Saturday, 22 March 2014

Poem about translation 19: 'To the Translator, Somewhere in New England, on the Road to Far Cathay'

This latest instalment in the poems about translation series is by the Chinese-English translator Steve Bradbury, from the excellent online literary magazine Cipher

I was drawn to the title, 'To the Translator, Somewhere in New England, on the Road to Far Cathay' partly because I spent some time in China recently for work - an extraordinary experience, whose extraordinariness was experienced partly through language (and the lack of it) and partly through the cultural prism of Arthur Waley's translations of Chinese poetry, which I got to know as a child.

The poem speaks for itself, so I won't comment further here.

For more from Bradbury about translation see his translation of three poems by Shang Qin here and his translation and comment on a quatrain of Li Bai, also known as Li Po, here. This quatrain has been most famously translated - why do I want to say 'covered'? - by Ezra Pound.

Pound's translation, from the collection Cathay, can be read on the Poetry Foundation website. It's free verse, rather than the metrical, rhyming quatrain that Bradbury favours - but then, as he observes in his address to the translator, how do you follow Pound?

For more of Bradbury's comment on translating Li Bai/Li Po, see issue 66 of Translation Review which is still freely downloadable at time of writing here. For more versions of Li Bai's poem, see here, here, here and here.  

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