D M BLACK


Translations

I have always been fascinated by the increase in range that translation makes possible for some poets. Fitzgerald (of the Rubaiyat), Housman, Pound, Wilbur, Garioch, Christopher Logue and many others have written wonderful things in translation, sometimes at least the equal of much of their original work.

In the post-modern era translation has become an extremely fashionable topic. But no one has written of it more perceptively than John Florio in Shakespeare's day. He introduced his translation of Montaigne by describing it as a sort of reincarnation: "every language hath its Genius and inseparable form, without Pythagoras his Metempsychosis it can not rightly be translated".

My own translations have also been attempts at metempsychosis. I have translated Goethe in particular, but also Apollinaire, Cavafy, Rilke and most recently Dante. Yousef al-Mahmoud I translated specifically (with the help of the Arabic specialist Jona Jan Fras) for an anthology of Palestinian poets. As well as 'translating', in the semantic sense, I have usually made an attempt to reproduce at least the metrical form of the originals, regarding that as an essential part of their character. I present here
three samples: one a very private piece by Cavafy, one the final poem from Goethe's exuberant sequence of Roman Elegies, and a later, more sober poem by Goethe written in the years following his wife's death.