Friday, June 17, 2011

Stung with Love

Stung with Love: Poems and Fragments (Penguin Classics)In my reading of these various translations of Sappho, I've been struck by the difference in not just translations of the poem but in the introductions.  One especially comprehensive commentary can be found in Aaron Poochingian's Stung with Love: Poems and Fragments. The introductory essay is especially strong in its discussion of the historical context in which Sappho wrote as well as in its analysis of the history of Sappho interpretation.

In addition to the strong introduction, Poochigian provides specific commentary on each poem--significantly more detailed than in any other edition I have seen. In most translations, the footnotes are about translation issues or are explanations of little-known references. Here, however, we get full literary analysis. And the analysis is on set on facing pages--in what I think of as Shakespeare style. (Did you grow up with those paperback editions with notes on the even pages?)

Although I love the volume's introduction and its notes, I'm not bowled over by Poochigian's translations. As I have read Sappho over these last two weeks, I've grown to love the illusive and incomplete echoes of her poems that are still extant. Poochigian, on the other hand, wants to heal the rifts: "I confess that, though Sappho's remains are usually fragments that are themselves fragmentary," he writes, "I have done my best to create a sense of completeness." As he says, "I wanted my translations to be real poems in their own right."

In his efforts to emphasize the fact that Sappho did not write in free verse, the translator rejects using free verse translation. Translators who do so "betray her poems by their very nature," says Poochigian. Although the forms Sappho used to not convey into English, he chooses to use a form that would emphasize the fact that Sappho's poems were actually songs. He therefore uses rhyming English lyric.

Sweet mother, I can't take shuttle in hand.
There is a boy, and lust
Has crushed my spirit--just
As gentle Aphrodite planned.

Personally, I find Poochigian's use of rhyme heavy or clunky--not at all consistent with the almost ethereal echoes I've come to love in the more open translations of Sappho's fragments.

Here is another example--a part of one of Sappho's most famous verses:

That fellow strikes me as god's double
Couched with you face to face, delighting
In your warm manner, your amiable
Talk and inviting

Laughter--the revelation flutters
My ventricles, my sternum and stomach.
The least glimpse, and my lost voice stutters,
Refuses to come back.

Compare this even to William Carlos William's strictly paced version and we see something that, at least to my ears, seems flat.  But--although I'm increasingly drawn to the open weave of translations that acknowledge the tatters (such as Carson's), I'm intrigued by the idea that what Sappho's original readers may have heard was much closer to the tightly bound songs presented by translators (such as Poochigian).  What do you think?  Where do you fall?

Anybody else know of other translations to check out?

3 comments:

  1. Well, you know where I come down on this given my almost fanatical devotion to the Carson translation! :-) But I've been so interested to observe the VAST differences among the various translations you've highlighted. Much more variation between them than in the majority of translation-comparisons I've seen, even other translations of poetry. The experience of these rhyming lyrics shares almost nothing with the experience of Carson's fragmentary versions, or even the Barnard. Fascinating. I've been enjoying catching up on your backlog of posts (I've been away for most of Sappho).

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  2. >>. But--although I'm increasingly drawn to the open weave of translations that acknowledge the tatters (such as Carson's), I'm intrigued by the idea that what Sappho's original readers may have heard was much closer to the tightly bound songs presented by translators (such as Poochigian).

    This reminds me of the way that I love ancient sculpture's plain marble. But back then, all of the marble was painted! So weird to think about, really, and it makes me wonder what will survive in changed form from our time.

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