about commercial enterprises maximizing profits on the backs of young artists.
    That said, if Gorman hasn’t come out to say something about this, after appearing on record as having chosen Rijneveld, she’s doing a fellow artist a disservice.

  8. J.W. Brewer says

    I will say that if your prior experience involved translating Shakespeare and Wilde into Catalan and you were well-reviewed for doing so, you might not have been a good fit for this assignment, given the radical differences in style, register, and sensibility presented by Ms. Gorman’s work. Some might call her style pedestrian and artless, but if you were being polite you might applaud it for its refreshing absence of formal literary artifice. In any event, the skill set needed to figure out how to render a more artifice-heavy text into a new language will not be needed and may well be an impediment in figuring out the right register to use in the target language.

  9. BTW, says curmudgeon me, inaugural poems and the like are tedious bags of clichés, and The Hill We Climb is no exception. If it inspires someone, great. Me, it makes me wince.

  10. <b<J.W. Brewer: Any number of people can try their hand at translating Emily Dickinson or Osip Mandelstam into Dutch.

    You’d better not go translating Emily Dickinson into Dutch without getting clearance from Harvard University Press.

    Copyright Questions and Dickinson’s Work
    Who Gets Emily Dickinson?

  11. @Y: I think he poetry is pretty good, although it’s not genius by any means. What it does do is put the lie to the claim—which I heard reiterated over and over by my middle school and high school English teachers—that every word in a poem is important and carefully chosen (not to say that there weren’t already plenty of examples showing that that assertion was obviously false).

  12. “…braved the belly of the beast”, “And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us”, “every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country”… etc. It’s the stuff of inaugural addresses, which this kind of is, in poetry form. I’d like to read for comparison something she’d written without this constraint, but haven’t found anything.

    BTW, for comparison, Angelou’s On the Pulse of Morning, read at Clinton’s inauguration, says a lot more in fewer words. It suffers from some clichés too, but they are few and are at the scale of ideas, not phrases.

  13. “Angelou’s On the Pulse of Morning, read at Clinton’s inauguration . . . suffers from some clichés too, but they are few and are at the scale of ideas, not phrases.” (Y)

    Right before the couplet that rhymes Sheikh with Greek comes the couplet that declares,

    “So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew,
    The African and Native American, the Sioux.”

    And my student who grew up on a South Dakota reservation snorted, “We don’t even say ‘Sioux.'” Sandburg, thou shouldst have been living at that hour.

    Or if not Sandburg, then he of whom Dorothy Parker sang,

    “I’d rather flunk my Wassermann test
    Than read a poem by Eddie Guest.”

  14. hmm, hmm. If we’re going to bend over backwards to be culturally sensitive to today’s disempowered; we’d better be prepared to bend over backwards to each translator’s cultural/historical context.

    the deliberate mistranslation of the Treaty of Waitangi,

    “The [NZ Anglican] missionaries had become convinced in the two to three years before 1840 that a regularisation of English intrusion into the country would be much preferable to the haphazard influx of settlers and transients that was proving increasingly detrimental to Maori welfare.” [From the JPS article linked by The Conversation]

    This was a legitimate concern for the welfare of Maori compared to the treatment of the Aboriginals in Australia. There was every likelihood NZ’s settlers/transients/carpet-baggers were to be governed (or rather, not) by the same hands-off approach as releasing Aus convicts into the hinterland.

    Yes The Crown was cynical in its interpretation of the Treaty — whether it had been translated accurately I think was neither here nor there. In general The Crown did treat Maori more respectfully and less brutally than the Aboriginals. Note that “two to three years” coincided with the effective abolition of slavery in the Empire.

    And Rev Henry Williams’ translation did bring justice of a sort/much delayed. The Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975, with subsequent amendments, bases its compensations/restitutions on interpreting the Maori text.

  15. “The translation of the Treaty of Waitangi is a salient example of the role that translation can play in constructing societies, cultures and ideologies by conveying a completely different discourse. ” [JPS article’s conclusion]

    errm baloney. Translators/translations are not that powerful. It was the actions by The Crown and Maori adaptation/resistance that constructed NZ society. And of course sheer force of economics and the tyranny of distance.

  16. David Eddyshaw says


    Thanks for the link. Very illuminating. It should (in retrospect) have occurred to me that I was seeing commentary deliberately distorted by right-wing stirrers of factitious culture wars. It’s not as if these people don’t have form …

    Rijneveld has acted with notable integrity in this, I notice.

  17. The Kotze article is very persuasive, and persuasively argued.

    The publishers chose (what they perceived as) the most commercially marketable translator, ignoring the very significance, symbolism, and spirit of the work they had bought the rights to — which, to use a rather hackneyed expression, was about giving the underprivileged a “place in the sun” that they have traditionally been denied. In choosing Rijneveld the publishers failed to do the same for their Dutch translation.

  18. A translator’s organization I belong to has collected almost a hundred articles about the case to date, and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling a little burnt out. I guess when it rains translator visibility, it pours! I would point out though that Gorman did not personally choose Rijneveld (the choice was simply approved by her team). Rijneveld doesn’t have any experience with translation, doesn’t have good English, and doesn’t even have any stylistic affinities with Gorman. It was an unimaginative marketing decision to link together two young famous names, and had no more to do with the best interest of the translation than the panicked but equally unimaginative marketing decisions that followed.

    I agree with Kotz: Deul was saying something important that got lost in the outrage shuffle because few people know how the publishing industry works, let alone the corner of it devoted to translations. It’s easy to defend a non-existent meritocracy.

  19. (Ugh, sorry for all the typos! I definitely need a second cup of coffee.)

  20. PlasticPaddy says

    Gorman seems to be a performance poet. So an “inaugural” poem is the chosen form for a poem to be performed at an inauguration. Here is an excerpt from In This Place (An American Lyric)
    Tyrants fear the poet.
    Now that we know it
    we can’t blow it.
    We owe it
    to show it
    not slow it
    although it
    hurts to sew it
    when the world
    skirts below it.
    Maybe the rest of the poem has an “inaugural” or “graduation” feel, but this bit is more lyrical/rap.

  21. BTW, says curmudgeon me, inaugural poems and the like are tedious bags of clichés, and The Hill We Climb is no exception. If it inspires someone, great. Me, it makes me wince.

    This was my reaction as well, but I am not an aficionado of “spoken-word poetry” or whatever it is the cool kids are doing these days.

    @Y: Thanks for the link. Very illuminating.

    I agree, a very useful read.

    What it does do is put the lie to the claim—which I heard reiterated over and over by my middle school and high school English teachers—that every word in a poem is important and carefully chosen (not to say that there weren’t already plenty of examples showing that that assertion was obviously false).

    Huh? That makes no sense to me. The claim is not that every word in a poem is important and carefully chosen, it’s that every word in a poem should be important and carefully chosen if the poem is to be a good one. I agree with this. What a poem that is full of poorly chosen words and clunky lines shows is not that the criterion is a lie but that the poem is not a good poem.

  22. Also, I object strongly to the fact that, as J.W. Brewer says, there’s only going to be one translator. It’s appalling to me that no matter how lousy a translation is (and I could point to a number of examples here), it’s all people will be allowed to read for decades. How does it hurt the copyright owner of the original if there are competing translations?

  23. PlasticPaddy says

    I thought the rule is that anyone can publish an “alternate” translation, but that there were some constraints, due to
    timing, i.e., not before the “official” translation is published
    royalties payable to the copyright holder AND to the translation rights holder
    permission obtainable from the copyright holder AND from the translation rights holder
    But JC would know better.

  24. I was told when I plumped for a new translation of Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate (“the existing translation [has] enough omissions and mistranslations that it’s high time another one appeared”) that this was impossible. I would be delighted to learn otherwise.

  25. No one can publish a derivative work without proper authorization, but the question of who has the right to grant that authorization depends entirely on previous contracts. When the author has remained in possession of the international rights, then she’s the one who decides, but when she’s transferred those rights as part of her original publishing contract, that usually means she’s relinquished any say in the matter. And the original publisher’s interest in the international versions tends to end once they’ve sold the international rights and pocketed the cash: they usually pay no attention to the choice of translator, nor are they usually qualified to say much about it. In this case, Gorman clearly reserved the right to ok the translators, but that’s not something easily within the reach of most young authors. And it would have been very strange for the Dutch publisher to accept a contract that left room for other people in their market to publish alternative translations, at least not for the period of the contract. That’s what they’ve paid for, after all: the right to be the only ones allowed to publish the book in Dutch translation for the time being.

    When you find multiple translations of the same recent poem floating around, it’s generally because people haven’t bothered to obtain permission, or because the author never transferred the international rights to the original publisher (not uncommon, since poetry is not a big money-maker). Or because the original publisher hasn’t sold those rights, has little hope of selling them unless the author becomes more visible abroad, and is thus happy to authorize the translation of individual poems for journals and anthologies and so on.

  26. If the publisher fails to provide high quality in their translatory product, there is no chortage of competing brands of poetry.

  27. J.W. Brewer says

    Obviously whoever controls the rights can allow for multiple translations (or different translators working on different works by the original author) if they choose and think that letting-a-thousand-flowers bloom will under the circumstances maximize their revenues. The classic New Directions facing-page edition of selected poems of Lorca, for example, has English versions from a bunch of different translators (although I don’t think it has multiple English versions of any single Spanish original), and I assume the legalities of that were adequately sorted out.

    FWIW, here’s the wiki bio (not available in any other languages) of what must be the most successful (in terms of sales) translator-into-Dutch currently alive, viz. the fellow who got hired to do the Harry Potter books. When he got that gig it was already 20 years after the beginning of his career — he did the Dutch version of Clockwork Orange when he was in his early ’20’s. But I have no sense if he was in any sense a celebrity at least before the Harry Potter thing, versus an obscure guy that was on the radar screen of certain Dutch publishers who might have work for him.


  28. cuchuflete says

    @Biscia wrote:

    “I agree with Kotz: Deul was saying something important that got lost in the outrage shuffle because few people know how the publishing industry works, let alone the corner of it devoted to translations. It’s easy to defend a non-existent meritocracy.”

    That’s true. I’m not sure what to think of Kotze’s notion that the issue is neither “may” nor “can”, but some broader and more important social matter. Yes, the social issue is there for anyone who opens their eyes. What is less clear is who has the moral right to require the publishing industry to address it, and whether that industry has the competence to do so usefully.

    What, for example, whould the publishing folk have done—In a more ideal world—with Clarice Lispector’s The Apple in the Dark? Would or should they have sought an American woman, Ukranian born and raised in the U.S., Jewish, a housewife, etc., to translate the novel? Gregory Rabassa, son of Cuban immigrants, likely of Catalan heritage, raised in rural New Hampshire, did a superb job of translating Brazilian Portuguese to American English. But did this help Kotze’s desire to ‘enlarge the table’? Obviously not, but we have a fine translation for consolation.

  29. John Emerson says

    The question of treaty translation (mentioned above in a NZ context) is rather peripheral here, but throughout Chinese history the Chinese versions of treaties with border peoples systematically agreed to more complete submission than the version translated into the border people’s language did.

    In one case the Jurchen representative was literate in Chinese, and demanded that the Chinese version of a treaty be amended to agree with the Jurchen version, which was much more favorable to the Jurchen cause.

  30. David Marjanović says

    refreshing absence of formal literary artifice

    All I know is the inaugural poem, and that has a complex interlocking rhyme scheme that reminds me of rap. I was rather impressed.

  31. @cuchuflete: I don’t know a single translator who thinks it’s a good idea to try to somehow match up author/translator identity categories. And the idea of “requiring the publishing industry to address” this or any issue will get grim chuckles from a lot of people who have to struggle with their publishers just to get paid! But I do think it would be nice if the whole kerfluffle ends up calling public attention to a few things: for instance, that a poet with no translation experience is not necessarily the best person to translate a poem, or that even a translator with experience translating Shakespeare is not necessarily the best person to translate a completely different kind of poetry (especially if that poetry deals with racial politics in the US and the translator is the kind of person who makes angry comments about putting tar on his face, as Obiols unfortunately did). And within the translation community, I’m glad it’s led to dialogue about why the literary translation world is so very white in a country like the US, which has no lack of heritage speakers. Here in Italy, where there’s an enormous gender imbalance among translators, I also notice how 80% of my colleagues in the audience at any given fair or conference are female, but somehow the proportion of men on the panel rises with the prestige of the subject.

    I think the biggest thing that publishers could do to foster diversity is to pay literary translators enough to live on. Until that happens, translators can foster diversity by mentoring, by passing on jobs they don’t need, and by turning down jobs when they think someone else would be a better fit – for whatever reason. It’s the sort of thing that happens already, but it needs to happen more, and it can’t hurt for people to be more aware of that.

  32. Biscia: Thanks for your well-informed and encouraging comments.

  33. I wasn’t aware that so much had been written on this outside The Netherlands. Kotze’s article is really helpful and I like that she references Johan Fretz’ piece, whose beautiful book on his Surinamese heritage I just finished.

    @JW Brewer: the Harry Potter translator is not known at all here. His father was a relatively famous poet, however.

  34. The way I think about it, The reading of the poem had more performative significance than just conveying its artistic content. It was a performance that said, a young African American Woman is given top billing to describe the state of the nation in her own words and in her own style. When people buy the book, they are participating in that performance as an approving audience.

    A translation of such a book should aim to reproduce that performance, however imperfectly, among a foreign audience. The act of translation becomes part of the performance, and if people buy the translated book, that performance will be amplified if the translator is perceived as one sharing the experiences and the voice being applauded. In that way, this translation is quite different than one simply meant to convey a text to another language.

    I don’t think that was Janice Deul’s point, but it makes me sympathetic to the idea of choosing a translator for their identity, in this case.

    Incidentally, I was thinking, there are a lot of Surinamese and of Africans in the Netherlands; their experience has similarities but is not the same as that of African-Americans. Which African-Americans know Dutch? Of course, Melvin Van Peebles! Before he invented the blaxploitation genre, he was living in Amsterdam, working on his astronomy Ph.D. That was when he added the “Van” to his name. But then he and his wife divorced, and he somehow had to go to the states and the rest was history. I seem to remember he’d learned Dutch somewhere even before he went to Amsterdam.

  35. I take quite a different message from the controversy over the Gorman translations. The general public care about those artists that are considered central to the work, not the statists in the background. In the world of books, usually it’s the author that’s the lead, and the translator is a statist, together with countless other people involved in making a book. When people critizise the translator, it’s because the translator, for however short time, has moved from a statist to at least a supporting character, if not a lead character. And as for the impact on translations? Authors get discussed all the time and their background and personal life is endlessly debated, yet there is no shortage of authors writing books. Just look at Karl Ove Knausgård. Perhaps we need more controveries over translations, not less. For my part, I think the impact will be short-lived. The debate will end and the translator will go back to being a statist. Until the next controvery, of course.

