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This article is taken from PN Review 16, Volume 7 Number 2, November - December 1980.

'Renga', Translation, and Eliot's Ghost Michael Edwards

LET ME say, for anyone not familiar with it, that Renga is a long poem by Octavio Paz, Jacques Roubaud, Edoardo Sanguineti and Charles Tomlinson, written in Spanish, French, Italian and English. It's a sequence of twenty-eight sonnets (of which the last was left unwritten), without rhyme or syllable-count, grouped in four series. To each sonnet each poet contributed a quatrain, tercet or couplet, in a pre-determined order, and then wrote in its entirety the final sonnet of the series which he had begun. The work first appeared in Paris, from Gallimard, and has now been published by Penguin, in an edition which includes Tomlinson's English version. It's of great importance for the new kind of literary discourse that it constitutes-multinational, multilingual, collaborative poetry-but I should like to discuss it here in terms of translation, since its involvement with that major literary process is startlingly original.

Renga is itself a translation, since it transfers to Western poetry the ancient Japanese collective poem, the renga. It replaces the latter's basic five-line unit, the tanka, by the European sonnet. It adapts the renga's plurality of readings, in which each new unit forms different poems with the preceding and following units while also contributing to the total work, by having each sonnet operate as both a simple poem and as part of the complex whole, and by offering two possible readings: the four series one after another, or the first poem in each series followed by the second in each ...


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