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This report is taken from PN Review 184, Volume 35 Number 2, November - December 2008.

Hughes and Literalism Daniel Weissbort

One's own 'Medicine Bag'

Ted Hughes writes rather elliptically about his translations, but he did contribute a fairly straightforward piece on collaborative translation, with his friend János Csokits, of the Hungarian poet and contemporary of Csokits's Janos Pilinszky. He comes to the conclusion that absolute faithfulness to the literal version of the original was required, regarding himself as 'the troubled mechanic' rather than Csokits's 'co-pilot', concluding: 'I am certain I would never have become as interested in Pilinszky as I eventually did, if my curiosity had not been caught in the first place by Csokits' swift word-for-word translations from the page at odd times during our long friendship. [...] But even more exciting, for me, was the knack he had of projecting a raw, fresh sense of the strange original - the particular and to me alien uniqueness of the original.' He continues: 'Faithfulness to the original is crucial in translating Pilinszky's poetry. [...] The sense of selfless, courageous testimony pushed to a near-saintly pitch is very strong in Pilinszky. It puts a translator under exacting obligations. There is no question of introducing anything from the translator's own poetical medicine bag.'

Concerned that credit should be given where it was due, Hughes initially had wanted to include, in his Introduction, Csokit's version of the long poem 'Requiem', but 'in the end, my version inched itself so close to his that there would be no point now in printing two almost identical texts'. ...


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