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This report is taken from PN Review 168, Volume 32 Number 4, March - April 2006.

The Troubled Mechanic: Ted Hughes and Translation Daniel Weissbort

Even if the recent Edinburgh University conference on Ted Hughes and the Classics showed classicists to be quite tolerant of incursions such as Hughes's onto their territory, the question did arise from time to time as to how Hughes felt able to translate from languages he did not know. This must strike non-translators as a legitimate concern; many literary translators, on the other hand, will be exasperated to find themselves yet again pointing out how frequently this happens, and offering explanations as to why it has often been more convenient to pair a scholar with a writer.

Should one read these works as translations, or rather as significant items in Hughes's oeuvre? To some of us, a distinction between translations and one's 'own' work seems problematical, since translations are both significant critical readings and part of a writer's original work, this not implying that a licence for utter freedom has been granted; it is arguable that 'one's own work' is not undertaken under such a dispensation either. Nevertheless, what Hughes had in mind, what view he took of his own efforts to assimilate or resurrect other texts is surely a legitimate concern.

I shall not quote Hughes himself on this matter, apart from mentioning that in the case of his co-translations from Hungarian with Janos Csokits of poetry by Janos Pilinszky, he vainly urged his publishers to accord equal status to Csokits, describing himself as the latter's 'troubled mechanic' ...


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