  36. In the world of books, usually it’s the author that’s the lead, and the translator is a statist, together with countless other people involved in making a book

    Vut it is poetry. Do people read poetry without caring whose translation it is?

  37. languagehat: The claim is not that every word in a poem is important and carefully chosen, it’s that every word in a poem should be important and carefully chosen if the poem is to be a good one. I agree with this. What a poem that is full of poorly chosen words and clunky lines shows is not that the criterion is a lie but that the poem is not a good poem.

    You would think that should have been the claim espoused by a reasonable English teacher. However, the actual statement (made repeatedly, by multiple teachers) about each word being chosen and meaningful was not phrased as aspirational but factual. Maybe it was standardized (and horrendously inapt; who would take English language advice from anyone who came up with such wording?) phraseology from some state education standards or uniform lesson plans. However, at least one teacher, when I pressed him on the point, rather than repudiating the clunky and inaccurate wording, immediately plunged into sophistry.

    In any case, I actually think even the weaker version of the claim—about good or great poetry—is wrong and misleading. There are plenty of excellent poems that include hastily or sloppily chosen words. For example, the last stanza of “The Charge of the Light Brigade” is nothing special:

    When can their glory fade?
    O the wild charge they made!
    All the world wondered.
    Honour the charge they made!
    Honour the Light Brigade,
    Noble six hundred!

    Yet this is not enough to keep “The Charge of the Light Brigade” from being a great poem.

    Of course, ideally, any poem would have every word chosen for maximum impact, but at that level of abstraction, the same could be said for works of prose. The absolute best writing will have every element carefully chosen for best effect.

    @drasvi: Yes.

  38. Strugatskys (in Lame Fate I believe) wrote that the secret of good writing is not choosing the best words, but not choosing obviously wrong ones. They didn’t mean poetry though. In good poetry at least some words are absolutely irreplaceable and the rest should help, but probably can be changed to no detriment. We know this for sure because some verses do exist in several variants. (I cannot help, but quote inimitable KP: “Когда в толпе ты встретишь человека,//Который наг* … (*Вариант: «На коем фрак». Примечание К. Пруткова.)
    EDIT: Sorry, forgot to translate: When in a crowd you can see a person//Completely nude* (*Variant: “Who wears suit.” Footnote by Kozma Prutkov)

  39. @Brett, how you reconcile this with a concept of inspiration, Surrealist automatic writing and this passage (from a link in Wikipedia):

    In his biography of Yeats, Richard Ellmann remarks that “Had Yeats died instead of marrying in 1917, he would have been remembered as a remarkable minor poet who achieved a diction more powerful than that of his contemporaries but who, except in a handful of poems, did not have much to say with it” (Ellmann 223). Yet with his marriage to Georgie Hyde-Lees on October 21st, 1917, a vast frontier of possibility opened before Yeats, and through the automatic writing of his wife, he felt “wisdom at last within his reach” (Ellmann 224).

    It is not that the idea is wrong, but “carefully chosen” maybe not very carefully chosen.
    And if you say instead “not random” we then dive into the philosophy of what is “random” (I for one thing believe that “free will” in the light of determinism is a randomizer) 🙂

    And then “important”. Let us divide words in two sets: “important words” and “unimoportant” ones.

    Can a poet then play with the border between these two classes exactly as a means of artistic expression? Insert a random word that makes the poem more expressive exactly because it is a random unimortant word amidst an important passage?

    A widely practiced example of this technique is improvisatory parts in songs (cf. scat singing and its analogues in all maybe all musical traditions in the world).

    Then a poet can add an improvisatory part to her poem, and if other readers and performers repeat it sound-by sound after the poet because the original version is “authentic”, she can say they are missing the point, that her sounds do not matter, or if they do, it is only so because they are performed by her in Tuesday mornign, that you will be better able to appreciate the beauty of her piece if you improvise this part on your own.
    Or, at least, that substituting her gibberish with yours is fine.

  40. Yes.

    My question was ambigous. You can, of course, enjoy a poem without kniowing the author and translator.

    But it just never occurs to me!

    In Russia at least, you hear people discussing translators so often, you see so many collections by different translators, with their names written before or after each poem in an in “contents”, with multiple versions of the same poem to compare, and the differences between those versions are so profound that you learn to classify poems that you read by translators very early.

    I thought it is universal for poetry, but maybe publishing traditions in other countries are different.

    Soviet editions of sci-fi short stories (and I think collections of short stories by the same author or by different authors were more common in USSR) also have names of translators shown in contents. But I only learned to remember them in the age of 9 or 10, maybe, when I discovered that all the stroies that I love the most are translated by the same woman.

    By comparison, not knowing translators of poetry would be hard.

  41. January First-of-May says

    and the differences between those versions are so profound that you learn to classify poems that you read by translators very early

    Not just poems. Several famous foreign stories received multiple well-known translations in Russia; most notably Alice in Wonderland (and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass) and Hobbit, or There and Back Again (and its sequel Lord of the Rings).

