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14 Local Warehouse Poetry- Anthologies
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Selected Translations


Selected Translations Cover

ISBN13: 9781556594090
ISBN10: 1556594097
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A Retrospective Foreword

by W.S. Merwin

[Excerpted from unedited draft: NOT FOR PUBLIC DISTRIBUTION]

More than once, during the sixty years and more that are represented by this present selection, I had persuaded myself that I had finished trying to translate poetry. I had not come to that as a firm decision, but as a prospect whose time seemed to have come. But I kept finding that I had returned, after all, to trying again. Sometimes I had been led to it by a suggestion from someone else, and other times by something – perhaps a single line or phrase – that suddenly caught me, in the original, a line or phrase with which I had long been familiar. The indecisiveness about it, I realize, is consistent with the impossible art of translating poetry at all, for there is no such thing as a final translation. Only the original is unique, and essentially it cannot exist “in other words.” And one part of the impossibility of translating it is the fact that what we want every translation to be is exactly what it never can be: the original. Yet the impossibility of the whole attempt remained part of the temptation to try again.

This magnetic attraction came to seem “natural” to me, as habits do. It seemed to have grown there on its own, a native. It must have evolved from my own early fascination with the sound of language, which I am convinced is innate in everyone, whether it reaches maturity or not. In societies with strong oral traditions it is taken for granted. When I became aware of it I was too young to try to describe it even to myself. I remember being intrigued by phrases with an unfamiliar sound, in poems that my mother read to my sister and me, and in hymns that were sung, above my head in church (my father was a Presbyterian minister, so we went to church regularly). The sound of Tennysons brook babbling, babbling as it went to join the brimming river, and the spacious firmament on high, and all the blue ethereal sky … which seemed clear to me though the actual words did not. One day before I went to school, at four, my father took me down to the church with him, a block away, to sit there while he rehearsed his next Sundays sermon. I was to sit very quietly and listen. My father did not often ask me to come along with him when he went out, and it was something of an occasion for me. First he read from the scripture, from the sixth chapter of the Book of Isaiah. My father, I am happy to say, always read in the King James version, and I heard:

In the year that King Uz-ziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up and his train filled the temple.

Above it stood the seraphim; each one had six sings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly…

Even in my fathers readings from the pulpit I did not remember ever having heard language like that, and it rang in my ears. I wanted to hear that sound again, and to hear more of the life in the words, though I had only a remote sense of what the words meant, as I did sometimes when my mother read fairy tales to us. As we walked home I kept trying to remember phrases, mumbling them to myself under my breath….

…when I had turned nineteen, a friend invited me to his familys house in Washington D.C. during the Easter vacation, and while I was there I telephoned St. Elizabeths, the military hospital where Pound was incarcerated, to ask whether I could visit him. They consented, and he consented.

I was led in through a locked door to a large shabby room that seemed to have been made by knocking out partitions between a series of former rooms. It had all been painted a grayish green at some point in the past, and the paint looked as thought it came from an unrecorded age. The walls were broken into insets and alcoves and I was led into one of the larger ones, just inside the iron-clad entrance door. There were heavy metal grids inside the tall windows. I was shown to a chair, and Pound, a moment later, was led in and over to meet me. He greeted me with a friendly laugh and we sat facing each other. He must have been sixty, if my dates are right, but he looked older to me. Thin, rather gaunt, his hair and the pointed beard gray. When he laughed he threw his head back revealing rows of gold teeth. He made no reference to his circumstances, ignoring one of the inmates, in pyjamas, who walked slowly up and down the length of the room, past us, pausing to pull, apparently an imaginary chain, maybe a toilet chain. Pound said, “So youre a poet.” I told him that I hoped so. He nodded as though he were taking that under serious consideration, and he asked whether I had read any of his Cantos. I said only the first few, and he began to tell me about the plan for their final form, when the last cantos would complete the original design, holding all the others in place, like the frieze over the top of a row of columns—he mimed what he meant with his hands in front of him.

He returned before long, to the subject of my own aspirations, and I explained more or less how they had led me to want to come and see him. He nodded like a teacher and proceeded to talk to me as though he took my words seriously. I realized then and later that he loved the role of the pedagogue. Gertrude Stein had said, “Ezra is a village explainer, which is all right if youre a village, but…” Some of the advice he gave me was unforgettable and has been valuable to me ever since. He said, “If youre going to be a poet you have to forget about “inspiration,” and work at it every day. Try to write seventy-five lines a day. Now, at your age, you dont have anything to write seventy-five lines about, even if you think you do. So the thing to do is to get languages and translate.” He asked me what languages I knew and I said a bit of Spanish, after a bit of high school Latin. He nodded and took it in without comment, and then he said, “The Spanish is all right. Get the romancero. Those are closest to the source. But best of all is the Provencal. Try to get the Provencal. Those troubadours wrote closest to the music. They heard the music before the words sometimes, and sometimes they wrote the music too. The translation of it is not simple, but trying to do it will be the best teacher you will ever find. Translating will teach you your own language.”

That was invaluable, and over the years that I have spent trying to make translations, his words accompanied conclusions that I came to as I worked. For example, I came to want a translation – of my own, at least – to be stretching English, trying to make it accommodate a use it had not been put to before, rather than following familiar convention. It should be making, however unnoticeably, something new.

Pound said to me, “Try to get as close as possible to the original.” That sounded simple. I thought I knew what he meant until I tried to put it into practice…

Anonymous Egyptian

20th century B.C.

Death is before me today

like health to the sick

like leaving the bedroom after sickness.

Death is before me today

like the odor of myrrh

like sitting under a cloth on a day of wind.

Death is before me today

like the order of lotus

like sitting down on the shore of drunkenness.

