BOOKS / Words of war

TRAWLING TRADITION: Translations 1954-1994 by Desmond O'Grady, Hippopotamus Press £25

"WHAT happens at the corner,'' observes Desmond O'Grady of early Celtic literature, "is as important as what happens at the centre.'' The same applies to Trawling Tradition, his collected translations, which begins with Archilochus and Greece in the seventh century BC and ends with Nazim Hikmet in Turkey on 1 June 1963, taking in not only O'Grady's native Irish but classical Chinese, medieval Arabic, Renaissance Armenian and modern Latvian on the way. O'Grady himself is as well-travelled, meeting Beckett in Paris and Pound in Italy. Apart from publishing 14 collections of his own poetry, he has studied Celtic at Harvard, translated Cavafy in Greece and Alexandria, the Mu'allaqaat in Iran.

"My purpose,'' he says of the early Welsh epic "The Gododdin", "was to make a classic masterpiece available to readers of poetry who may not have heard of it but might enjoy it.'' For centuries "The Gododdin", a lament by the bard Aneirin for the Britishnoblemen slain by the Angles at Catraeth (Catterick in Yorkshire) in or around 600AD, has been famous not for its 84 rhyming stanzas but for a single reference to Arthur, possibly the earliest in world literature, which has banished Aneirin's vivid epicto the margins of scholarly debate.

O'Grady's "Gododdin" blows away the dust. He drops the original's strict form and transposes lines at will, scything through the text with all the ruthlessness of a Saxon warrior. By removing all proper names from the poem, O'Grady frees Aneirin's verse from the constraints of its historical context, restoring its immediacy, its poignancy and its passion, to capture the terrible carnage not just of Catraeth but any battle in any time, an elegy for every warrior: "Last seen astride/ a horror of corpses/ cut down as reapers cut gorse".

O'Grady's translations from modern poetry work more personal transformations. His version of "Berlin Metro" by the Lithuanian Thomas Venslova summons not just the shared resonances of recent European history but intimate images of "saint Sam Beckett'' orthe fog "general all over the west'', an echo of Joyce's moving final paragraphs in "The Dead". O'Grady's presence unashamedly stalks such translations: "I am recognisable in and responsible for them all,'' he admits. "The Poet and the Dog", his re-working of the medieval Irish "The Scholar and the Cat" celebrates O'Grady's own golden retriever "wrapped round my feet'' and growling "in sleep about his dreams/ while I am plotting literary schemes''.

Elsewhere this presence is more complex. "A grey heron in the Bandon river/ waits for me entering Kinsale'', begins "The Irish Coast" by Croatian dissident Zlatko Tomicic, who collaborated on the translation during a visit to O'Grady's Irish home. Here translator and translated merge, united not just by geography but by the shared sense of a love of one's homeland and the thrill of escape.

O'Grady's version of Ingeborg Bachmann's "Exile" explores further paradoxes. Part of a post-war generation who tried to rescue the German language from its Nazi past, Bachmann is "encased in its oven/ boxing me like a coffin''. The act of translation here is also an act of liberation, freeing poet and poem from the burden of their own language. For O'Grady, this is the humanising power of his calling. "It has sharpened my awareness,'' he says, "refined my sensibility - enriched me.'' His translations make the familiar unfamiliar, the unknown known, sending the reader back to much-loved texts, or to scour bookshops and libraries for new ones. They tell the tale - in 22 languages and more than 26 centuries - of a fallen world, the world of an "Irish European''; of cities ruined and rebuilt, of exile and return, of fear, hope, joy, and the creeping paralysis of intolerance and suppression. If translation is a crutch for those who cannot read the original, Trawling Tradition can make us all walk again.

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month

TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel

film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island

Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower