First published in The Black Herald, issue 3 (Sept. 2012)

by Paul Stubbs


On January 15th, 1967, in one of a series of letters exchanged between the poets W.H. Auden and Michael Hamburger concerning the translations of German poet Friedrich Hölderlin, Auden wrote that he was trying ‘to account for what I’m sure you’ll agree with me is a fact, namely that Hölderlin is easier to get across in translation than say, Goethe.’ Such a declaration celebrates only linguistical limitation and accepts it as its one most expansive idea. The necessary visionary delirium to create an upheaval in perception in any language was always lost on Auden of course, the odour of egoism being much too strong. Yet this casual ‘get across’ says more about the English estrangement in a foreign language than it does about any accurate attempt to translate the great German poet. Larkin likewise, when responding to a question put to him by acerbic British critic Ian Hamilton on whether or not he read European literature replied ‘No! foreign languages are irrelevant!’, and while the comments of both poets, like their poetry, remain as imaginatively ineffectual as a weather-report, the apathetic way in which they dealt with translation has, for a certain category of English-speaking translators, continued to have grave consequences to this day.

The history of English-speaking translators, like a vast mistimed geological age, continues to make giant fossil-errors, but in words, failing to excavate huge vistas of the original language to locate the necessary word-size, and thus allowing too many imaginary-fractures to occur in the strata of the ‘host’ language. In a recent review of Flies and Monkeys by the French poet Jacques Dupin (Bitter Oleander Press, 2011, excellently translated by John Taylor) I wrote of the fatal dangers of this continuous attempt by some English-speaking translators to ‘anglicise’ European languages: ‘…a most repugnant activity currently practiced by far too many writers/translators who sometimes even have no real or thorough knowledge of the original language they ‘translate’. The word ‘version’ (versus ‘translation’) of course has opened up the door for any ‘hack’ to give it a go, hence we are forced to endure the barbarous and elongated CVs of poets who claim they can translate in around 10 to 15 different languages.’…

To read the full editorial


about The Black Herald


An interview with Paul Stubbs in Bookslut (October 2012)


The BH3

The BH3


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