Sergey Stratanovsky, Muddy River, translated from the Russian by J. Kates (Carcanet Press, 2016)
Leonid Yuzefovich, Horsemen of the Sands, translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz (Archipelago Books, 2018)
The translation of poetry tended to be both more difficult and less successful in the past, when rhyme was a more common feature of style. Sometimes, in cases when a poem drew its main effect from rhyme, it was pointless even to attempt a translation (who would be so rash as to try to translate W.S. Gilbert’s Bab Ballads, or the verse of Harry Graham, into a foreign language!). Nowadays, euphony, rhythm, sound-sense and the evocation wrought by words and their associations – in short, the qualities that make it poetry – are all (all!) the translator, like the poet, must consider.
Often, a single word can cause endless trouble. When before the Crimean War John Bright said, ‘The angel of death has been abroad in the land; you may almost hear the beating of its wings,’ it was widely considered one of the most poetic lines ever uttered in the House of Commons. But he had thought long and hard over the statement, at the last moment substituting ‘beating’ for his first choice, ‘flapping’. Inspired change! And illustrative of how the effect of a line can depend on a single word.
J. Kates admits that he was similarly challenged right at the outset. The title, Непрозрачная Река, really means ‘opaque river’, but that doesn’t sound right at all. And no synonym ...
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