Could Be Mistaken

Jim Murdoch has, in my opinion, written an excellent review of John Kinsella’s The Jaguar’s Dream.

English is a square hole that we resolutely try to hammer round pegs into. And that is what another Australian poet, John Kinsella, has tried to do with his new book of “Translations, Adaptations, Versions, Extrapolations, Interpolations, Afters, Takes and Departures.” In The Jaguar’s Dream he takes poets from a huge range of backgrounds and eras, beginning with the Grecian poet Alcman who lived during the 7th century BC and ending with a couple of trans-versions of fellow Australian Ouyang Yu’s poetry. In between there are large chunks of Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Villon, Leconte de Lisle, Baudelaire, Cros, Rimbaud, Rilke and Mayakovsky. An eclectic mix; let’s put it that way. My first thought when I flicked through this was: Who exactly is this book for? — Jim Murdoch

Rather than offer a commentary of my response to Jim’s review, I figured I would instead try putting my hand to a reversion of one of the poems that Jim discusses the transliterated merits of in his review: Rainer Maria Rilke’s Die Irren up against Kinsella’s The Lunatics. So here it is, Jim. Frederiksen’s version!


And they hold their tongues, for the switch to open plan
negatively impacts private conversation,
and hours, even when they come to mind,
(as garage doors) go up and down.

Most often at night, when they wind down the window:
all at once everything’s sweet as!
Their hands are caressing the concrete,
with a heart so high it could swear to a treat,
and rest their eyes

on the open spaces, often left unspoken,
of gardens on roundabouts growing their own
merry way in the headlit reflection
of possible worlds and still staying grounded.

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About Brad

Braden Karl Frederiksen still has the small wooden treasure chest that his evil Grandmother gave him for his 8th Christmas. He can't recall how old he was when he locked the key inside nor how he locked it in there. He occasionally gives it a rattle and wonders what's making that other sound. View all posts by Brad

3 responses to “Could Be Mistaken

  • Jim Murdoch

    I’m glad you appreciated my efforts, Brad. It was an enjoyable thing to research and has given me a great deal to think about. I still wonder who exactly the book is aimed at but I, for one, was glad the publisher decided to send me a copy out of the blue; usually I get an e-mail first asking me if I’m interested. I like your reworking of Die Irren too. I think were I to have a go at ‘translating’ a poem I would inevitably end up reworking it in my own image. One of my favourite books is One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich which I reviewed on my blog a while back. I reread the book every ten years or so but the next time I’m going to see if I can find a different version to my old Penguin which I’ve lugged around with me since 1976. I love the book but when I wrote my review I dug up a Russian version and I was shocked to see how different the translation was to the original; the translator had taken quite a few liberties and I would really like to read a version that is a bit more faithful to the original.

    • Brad

      It is a thought provoking review, Jim. I’ve not read many translations of poetry, though my exposure to studying philosophy texts no doubt prepared me with a suitable awareness of the difference between an intended meaning and a translation. Of the few poetry translations I have read – say from “The Poetry of Pablo Neruda” for example – I’ve been struck by the absence of rhyme scheming.

      I just did a quick google on the rhyme, form and meter of Neruda’s poetry and followed a link to an analysis of his Love Sonnet 17. From the outset we are told: “It is nearly impossible to retain the meter of the original language when translating poetry. On occasion translators attempt to do so, but the gap is nearly unbridgeable. Because of that, we won’t talk about the meter of the translation and we’ll jump right into the original.”

      That’s fine, but then how does that relate with the opening quote to your review? “A translation is no translation … unless it will give you the music of a poem along with the words of it”. – John Millington Synge

      As I was attempting to construct my version of Rilke’s Die Irren, I had a couple of driving concerns. One was to try and reconstruct the rhyme scheme. The other was to free my words from the literal translation. I know what I produced from the effort isn’t true to the original, but I think it is faithful to the original! It is faithful to the original because I made it mine.

      Or in other words, to quote from Rilke’s Letter #1 to a young poet…

      “You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself.”

      Thank you, Jim!

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