Today’s entry, along with yesterday’s, constitute a two-part post on contemporary verse translation, featuring the insights of 19 translators who have generously contributed their answers to my very basic questions on the subject.
Please note: The responses for today’s post were long enough to require that I continue all the answers in separate PDF files linked from the end of each contributors' section. In other words, please click READ MORE in order to access all the best material.
These posts are meant as a somewhat casual practical guide for Anglophone readers of non-Anglophone poetry, especially readers who don’t know the language of the original work.
In today’s post, the contributors list translations they admire (usually with commentary), and then each ends with a note, at my request, concerning a work of her or his own.
My questions are geared to the assumptions of ordinary readers, not to those of most translators. In some cases, contributors very reasonably questioned my questions, and this in turn led to interesting discussions, some of which I’ve preserved.
Many thanks, once again, to Geoffrey Brock, Bill Coyle, Dick Davis, Rhina Espaillat, David Ferry, Christophe Fricker, Jonathan Galassi, Rachel Hadas, Len Krisak, David Lehman, Charles Martin, Robert Mezey, Michael Palma, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Nathaniel Rudavsky-Brody, Roger Sedarat, Alicia Stallings, Rimas Uzgiris, and Philip White. (See below for contributors’ notes.)
Question(s): Please list up to five contemporary translations of poetry that you think really work as English-language poetry while also faithfully conveying the semantic content and something of the original’s greatness or importance. (Feel free to include a few words of explanation, but only if you wish.) Also, in your opinion, what is the most successful translation you’ve done? (Again, if you like, please add a few words of explanation.)
A.K. Ramanujan’s The Interior Landscape. His versions of these classical Tamil poems make really beautiful poems in English.... READ MORE
Derek Mahon’s translations of French poetry in general, and of Philippe Jaccottet in particular, are wonderful.... READ MORE
Robert Wells, Theocritus. Clive Wilmer, Radnóti. Two of my favorite 20th-century poets are poets whose works I can barely read in the original.... READ MORE
First of all—and outside the count of the five you ask for, on the gounds that they’re not strictly contemporary because they’ve been around for several years—the translations of Richard Wilbur.... READ MORE
I’m interested in what goes on inside particular lines.... READ MORE
Rather than list specific translations, Christophe provided a general response to my questions, available here.
Beowulf by Seamus Heaney—and really anything by Heaney. Anything by Ashbery.... READ MORE
A.E. Stallings’s De Rerum Naturae and Erotokritos. Stallings’s tour de force brings Lucretius across with force, pleasure, humor, sternness, variety—dip into it anywhere and you get lost.... READ MORE
Probably the best of the current translators of Latin is Alicia Stallings. Her Lucretius is a daredevil performance in that it’s done in...wait for it...fourteeners.... READ MORE
Among translators or
translations I admire, I feel that Richard Wilbur is pretty much in a class by
himself.... READ MORE
Almost always, a translation that I find interesting succeeds as a poem in English.... READ MORE
To begin with, I should say that my most intense enthusiasm tends to be for individual poems, like Henri Coulette’s rendering of Horace’s ode IV: 1, or Merwin’s of Lorca’s “Gacela del Amor Imprevisto.”... READ MORE
I’m sure there are other equally fine translations that I haven’t seen, but these are some that I have sought out, or come across, and been impressed by (oddly enough, none of them are from the Italian).... READ MORE
Ashbery’s Rimbaud. Galassi’s Leopardi. James’s Dante.... READ MORE
[E]very day before I translate I try to read a good translation by someone else.... READ MORE
Going back a bit (though still contemporary) Richard Wilbur’s verse translation of Molière.... READ MORE
I adore Housman’s “Diffugere Nives”.... READ MORE
I have, for example, enjoyed Stephen Koestler’s versions of Borges’s sonnets.... READ MORE
I only know a bit of a few languages, so it’s hard for me to say exactly how accurate or “faithful” most of the translations I’ve read and that have affected and even influenced me are.... READ MORE
Geoffrey Brock has translated Pavese's Disaffections and edited The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry. His translation awards include the MLA's Lois Roth Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Bill Coyle received a 2010 NEA Fellowship to complete his translations of Swedish poet Håkan Sandell. His book of poems, The God of This World to His Prophet, won the 2006 New Criterion Poetry Prize.
Dick Davis has received the International Society of Persian Studies’ award for best translation three times. The Washington Post named his translation of Ferdowsi's Shahnameh one of the 10 best books of 2006.
Rhina Espaillat's three chapbooks and nine books comprise poems, essays, short stories, and translations. Her awards include one from the Robert Frost Foundation, for her Spanish versions of Frost.
David Ferry’s awards include the Harold Morton Landon Prize, the Ruth B. Lilly Prize, and a National Book Award. His books of translation include Gilgamesh, The Odes of Horace, and The Eclogues of Virgil. He is currently at work on Virgil’s Aeneid and the Satires of Horace.
Christophe Fricker translates poetry by Edgar Bowers and Dick Davis among others, and also trade books on politics, literature, and science, into German. His academic work concerns the relationship between poetry, travel, and friendship.
Jonathan Galassi has translated the work of Eugenio Montale and Giacomo Leopardi. He is currently preparing a version of Montale’s later poetry.
Rachel Hadas has translated Euripides' romance Helen, and her translations from Modern Greek, Latin, and French are showcased in Other Worlds Than This, a collection published by Rutgers University Press.
Len Krisak's Odes of Horace, from Carcanet, and Ovid on Love, from University of Pennsylvania Press, will be followed in 2014 by his complete Carmina of Catullus. He has published four books of poems.
David Lehman's just-published New and Selected Poems (Scribner, 2013) includes translations he has done of poems or prose poems by Apollinaire, Henri Michaux, Goethe, and Mayakovsky.
Charles Martin’s verse translation of the Metamorphosesof Ovid (2004) received the Harold Morton Landon Prize from the Academy of American Poets. In 2005, he received an Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Robert Mezey has won the Lamont and Poet's Prizes. His acclaimed versions of Borges (with Richard Barnes) have appeared in such periodicals as The New York Review of Books, The Paris Review, and Poetry. [Despite interventions by a number of luminaries, they remain uncollected for reasons relating to permissions.]
Michael Palma's fully rhymed translation of Dante’s Inferno was published by Norton in 2002 and reprinted as a Norton Critical Edition in 2007. He is also the author of three books of poetry.
Rowan Ricardo Phillips has translated poetry and prose by many Catalan-language writers, including Salvador Espriu’s short-story collection Ariadne in the Grotesque Labyrinth. He is also the author of The Ground (poems).
Nathaniel Rudavsky-Brody is the winner of the 2013 Susan Sontag Prize for Translation. He has translated Benjamin Fondane and Paul Valéry, as well as contemporary Belgian poets.
Roger Sedarat, a translator of classical and modern Persian poetry, teaches literary translation in the MFA program at Queens College. He has also published two books of poems.
A.E. Stallings’s translations include Lucretius’ The Nature of Things and the Greek mock epic The Battle of the Frogs and the Mice. She is the author of three books of poems and recipient of a 2011 MacArthur Fellowship.
Rimas Uzgiris’s work appears in many leading journals. The recipient of a 2013 Fulbright Scholarship and a 2014 NEA Fellowship in translation, he teaches literature and creative writing at Vilnius University.
Philip White received the 2013 Willis Barnstone Translation Prize for Wang Changling’s "Border Tunes.” He’s currently at work on poems by Du Fu and other Chinese poets. White has also published The Clearing (poems).