Translation

Given their insistence on non-English literature's relevance to their own poetry, it should come as no surprise that Eliot, Hulme and Pound were active translators as well as poets. Pound is a particularly significant and innovative translator, but Hulme and Eliot also composed important translations. Between 1912 and 1914 Hulme published translations of Bergson's 'Introduction à la métaphysique' (1903) (An Introduction to Metaphysics (1912, 1913)) and Georges Sorel's Réflexions sur la violence (1908) (Reflections on Violence (1914, 1916)), and Eliot, besides translating for his journal, The Criterion, in 1930 published a translation of Saint-John Perse's French poem Anabase (1924) (Anabasis (1930)). Eliot, Hulme and Pound translated in order to make foreign writings available to English readers, but this chapter's discussion should have suggested how translation might also be more centrally connected to the aims of the modernist poetic project. Eliot, Hulme and Pound consistently thought of their poetry in an international context; they were influenced by and measured themselves against poets from different places as well as different times. The 'tradition' Eliot advocates in 'Tradition and the Individual Talent' is 'the whole of literature of Europe', from Homer onwards, and by the time he came to write The Waste Land it had expanded beyond European boundaries.

Eliot's, Hulme's and Pound's attitude towards language itself is also relevant here. I mentioned in Chapter 1 that by the early twentieth century there was a movement to understand language as a system, a set of rules, rather than a 'natural' means of expression. In a sense, therefore, all writing is translation — translation of experience into the system of language. In Chapter 2 we saw Hulme expressing this particularly vividly in his discussion of poetic imagery: 'nowadays, when one sees the hill is "clothed" with trees, the word suggests no physical comparison', he writes, 'To get the original visual effect one would have to say "ruffed", or use some new metaphor' (1994: 95). Pound makes a related point when he tells aspiring poets that 'translation is likewise good training, if you find that your original matter "wobbles" when you try to rewrite it. The meaning of the poem to be translated can not "wobble"' (1960: 7). For both poets there is a distinct gap between language and that which it describes, and the poet must manipulate language in order to find the most accurate and evocative means of expressing the poem's sense or 'meaning'.

This implies a certain theory of translation, one where the translator aims to recreate the sense of the original, rather than slavishly accounting for every word and grammatical point. This was certainly Pound's attitude towards translation, and it marks a shift away from nineteenth-century practice, which conceived of translation as a scholarly pursuit rather than a creative act. In 1915 Pound published Cathay, made up of 'translations' of fourteen Chinese poems drawn from Fenollosa's papers, and part of the Anglo-Saxon poem The Seafarer. Though he would later learn Chinese, in 1915 he was not able to translate from the original sources, and instead produced his translations from Fenollosa's notes, themselves made from Japanese versions of the Chinese poems. The resulting poems are not, therefore, precise renderings of the Chinese, and in fact in one, 'The River Song', Pound mistakenly conflated two poems (Xie 1999: 235). Nevertheless, Cathay has been much admired since its first publication: it prompted Eliot to describe Pound as 'the inventor of Chinese poetry for our time', a description that captures both the influence of the volume, and the fact that the Chinese poetry it contains is a creation of Pound's, rather than a translation (1948a: 14). The same understanding was notoriously not extended to Pound's poem 'Homage to Sextus Propertius', intended, wrote Pound, not as a translation but a 'character sketch' of the Roman poet Sextus Propertius, but criticized at length for its inaccuracies in the press (Sullivan 1964: 5-12).

Eliot and Pound employed various types of translation in their own poetry. As well as translated excerpts from foreign sources (for example, Pound's use of 'Donna Me Prega' ('A lady asks me'), by Guido Cavalcanti (c. 1255-1300), in Canto 36), Eliot's and Pound's poems include many unacknowledged single lines and references (Eliot's title Ara vos Prec is a quotation from Dante's Purgatorio, meaning 'I implore you' in Provençal), and quotations of other poets' metre and rhyme schemes (Eliot uses an approximation of Dante's terza rima in part of 'Little Gidding'; Pound uses a version of The Seafarer's metre in Canto 1). Learning the sources of these allusions undoubtedly contributes to our understanding of Eliot's and Pound's poetry, and the excellent guides now available make this straightforward (see 'Further Reading'). However, it is just as important to register the general point made by the poets' use of translation and allusion: our language is not our own, that is to say, the words we use have been used by others, they are formed by the intermingling of languages and cultures. Allusion and translation highlight this essential second-handedness of language, and the way it connects us to other language users. If a poet wants to convey the richness of human culture, why confine oneself to English? As Pound wrote in The Cantos, 'it can't be all in one language' (1994: 577).

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