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This review is taken from PN Review 33, Volume 10 Number 1, September - October 1983.

BATTLE-MOODY GLORY-HOARDERS Ron Butlin, The Exquisite Instrument (The Salamander Press) £5.00, £2.50 pb. (73 Morningside Park, Edinburgh EH10 5EZ)
Alexander Blok, The Twelve, translated by Jack Lindsay (The Journeyman Press) £1.95. (97 Ferme Park Road, Crouch End, London N8 9SA)
Judith, translated by Albert W. Haley Jr. (Modern Images) £3.95 Beowulf, translated by Albert W. Haley Jr. (Branden Press) £7.50 (Both available from the author, 14 Wethersfield St., Rowley, Ma. 01969, U.S.A.)
Kevin Borman, Seasons in a Raw Landscape, £1.00
Allan Burgis, Full Circle, £1.00
Pauline Kirk, Scorpion Days, £1.00
Stanley Cook, Woods beyond a Cornfield, £1.00 (All four published by Rivelin Press, 24 Aireville Road, Frizinghall, Bradford BD9 4HH.)

It is natural to be suspicious of translations by poets who don't know the language they are translating from - who confess, in the small print as it were, to the 'collaboration' of a scholar with no literary pretensions, or who grudgingly acknowledge the help some crib has given them. If a translator has so little grasp on a culture that he can't even read its texts what hubris makes him think he can interpret it- in its broadest outlines, never mind in its finest nuances - to us? But Ron Butlin's The Exquisite Instrument ('with the collaboration of Kate Chevalier') made me think again. His pamphlet consists of translations from eighth-century Chinese poems, together with a sprinkling by the twentieth-century poet Wen I-to, and it is a remarkably moving little book. He captures with apparent ease the sense of infinite time ('mountains and rivers outlast a thousand empires') and infinite space ('Birds leave no tracks across a thousand hills') which pervades classical Chinese poetry, and which by reducing man to a minor event hardly perceptible in such immensity paradoxically intensifies the poignant apprehensions of his sensibility. Compared with the effaced beauty of these eighth-century poems ('This Embroidery' and 'Climbing the Stork Pagoda' strike me as among the best translations I have seen from Chinese into English verse), the self-disgust and self-absorption of Wen I-to's work, at least as presented to us by Ron Butlin, come as something of a shock: infinite unchanging time has become 'our history crushed ...


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