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This review is taken from PN Review 196, Volume 37 Number 2, November - December 2010.

PURIFYING ACTS OF DEMOLITION PABLO NERUDA, The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems, edited by Mark Eisner (Bloodaxe) £9.95
FEDERICO GARCIA LORCA, Selected Poems, edited by J.L. Gili (Anvil) £9.95
The Whole Island – Six Decades of Cuban Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology, edited by Mark Weiss (University of California Press) £20.95

All language is translation, the language of poetry quite blatantly so. The three books under discussion here are all written in (at least) two languages. In the case of The Essential Neruda and The Whole Island, the original Spanish texts are offered with en face translations. In Gili’s Lorca, on the other hand, the Spanish poems are accompanied only by the most ‘unassuming prose versions’. On the face of it, what is at issue here is the scale of value on which sit diverse forms of inter-linguistic translation. In fact, however, what is most striking in all three volumes is the attitude within the poems to their own translating capacities.

In the Republic, Plato shooed poets from the garden on the basis of their inferiority to philosophers: ‘They were no good because they imitated nature, which is itself an imitation of the ideal world.’ This would hold negative appeal for both Neruda and Lorca, each of whom attempts a literature both populist and in tune with natural (and national) rhythms. In ‘The Great Ocean’ (‘El Gran Océano’), Neruda writes in wistful address to a sea of ‘crystalline totalities’, and of waves – single manifestations of identity – which ‘without being wasted [come] back to be born.’ Likewise, in ‘Entrance into Wood’ (‘Entrada de la Madera’), we ‘pass among damp uprooted fibers / to the live heart of living matter’. Although Neruda’s syntax complicates this process, and enacts the recognition of ‘otherness’ – of the means (language) by ...

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