Death is before me today

like the end of the rain

like a mans home-coming after the wars abroad.

Death is before me today

like the sky when it clears

like a mans wish to see home after numberless years of captivity.


Berber Song


Anonymous folk song

She has fallen in the dance,

None of you knows her name.

A silver amulet

Moves between her breasts.

She has hurled herself into the dance.

Rings chime on her ankles.

Silver bracelets.

For her I sold

An apple orchard.

She has fallen in the dance.

Her hair has come loose.

For her I sold

My field of olive trees,

She has hurled herself into the dance.

Her collar of pears glittered.

For her I sold

My orchard of fig trees,

She has hurled herself into the dance.

A smile flowered on her.

For her I sold

All my orange trees.


Room in Space

René Char French


Such is the wood-pigeons song when the shower approaches—the air is powdered with

rain, with ghostly sunlight—

I awake washed, I melt as I rise, I gather the tender sky.

Lying beside you, I move your liberty.

I am a block of earth reclaiming its flower.

Is there a carved throat more radiant than yours? To ask is to die!

The wing of your sigh spreads a film of down on the leaves. The arrow of my love closes

your fruit, drinks it.

I am the grace of your countenance which my darkness covers with joy.

How beautiful your cry that gives me your silence!

In Praise of Darkness

Jorge Luis Borges

Old age (as others refer to it)

can be the season of our good fortune.

The animal has died, all but the dying.

What remains is the man and his spirit.

I live among vague luminous shapes

that have not yet become darkness.

Buenos Aires

that used to be raveling out around the edges

onto the luminous shapes

that have not yet become darkness.

Buenos Aires

that used to be raveling out around the edges

onto the unlimited plain

has returned to being the Ricoleta, the Retiro,

the dirty streets of the Once,

and the old collapsing houses

that we still call The South.

All my life there have been too many things.

Democritus of Abdera tore out his eyes to be able to think.

Time has been my Democritus.

This penumbra is slow and painless,

flowing down a gentle slope

as though it were eternity.

My friends have no faces,

the women are as they were so many years ago,

the corners might be other corners,

there are no letters on the page of the books.

I might find all of this terrifying

but it is a sweetness, a returning.

Of all the generations of texts there on earth

I will have read only a few

which I go on reading from memory,

reading and transforming them.

From the South, from the East, from the West, from the North

the roads all come together that have led me

to my secret center.

Those roads were echoes and footsteps,

women, men, dying moments, resurrections,

days and nights,

waking dreams and dreams,

each smallest moment of yesterday

and of the yesterdays of the world,

the unflinching sword of the Dane and the Persians moon,

the deeds of the dead,

the sharing of love, and words,

Emerson and the snow and so many things—

now I can forget them, I approach my center,

my algebra and my key,

my mirror.

Soon I will know who I am.

Bashos tomb at Konpuku-ji Temple

Yosa Buson

I will die too

let me be a dry grass flower

here by the monument

In the wild winter wind

the voice of the water is torn

falling across the rocks

I bury the charcoal embers

in the ashes

my hut is covered with snow

I wear this hood

rather than look as though

I belonged to the drifting world


of an oak grove

the moon high in the trees

A mouse peeps out

eyeing the freezing oil

of my lamp

Whenever I go to bed

with my socks on

I have bad dreams




Wise teacher tell me

who or what do I look like

one minute Im a phantom

the next I call to the spirits

I stand unscorched and unshrivelled

in the flames of longing

and I am the candle that gives light to everything

I am the smoke and the light I am one

and I am scattered

The one thing I ever twist in anger

is the peg of the hearts lyre...

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

agneya, February 4, 2013 (view all comments by agneya)
We are waiting for this product since long time.To read these
translations by Merwin would be a great pleasure.When paperback edition
is going to be published?
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No

Product Details

Merwin, W. S.
Copper Canyon Press
Anthologies (multiple authors)
Poetry -Anthologies
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
9 x 6 x 1.5 in

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Anthologies » Miscellaneous International Poetry
Fiction and Poetry » Anthologies » Poetry
Fiction and Poetry » Poetry » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Poetry » Anthologies

Selected Translations New Hardcover
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Product details 500 pages Copper Canyon Press - English 9781556594090 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Were Merwin not one of America's most admired poets (his honors include two Pulitzers and a term as U.S. poet laureate) he would still be as famous as translators get: for more than 50 years and for more than 50 volumes, Merwin has rendered, sensitively and carefully, canonical poets such as Mandelstam and Neruda, traditional songs and sayings from Peru to Madagascar, Latin satire, medieval romance, Japanese haiku, and more. This third selection from Merwin's translations (the first since 1978) might double as an introduction to poetry from the non — English — speaking world, so widely does it range, from India to Alaska, from the folk poetry of Korea ('Nobody notices hunger/ but they never miss dirt') to the careful sophistication of Dante. Lovers of Merwin's own poetry will not be surprised to see how many pages bear an elegiac or a wistful cast, and yet the many forms and languages represented really have helped Merwin, as he says in his substantial autobiographical introduction, 'accommodate something new' to his American English tongue. The arrangement of poems avoids both strict chronology and segregation by language group; instead, we find clusters of related poems, with frequently used languages (such as Spanish and French) parceled out through the book. Traditional poems have a particular attraction, as do the language and culture of Spain: 'Little pearl, suit yourself when you marry,' advises one Spanish folk rhyme; 'your parents will die/ and won't come from the other world/ to see if you're happy.' And yet long works (like the Middle English 'Patience') and sophisticated moderns fit his gifts, too: if anyone can make a big hit out of a book of translations from all over, Merwin ought to be the one." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Synopsis" by ,
Selected Translations is the crowning achievement for one of the world's greatest and most prolific translators of poetry. Absolutely essential.
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