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This report is taken from PN Review 232, Volume 43 Number 2, November - December 2016.

Letter from the Patent Office P.C. Evans
‘A sentence is condemned to stay as stated.’ Spender

I FIRST RAN ACROSS Rilke in Stephen Spender’s Autumn Day; was lured to Lorca by Spender’s renderings also. His restrained translations may have done Lorca a biggie in the forties when there were only so many ay ays that Trevor Howard’s Blighty could take amongst the carumphing of the whizzbangs. Spender translated Rilke ganz alleine, having picked up the lingo while cruising the Weimar; for Lorca, he called in the Catalan cavalry in the form of J.L. Gili. Autumn Day is credited to Rilke; the Lorcas bear Spender and Gili’s unassuming monikers, Lorca’s name is emblazoned in red on the white cover, like the aftermath of a fascist drive by.

We fast forward to 2006, and Faber rains on Rilke’s parade, downsizing him to a Don Paterson ‘literal’, and he doesn’t even make it onto the cover of Paterson’s Orpheus. How do a poet’s ‘versions’ come about? Paterson reads ‘echt deutsch’, if I’m not mistaken, and concedes to ‘stealing’ from more pedestrian translators, who he cites after blowing their efforts out of the water. So, why would one soup up an old jalopy like Rilke and take it out for a spin? Because it adds a showcase of tasteful bric-a-brac to one’s own oeuvre. When we read Cathay, Imitations or Orpheus we are being invited to consider the poet’s trans-versions as equal to, or better than, the original, the poet’s liberties often some of their most memorable lines. One thinks of Lowell’s ‘vermin, jackals, panthers, lice / [...] ...


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