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This review is taken from PN Review 204, Volume 38 Number 4, March - April 2012.

the Need to Express louis-rené des forêts, Poems of Samuel Wood, translated by Anthony Barnett (Allardyce Book) £15
anthony barnett, Antonyms & Others (Allardyce Book) £15

With his translation of Louis-René Des Forêts's poem of an old man who is preparing to die, that is, to enter silence, Anthony Barnett has produced a work of art in form as well as in content. Barnett has been a distinguished translator of poetry for many years now and his procedure takes seriously the words of Yves Bonnefoy: 'You must realize that the poem is nothing and that translation is possible - which is not to say that it's easy; it is merely poetry re-begun.'

A perfect example of this appears early on in Barnett's translation where a section of Des Forêts's original poem presents the reader with an old actor, in his declining years, choosing to withdraw from the limelight. Barnett associates the image here with lines from Macbeth and concludes with the man

Strutting the boards, fretting ineffectual words
Like a ham cut short when the curtain falls.

Barnett's art is to combine the verbs 'strutting' and 'fretting', which call to the reader's mind the echo of emptiness that haunts the failing Macbeth, who understands all too well the sense of ineffectuality he has been compelled to recognise. Barnett's awareness of Shakespeare appears elsewhere throughout Poems of Samuel Wood and the echo of Lear's injunction to Cordelia acts as a prologue to a section dealing with the limitations of language: 'United with nothing, nothing engenders nothing' pushes us forward to the 'pitfalls of language', which can in ...


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