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This review is taken from PN Review 30, Volume 9 Number 4, March - April 1983.

HISTORIES OF ABSENCE Ivan V. Lalić, The Works of Love, tr. Francis R. Jones (Anvil) £3.50

It is probably true, as Francis R. Jones says in his introduction, that 'the craftsmanlike, almost mellifluous flow of Lalić's verse may only be glimpsed in translation'. We expect this. We live, as we must, with Babel and the best quality of successful translation is not that it 'captures', but that it releases the life of the original work. Often, oddly, as we read, it is the very imprecision of a recognised strangeness that acts most powerfully. Which oughtn't to be confused with the effect of crackpot oddity effortlessly produced by inept transposition from one tongue into another.

The Works of Love is, obviously, a very necessary book. I know of only one other volume of translations from the Serbo-Croat into English of Ivan Lalić's work. It came out in New York ten years ago, and, in addition to a dated fondness for stumpy lines and 'concrete' spareness, offers quite a harvest of passages like: 'And peer into your squinting eyes,/into that wrath that boils up/and cools down like some unstable metal/in the gusty yards of your smelters'. Francis Jones's translations, often of the same lyrics, give us, really, a different poet. Composed, apparently, in close collaboration with Lalić, they are careful and distinguished pieces. And they have, some of them, the achieved strangeness of the best translation.

Mr Jones is, however, eager to present Lalić as a particular type of poet. 'Like Lawrence Durrell or T. S. Eliot, he is a cosmopolitan, belonging to ...


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