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This article is taken from PN Review 236, Volume 43 Number 6, July - August 2017.

Translator’s Notebook IV : Machine Translation, Machine Creation (ed. James McGonigal) Edwin Morgan
ON 7 DECEMBER, Edwin Morgan was in Bristol to speak to the University Literary Society on ‘The Translation of Poetry’. The event must have been part of a conference on the work of Alexander Pushkin, for he deliberately addresses the Russian’s work in drama, and includes a translation of part of one of his short plays in verse. He had completed this translation in June 1956, presumably with the conference invitation in mind, and so far as I can tell it has never been published.

The Russian language had made an early impact on Morgan. In ‘Epilogue: Seven Decades’ (
Collected Poems: 594) he claims to remember reading a report of Mayakovsky’s suicide in 1930. Morgan was then aged ten and it is plausible that a gifted youngster, interested in literature and language, would have spotted a newspaper item about this. He also claims to have ‘learned my first word of Russian, lyublyu’ at the time. Is that possible? The word means ‘I love’, and Mayakovsky’s poem ‘I Love’ (1922) was possibly mentioned in the newspaper article. Or the knowledge may signal a precocious schoolboy’s linguistic curiosity. In that same decade, certainly, Morgan became fascinated by Archibald Lyall’s Guide to 25 Languages of Europe (first edition, 1935). That interest was linked with an intelligent teenager’s interest in left-wing politics, and he had been struck by magazine images of Russian engineering and architectural projects, left for him by a friend of his parents. These were propaganda pictures, and his parents were conservative and capitalist in their politics. Yet they knew ...


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