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Reviewed by:
  • Selected Poems by Guillaume Apollinaire
  • Clive Scott
Guillaume Apollinaire, Selected Poems. Translated and edited by Martin Sorrell. With parallel French text. (Oxford World’s Classics.) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. xxiv + 281 pp.

Oxford World’s Classics run up a further debt to Martin Sorrell with this addition to his distinguished sequence of translations (Rimbaud, Verlaine, Lorca). Our familiarity with [End Page 611] Apollinaire in English translation will probably begin with the work of Oliver Bernard (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965), and, fine though his translations are, and supplemented though they might be by Beckett’s (1950) translation of ‘Zone’ ((London: Calder, 1986), pp. 138–53) and collections such as those of Donald Revell (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1995), Robert Chandler (London: J. M. Dent, 2000), and Beverley Bie Brahic (London: CB Editions, 2012), there is plenty of room for Sorrell, given the range of his material, the quality of the translations themselves, and the helpful critical apparatus. His Introduction includes a ‘Life and Times’, written with easy verve, and then a more detailed survey of the poetic collections that not only suggests fruitful ways of addressing certain individual poems (for example, ‘Zone’ in prospect of ‘The Waste Land’), but also deftly and succinctly unravels the tangle of modernist ‘-isms’ (Futurism, simultanism, Cubism, Orphic Cubism). The ‘Note on the Text and Translation’ explains why Sorrell has understandably avoided the more symbolically loaded of the Alcools, but one may regret his reservations about Apollinaire’s experiments in layout and his consequent linear presentation of some of the few calligrams he includes. It is a pity if it is these scepticisms, or indeed the headaches of page-setting, that prevented the inclusion of the wonderfully inventive ‘Lettre-Océan’, perhaps Apollinaire’s finest Futurist poem, and of ‘Du coton dans les oreilles’, his masterpiece of war in the trenches; but there are plentiful compensations. The explanatory notes are kept to an unobtrusive minimum and are essentially informational. The edition also provides a select bibliography and a chronology. As for the translations themselves, they keep Apollinaire crisp and searching, even at those moments when he himself lets discourse slacken with, say, a relative construction too many or a syntax a little too unwieldy. For example, for ‘Par l’issue ouverte sur le boyau dans la craie | En regardant la paroi adverse qui semble en nougat | On voit à gauche et à droite fuir l’humide couloir désert’ (p. 166), Sorrell gives ‘Through the trench’s opening in the chalk | When you face the nougat walls | Right left your eyes run down the damp empty corridor’ (p. 167); and for ‘Et quand après avoir passé l’après-midi | Par Fontainebleau | Nous arrivâmes à Paris’ (p. 146), ‘We cleared Fontainebleau in the afternoon | Reached Paris’ (p. 147). Sorrell is a translator of the calculated risk; and this all helps to keep his text nervously aware, fresh in expression, as if testing the poet, looking for hidden latencies of expression. In the ‘Note on the Text and Translation’, Sorrell gives characteristically modest, if suggestive, short shrift to his own craft as a translator. One hopes that one day he will gather together all these dispersed thoughts on his art and treat us to a fuller account, which will advance translational thinking and do better justice to his huge achievements.

Clive Scott
University of East Anglia


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pp. 611-612
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