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Ezra Pound discussion list of the University of Maine <[log in to unmask]>
Tim Romano <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 28 Mar 2000 07:26:06 -0500
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Ezra Pound discussion list of the University of Maine <[log in to unmask]>
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I'd second Richard's remark that the discussion of Heaney's Beowulf, and of
Beowulf, and of Pound's attitudes towards Old English poetry, haven't
degenerated into a "squabble" (your term). Whether it's "meaningingless"
(again, your term) is a subjective thing.  One could find meaning where
another finds  .... something unsustaining.
Pound writes about the three ways in which poetry means: melopeia,
phanopeia, and logopoeia.  Sound, image, sense.
The third category, logopoeia, is meant to encompass a very wide range of
ideas about how language and metaphor work. A translation, which also tries
to be a poem in its own right, will address the sounds, images, and sense of
the original. Different translators will address these interdependent modes
of meaning in different ways at different times. A translator's agenda (and
it may not be always a conscious agenda) may shift throughout the course of
a translation of a long poem.And one translator may try to emphasis sound
over sense, another sense over sound.
Over on the Anglo-Saxonists list, another translator of Beowulf is arguing
with me that a translation of an original which comes from an "aural
tradition" (his phrase) must "sing". My reply was to say that the literary
milieu of Beowulf was not purely and simply an oral tradition, but a
tradition marked by the interplay or orality and literacy.  Thus, in my own
translation, I tend to emphasize the logopoeia of the poetic narrative,
using a rather un-songlike diction. Not devoid of sound-sense by any means,
but emphasizing the beautifully "carved" syntactic structures of the
original over the sound. If I have to sacrifice something, sense or
alliteration or rhythm, I will cut myself some slack on the alliterative
requirements or on the rhythmic requirements. Others no doubt would prefer
to sacrifice sense but not sound. We should all question our agendas from
time to time. Choices are usually tradeoffs. That's true with translation
too, in spades.
Pound was in part responsible for establishing the widespread view that Old
English poetry was a very blustery affair.
In his translation of The Seafarer, he goes overboard, I think, in his
exaggeration of the sound.  Germanic languages (Old English was a Germanic
language) were not his forte; his translation was passed through the filter
of an English-speaking poet who was really in  love with the romance
languages. Old English poetry is actually much quieter and more
contemplative than many people allow.
Tim Romano