Modern Poetry in Translation (Series 3 No 13): Polyphony, ed David and Helen Constantine

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The Independent Culture

Some excellent short essays in this volume help to explain the nature of translation and its problems and challenges, almost as well as do the translated poems, laid side by side with their originals. My favourite was Sasha Dugdale's account of translating William Blake into Russian with a group of students in a town just outside Moscow. How to get across the sense of a self-taught poet at odds with tradition? Dugdale struggles with their lack of reverence for the originals, and one woman's rewriting of "The Sick Rose" almost breaks Dugdale's heart.

The sense of responsibility that translators feel towards the original is evident in the explanations many give for their readjustment of rhythmic patterns and choice of words. As DM Thomas says of his translation of Eugene Onegin, the time he spent working on it was "a bit like a love affair. For I love Pushkin and the act of translation is a wonderful form of intimacy." And while Robert Hull's translations of Borges' poems into Lancashire dialect take that intimacy to a new level, he worries about recovering "a degree of lost spontaneity".