    I’ve actually encountered several cases where a prose work with occasional inserted poems (such as any of the four texts mentioned above) had two translators in the same edition – one for the prose and one for the poems. IIRC there were even a few cases where the poems were translated by multiple people within (the same edition of) the same work.

  42. January First-of-May, yes, I wanted to cite Alice in Wonderland as an exmaple of a work whose translations you could discuss with me when I was a small child.

    And not because I was such a nerd, God forbid:)

    had two translators in the same edition – one for the prose and one for the poems. .

    Yes, the Soviet Hobbit — "with Leonov" as my freind calls this edition (the hobbit, Leonov, I do not know if Leonov was actually meant:)) is Rakhmanova , Far Over The Misty Mountains Cold (за синие горы за белый туман) is Komarova. But here my reason to remember them is more nerdy (and not even Tolien-fan–nerdy).

    Н. Рахманова — Стихи в переводе И. Комаровой, Г. Усовой
    З. Бобырь — Стихи в переводе С. Уманского
    А. Грузберг — Стихи в переводе В. Гаврилова, Е. Гавриловой
    К. Королёв — Стихи в переводе В. Тихомирова
    Н. Прохорова — Стихи в переводе М. Виноградовой
    В. Баканов, Е. Доброхотова-Майкова — Стихи в переводе Г. Кружкова
    В. А. М. = В. Маторина — Стихи в её же переводе
    С. Степанов, М. Каменкович — Стихи в их же переводе
    И. Тогоева — Стихи в её же переводе
    Л. Яхнин — Сокращённый пересказ, стихи в его же переводе

    В сети также доступны переводы Алексея Щурова и Александра Конаныхина

    Перевод Н. Рахмановой сильно сокращён, местами это скорее пересказ

    I did not know that Kruzhkov translated it! The poems form the Hobbit.
    I first learned about him as the translatior of Yeats (though I do have a copy of The Hunting of Snark – but I did not like his version and thus I did not remember the author:)).

  43. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    Unlike in Russia, I’m pretty sure awareness of translators is generally very low in Italy. I bet it’s low among readers of poetry too.

    The best selling volumes of translated poetry on Amazon.it are the following (with ranks including untranslated poetry).

    #1, 2 and 11: Rupi Kaur translated by Alessandro Storti.
    #6: Charles Baudelaire in the original French and translated by Claudio Rendina.
    #7: William Shakespeare translated by Maria Antonietta Ramelli.
    #9: Gaius Valerius Catullus translated by Mario Ramous.
    #13: Publius Ovidius Naso in the original Latin and translated by Piero Bernardini Marzolla.
    #14. Edgar Lee Masters in the original English and translated by Fernanda Pivano.
    #17. Amanda Gorman translated by Francesca Spinelli.
    #20. Homer translated by Maria Grazia Ciani.

    Exactly two translators out of ten are featured on the front cover of their translation, and one as an editor rather than a translator per se.

    Admittedly, front-cover billing is not an entirely accurate gauge of readers’ awareness of translators, because the Homer translator doesn’t get it. And yet Italian readers, by necessity in school and I suppose by Russian habit ever after, are well aware they’re reading translations of the Odyssey, the Iliad and the Aeneid. They have opinions about them — if only love or hatred of Monti’s memorable Iliad — and voice them in Amazon reviews.

    But that’s already not true in the case of Catullus. I’m very skeptical Kaur’s Italian readers are aware of Storti.

  44. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    By the way, the best selling paperbacks of translated poetry on Amazon.com are the following.

    #28. Dante Alighieri translated by John Ciardi
    #30 and 58. Homer translated by Robert Fagles
    #48. Lao Tzu translated by Ursula Le Guin
    #64. Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Rumi translated by Coleman Barks
    #88. Homer translated by Emily Wilson

    I cannot get to ten because Amazon.com customers don’t read enough translated poetry, but six translators out of six have front-cover billing, and rather prominent billing too.

    I wonder if that’s related to the fact that to make it to the Amazon.com bestseller list, non-English poetry has to predate Chaucer. Perhaps translators become the more prominent the older the poetry they translate?

  45. JOHN W BREWER says

    @Giacomo P.: It may be significant that when the original work is old enough to be in the public domain such that rival translations can compete freely in the marketplace, people will have stronger views on which is the best, which may indeed help overall sales. For those situations you are more likely to have the translator billed on the cover because it’s relevant. (As to Le Guin, I think I have probably previously told the story of going to the “Mystical Oriental Philosophy” section of an American bookstore and finding literally a dozen different English translations of the Tao Te Ching but only one of the Analects.)

    I don’t know how accurate those Amazon rankings are, however, because I just looked up the current status of something I have at hand (Selected Poetry of Rilke in a facing-page edition, with the English by “celebrity translator” Stephen Mitchell) and it was ranked at #11 in “German Poetry.” So what’s ahead of it in the category “Best Sellers In German Poetry”? Well, several other translations of Rilke and a translation of poems by Till Lindemann (born 1963 and probably better known for his musical work in the industrial metal genre). But also a translation (counted twice, once as paperback and once as kindle) of the Poetic Edda, which is not in fact written in German, John Gardner’s novelistic retelling of Beowulf (not written in German) from Grendel’s perspective, a translation of Sappho (original not in German), a “verse novel” written in English by Anne Carson (but which apparently includes some loose translations by her of fragments of the Greek poetry of Stesichorus), and a volume entitled The Complete Air Fryer Cookbook for Beginners. Maybe that last one is actually a treasury of “found poetry,” but probably not found German poetry?

  46. David Eddyshaw says

    The Analects aren’t very mystical. Maybe the dozens of different English versions were on a different shelf.

  47. I think we usually do not name the poet (officially such people are called поэт-переводчик, that is poets too) who translated the book on the cover, unless it is a collection of translations of several authors by the same poet.

    Otherwise the translator is featured on the title page, prominently enough.

    But collections like “Foreign poetry in translations of …” were not uncommon. Another source of infromation is contents. You do not normally have one poet who have translated whole Keats.

    You have several poets who translated several poems each, those that they liked and wanted to translate.

    Accordingly, a book of poems by “Keats”, or a book “Poetry of English Romanticism” is going to be a collection of works by many translators, sometimes more than one translation for a poem, and these will be named in the “Contents”” and also after their translations. It is hard to miss:) Besides: anyone who reads it is a lover of poetry. How a lover of poetry can miss the fact that translations by M. smell M., if I could not miss it when I was a child?

    An exception is Omar Khayyam. You normally do not know whose translation it is when people quote him. It is floklore:) He is an exception in English as well.

  48. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    @John Brewer:

    Very fair point. Still, there’s seven centuries of poetry since Dante, much of it in the public domain already, and they don’t make it to the Amazon.com bestseller list. So your conjecture cannot be tested in that set.

    I also agree it’s a flawed set. The top-100 list for poetry also includes The Complete Air Fryer Cookbook for Beginners (currently #63). This fact testifies to the cheating ingenuity that apparently characterizes authors of self-published air-fryer cookbooks. This one couldn’t climb the poetry hill but succeeded at becoming the #1 Bestseller in Breakfast Cooking. A remarkably honest feat compared to its identically titled competitor (different subtitle) that managed to be crowned #1 Bestseller in Dental Periodontics; or to the Simple Air Fryer Cookbook with Pictures that rose to #1 Bestseller in Frankfurt Travel Guides.

    However, despite its obvious measurement error, that’s one objective list of what poetry people buy. And unsurprisingly they don’t buy much, so a few hours’ sales have already changed the rankings though not the titles. I cannot quickly think of another.


    Perhaps lovers of poetry are the majority purchasers of poetry translations in Italy and the US too, but simply happen to avoid Amazon and patronize their neighborhood poetry bookshop instead. However, the Amazon bestseller lists don’t obviously depict a reading public of discerning poetry lovers.

    In Italy, they buy either the latest American fads (Gorman, Kaur) or the most school-honored classics, quite possibly for use in school. I have no familiarity with US school curricula, but surely Russian-grade lovers of poetry would read some translated poetry that’s less than seven hundred years old?

    To be entirely honest, I wonder if even in Russia most poetry readers are way less sophisticated than you.

  49. @drasvi: I manage by not taking surrealist automatic writing very seriously. It is, of course, sometimes possible to create great art in a single attempt, and the ability to write good poetry without editing is a particular skill a writer might possess. However, I see little to no intrinsic value in this approach. I have never been one who placed particular value on the process by which art was created; I basically agree with the modernist notion that ideally, only the ultimate work project should matter.

    When I lived in Bloomington, Indiana, the longtime host of the afternoon jazz program on WFIU, Joe Bourne, was very particular about not considering works that did not allow for improvisation to be real jazz. However, I feel like that was essentially a category error. The final sound of a performance should be what matters, not whether it was prepared ahead of time. (Oddly, I think, Bourne was not particularly aggressive about policing the boundaries of the genre in other ways. One day a week, he usually did a program with a blues emphasis, and he also liked to play the Beatles and other classic rock groups.) Moreover, classical music used to utilize improvisation, particularly in concertos, where the soloist would be called on to perform one of more cadenzas,* which were often, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, extemporized. Now, the cadenzas have become ossified, and for each concerto there will be one or more standardized cadenzas to be performed by the soloist. (I remember playing in the orchestra for a Mozart flute concerto—which had a cadenza in each of the three movements—and I thought the soloist’s cadenzas were interminable and, more importantly, not worthy of the Mozart composition. She had not written them herself, of course, but she drew them out and performed in an absurdly overwrought manner. Short impromptu cadenzas would have been much better.)

    On the topic of whether variation in live performances are worthwhile, I wrote this a while back, although I was not sure then, nor am I now, to what extent this was an outright parody:

    “In better times,” Yortan began, “many bards and minstrels roamed the north-country. They made their way from house to house—from villa to hovel—telling tales and singing songs. These self-willed men traveled as they wished, for every door was open to them. At every stop, they entertained their hosts with the old ballads, and on every long, solitary journey, they composed new songs, setting them to the rhythm of their striding feet.”

