Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It cannot be contained

I answered Paul's question about reading poetry in Enlish and in (translated) Finnish.

I'm not yet fully recovered from the flu, so instead of writing something else here I'm copying my answer verbatim below. And in fact this was an answer to some other question, not the one Paul was really asking. But what was that other question, that is the question.


I tried to find Finnish translations of English poems that made an impact, but that proved to be time-consuming and difficult. So I'm looking from the other direction as well: reading anthologies of poems translated into Finnish and then checking out how the original reads.

As an example, I just borrowed from the library an anthology of English, Scottish and Irish poems, originally written by Fleur Adcock, Simon Armitage, John Burnside, Ciaran Carson, Kate Clanchy, Carol Ann Duffy, Helen Dunmore, Geoffrey Hill, Kathleen Jamie, Jackie Kay, Michael Longley, Don Paterson, Deryn Rees-Jones, Robin Robertson, Jo Shapcott, Pauline Stainer - none of which I knew previously. (The name of the book is "Kuuna päivänä".)

We are also reading with the children a book of translated poems and stories, including work by Whitman and Eliot. Children loved these.

Another thing altogether are poems translated from Chinese or Japanese ... It seems impossible that any meaning can survive, so different are the languages. But we have excellent translators (poets themselves) in Finland, who have created translated poems which operate quite like photographs, as if they were not put together of words at all.

In fact, it is remarkable how Chinese poems seem to breathe lived life, not speak in abstractions as so much of western poetry.

And this is even more remarkable when you note that Gongsun Long (ca. 325–250 BC) pondered questions which western logicians and set theorists invented much, much later.

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