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This report is taken from PN Review 99, Volume 21 Number 1, September - October 1994.

The Literalism of Reviewers Daniel Weissbort

It may seem ungrateful or even churlish to respond as I am about to do to T.J.G. Harris's largely commendatory review of Toma Longinovic's and my translation of Red Knight (Serbian Women's Songs, Menard Press/King's College), since the book has received very little attention in this country and in the US. The review includes a longer section on Keith Bosley's translation of The Kanteletar from the Finnish and of course the reviewer's parting shot. 'Weissbort has not thought through the problem of translation to the extent that Bosley has and is less sensitive with respect to both rhythm and diction', stings a little. This is not, however, because I am being compared unfavourably to my old friend Keith, surely one of the outstanding English poetry translators of our time: quite simply, we weren't in competition with one another and the two collections are so different that it would require far more space to establish adequate criteria for comparison. However, a rather more important issue, having to do with reviewers of translations, has implicitly been raised here.

I have long advocated that translators, particularly of poetry, be encouraged to write commentaries on their work (in fact, l once edited a collection of such pieces, Translating Poetry: The Double Labyrinth, to which Keith Bosley contributed an excellent essay). It is obvious that there can be no such animal as the perfect or absolute translation, mimetically conveying the source text in its totality, even though the language has been changed. ...


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