    “Great among the bards of yore was Telamin. His voice could charm the tigers of the wood, and his wit was sharper than that of any monarch or enchanter. His fame spread far, but his greatest feat remained unknown. Many men composed tales and ballads telling of the great heroes of elder times. They repeated the legends of old, reshading those ancient epics and adding new poetry and eloquence. Yet Telamin went beyond all his peers and wrote the Lay of Tharbend. Tharbend was no champion of old, for Telamin wrote the Lay amidst a fit of prophetic vision. Tharbend’s deeds—and his tragic end—have yet to come to pass, but surely they shall.”

    Here, Yortan paused. “Alas for Tharbend,” he murmured. Then the skald raised his voice and sang a few lines of Telamin’s Lay, telling of the paladin’s death:

    They laid his remains upon a bier of porphyry,
    Showered him with apple-blossoms,
    As the east wind played at his matted hair
    Like a child unable to accept the passing of a cherished lamb.

    Tallah thought she saw a tear forming in Yortan’s eye, and the girl wondered what sad, lamentable fate awaited the noble Tharbend.

    However, the bard now returned to his story and spoke no more of the fallen champion. “No other bard but Telamin would sing the Lay of Tharbend; they thought it a mere fiction, devised by the author’s cleverly poetic mind. So Telamin took an apprentice and impressed upon the boy the importance of the singular Lay. A time shall come, when the knowledge recorded in those epic verses must guide the decisions of farmers and generals, kings and common soldiers—else a dark age like no other shall fall upon the world. Tharbend has not yet set out upon his quest, so we still preserve the Lay, passing it on from master to student.”

    “My master was Liirk the Bard. He traveled on foot the length and breadth of the North, just as his own master had, and his master’s master, and all the way back to Telamin himself. Liirk was handsome of face and charming almost beyond measure. Whenever he visited a noble household, he found many amorous admirers among the ladies of the manor. The women—chambermaids and chatelaines alike—visited him secretly by night. Come morning, he would depart, having replaced his old, threadbare garments with rich new raiment, gifted to him by the mistress of the estate.”

    “When the proper time came, Liirk set about to find an apprentice of his own. As he continued his journeying, he met many young lads—sons of servingwomen, demimondaines, and countesses—some, perhaps, whom he had sired himself. From among all these youths, he selected me. My mother and her lord were honored that I should be so chosen—as was I myself. So I took up a wandering life and travelled at the side of Liirk the Fair for many a year.”

    “Liirk taught me all the ballads, all the tales, all the epics. Most importantly, he taught me the Lay of Tharbend and admonished me never to change that ballad in even the tiniest detail. Every note, every word, every inflection must remain exactly as Telamin conceived it. I learned, and I hope that my master was proud.”

    “The years left to old Liirk gradually dwindled away, and at last he passed on from this life. For some while, I remained in the North, travelling from dwelling to dwelling as all my predecessors had done, but I lacked something of Liirk’s stamina. I shall return to that life, one day, but for now I remain here in Pnahk—the City of Eyes—towards which all folk with knowledge of future happenings ultimately flock. There are many hints in the great Lay, of things which shall occur long before Tharbend’s time. Perhaps some have come to pass already and gone unnoticed or misunderstood. There is also much wisdom in the ancient tales and allegories; I earn my livelihood mostly by interpreting those old fables.”

    * I must have learned the word cadenza from Mr. Smee in Walt Disney’s 1953 Peter Pan: “Oh, dear, dear, dear, Captain Hook. Shooting a man in the middle of his cadenza? That ain’t good form, you know.” Amusingly, the cadenza the late pirate was singing was actually just the last verse that had been cut from Oliver Wallace’s song, “A Pirate’s Life.” Among my mother’s childhood 78-rpm records was a record with songs from the Disney film, including the part of “A Pirate’s Life” used as the cadenza performed by the whole crew.

  50. John Cowan says

    […] Every word in a poem should be important and carefully chosen if the poem is to be a good one. I agree with this. What a poem that is full of poorly chosen words and clunky lines shows is not that the criterion is a lie but that the poem is not a good poem.

    I think that depends heavily on the genre of poem. A sonnet or a 18-19C lyric, yes. But do you really suppose that every word in the 15,693 lines of the Iliad, or even the 2358 verse lines of Hamlet (excluding the embedded songs), is carefully chosen and important to the poem as a whole? Here’s an excerpt in which one word is not Shakespearean and is arguably poorly chosen: does it spoil the play?

    Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death
    The memory be green, and that it us befitted
    To bear our hearts in grief and our whole kingdom
    To be contracted in one brow of woe,
    Yet so far hath discretion fought with nature
    That we with wisest sorrow think on him,
    Together with remembrance of ourselves.
    Therefore our former sister, now our queen,
    The imperial jointress to this warlike state,
    Have we, as ’twere with a defeated joy,–
    With an auspicious and a dropping eye,
    With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage,
    In equal scale weighing delight and dole,–
    Taken to wife: nor have we herein barr’d
    Your better wisdoms, which have freely gone
    With this affair along. For all, our thanks.

    Now, the cadenzas have become ossified, and for each concerto there will be one or more standardized cadenzas to be performed by the soloist.

    A great counterexample is Carlos’s performance of the second movement of Brandenberg #3, for which Bach wrote only the two chords of the closing cadence (a doublet of cadenza, as is chance). Not only is it not ossified, but it is unlikely that it will ever be performed by anyone else.

  51. But do you really suppose that every word in the 15,693 lines of the Iliad, or even the 2358 verse lines of Hamlet (excluding the embedded songs), is carefully chosen and important to the poem as a whole?

    You’re not refuting what you quoted, which is “What a poem that is full of poorly chosen words and clunky lines shows is not that the criterion is a lie but that the poem is not a good poem.”

  52. Quasi-Finnish scat singing that drove Russian mobile and Internet users mad in 2006 (sorry, if since they you’re observing glitches in our nation’s functioning)

  53. Every phoneme is carefully chosen….

  54. >You’re not refuting what you quoted, which is “What a poem that is full of poorly chosen words and clunky lines shows is not that the criterion is a lie but that the poem is not a good poem.”

    To be fair, you had moved the goalposts too. Brett was talking about a poem in which not every word is (or “should be” – the distinction doesn’t seem meaningful to me) carefully chosen, and you changed that to one that is full of poorly chosen words. I think John just moved the posts back to where they started.

  55. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    @John Cowan:

    Standardized cadenzas are necessarily composed rather than improvised, but most non-standard cadenzas aren’t improvised either.

    E.g., Carlos recorded three cadenzas for the third Brandenburg Concerto (in 1968 for Switched-On Bach, 1979 for Switched-On Brandenburgs and 1992 for Switched-On Bach 2000), but she describes them as her compositions, not improvisations. It’s an interesting question whether anyone else has performed them or will perform them. I imagine she would be happy for them to. It’d be cool if some enterprising ensemble asked her for a score.

    Pianists — and I presume other soloists too — still write cadenzas for Mozart concertos, particularly those without a surviving cadenza by the composer himself. Off the top of my head, I’m sure there are cadenzas by Gulda and Perahia.

    It takes considerably more chutzpah to write cadenzas for Beethoven concertos, since in that case you’re always competing with Beethoven’s own. Pianists of an earlier generation like Backhaus, Fischer and Kempff did. I’m not sure if anyone does that any longer.

    Actually improvising cadenzas has been much rarer for much longer. The one living pianist who famously does, in both Mozart and Beethoven, is Robert Levin. He has the openly stated goal of bringing novelty, surprise and risk to every performance — as well as the less openly stated but even more historically correct goal of showing off. So he makes a point of providing a noticeably different cadenza at every concert.

    Did historical performers, particularly the composers themselves, do that too? I have no idea if there’s a scholarly consensus about it. Levin himself doesn’t necessarily claim they did. He argues it’s important for him to provide something new and unexpected in a classical concerto, to reconnect to the original audience’s experience of listening to the composer playing an entirely new and unexpected concerto. That argument isn’t inconsistent with the possibility Mozart and Beethoven might have played very similar improvisations of each cadenza every time. Or they might have had a few different options varying in length or athletic challenge.

    Beethoven wrote down multiple cadenzas for his first and fourth piano concertos: three for the first, and two sets and a half for the fourth, which has two cadenzas. But that doesn’t tell us too much about which cadenzas he used to play himself. The written ones were meant for other pianists, probably most of all for Archduke Rudolph, from whose library we got the manuscripts. And they do look rather different in length and virtuosity just from looking at the scores — though their looks could certainly deceive me.

  56. To be fair, you had moved the goalposts too. Brett was talking about a poem in which not every word is (or “should be” – the distinction doesn’t seem meaningful to me) carefully chosen, and you changed that to one that is full of poorly chosen words.

    Yes, because I don’t believe in perfection — see here (“I too have been vaguely bothered by that ‘every word counts, perfection has been achieved’ claim, so often made and so unlikely if you think about it”). I do believe the artist has to choose well in general, and if something is full of crappy choices, it’s not a good work of art. But even bonus Homerus nods.

  57. John Emerson says

    Mr. E.A. Poe explained long ago that there are no long poems, just works consisting of shortish patches of poetry loosely linked by long stretches of verified prose.

  58. Verified, of course, by M. Jourdain.

  59. John Cowan says

    Mr. E.A. Poe explained long ago that there are no long poems, just works consisting of shortish patches of poetry loosely linked by long stretches of verified prose.

    Indicating, as Mr. N. Frye tells us, that Poe (and many another anglophone after him) thinks of lyric poetry as the only kind. Which is rubbish.

  60. January First-of-May says

    Of course, there are also works like Eugene Onegin, or some of Leonid Kaganov’s “poems” (…not necessarily good, I admit), which might not be so much poetry at all as prose works that also happen to rhyme.

    (Kaganov plays with the idea by actually formatting many of the aforementioned poems as prose.)

  61. Nevertheless, if humans only translated the familiar, how would we ever have an inkling of the astonishing world out there that is not familiar?

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