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Via Patrick Kurp's Anecdotal Evidence:


The poet-translator Michael Hofmann reviews The Collected Poems: 1956-1998, by Zbigniew Herbert, in the May issue of Poetry. Hofmann idolizes Herbert but eviscerates his latest translator, Alissa Valles, and addresses the question of why John and Bogdana Carpenter, Herbert's longtime translators, were not given the task. Here's a sample of Hofmann's rage:

"Alissa Valles's Herbert is slack, chattersome, hysterical, full of exaggeration, complacency, and reaching for effect. The original (I'm quite sure) is none of those things. This Collected Poems is a hopelessly, irredeemably bad book. The only solution to its problems would be a bulk reinstatement of the old translations. These things matter so much; it would be nice if they made a difference."

Hofmann goes on to say: 


"New translation" is never the infallible trump that publishers sometimes wish (do they ever believe it?) when they are driven to play it. Old translations hang around, even when they are notionally superseded or replaced, even when they have been discredited, which again is manifestly not the case here. Constance Garnett's Tolstoy, Scott-Moncrieff's Proust, Edwin and Willa Muir's Kafka, H.T. Lowe-Porter's Thomas Mann—all have their adherents. Notable instances in poetry would include the Rilke of J.B. Leishman or C.F. MacIntyre, and the Cavafy of Edmund Keeley and Phillip Sherard. As the song has it, the first cut is the deepest.

Readers Comments

  1. hmm, I always thopught that "Herbert is slack, chattersome, hysterical, full of exaggeration, complacency, and reaching for effect" — and thus this new translation may do him justice, exactly. -- Pierre

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