The Farrar, Straus and Giroux Poetry Blog

April 22, 2008

Marilyn Hacker On "The Most Engaged Form Of Reading"

Poetry-in-translation week continues, readers! And today we have our first guest post on the subject.

I was especially excited when Marilyn Hacker agreed to to write about her experiences translating because she a long history as a poet and writer herself. In addition to her award-winning translations, Hacker is the author of eleven collections of poems and seven published books of translations from the French. Information about her original books of poetry can be found here, and her most recent translation, of Marie Etienne's King of a Hundred Horsemen, will be published by FSG this Fall.   

You'll find more information about her translation of King of a Hundred Horsemen in the post later today. Below is what I think of as a perfect introduction to the art of translating from someone who connects with poems in much the same way as I do. Here is the first word from Marilyn Hacker:

"For the poet who is also a translator, the great pleasure of translation – of poetry – is, shall we say, the continuation of the struggle by other means. The struggle in question is the angel-wrestling with language of which poetry largely consists, and here, the participant in the « Mental Fight » (Blake, of course) is handicapped by the removal of ego, and, indeed, of the resources of anecdotal memory, from the translator-poet’s corner. What can happen at best is the transformation of a struggle to a dance, performed by two resonating but never-exactly-mirroring constructs of language. Capoeira, anyone?

More concretely: I have translated a dozen or so (almost all contemporary) French or Francophone poets, and I’d be hard put to explain my choices except for that chemistry poems exercise on their destined readers. Translation is at once the most engaged form of reading and (as above) an earthy, hands-on engagement with language. The translator must be faithful to the text’s linguistic valence, its connotations, to its music as well as its meaning; yet a translation succeeds when it exists independently as a poem in the receptor language. Poet-mathematician Jacques Roubaud’s theory of translation leads us to deduce that there are an infinite number of possible valid translations of a poem (Baudelaire’s sonnets as prose poems! Baudelaire’s prose poems as sonnets!), thus an infinite number of independent poems one poem might generate. But dizzying oneself staring in a kaleidoscope distracts from the work."

--Marilyn Hacker


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Russian Translator

Where can I find the whole article? The link to blog does not open.

Russian Translator

Is this blog still active? No one has answered to me.


Here are the links in full--I hope this helps!

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