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Reviewed by:
  • To the Silenced, and: The Fishermen Sleep
  • Ritchie Robertson
Georg Trakl : To the Silenced. Translated and introduced by Will Stone (Arc Translations). Todmorden: Arc Publications, 2005. Pp. 165. Pb. £10.95.
Sabine Lange : The Fishermen Sleep. Translated by Jenny Williams, introduced by Mary O'Donnell (Arc Visible Poets). Todmorden: Arc Publications, 2005. Pp. 116. Pb. £8.95.

These welcome volumes belong to two separate series, both edited by Jean Boase-Beier, designed to ease our access to European (including Turkish) poetry. Both volumes print the original German with a facing-page translation.

Will Stone's introduction to his translations from Trakl contains an [End Page 281] admirable declaration of principle: 'As a translator of poetry I must in the end have a real poem to show for my struggle, not a collection of carefully constructed lines which read like a poem but are in fact already decomposing before they reach the page.' He has struggled with considerable success. His versions of Trakl do read like real poems, and, to a very large extent, are valid equivalents to the haunting and mysterious originals. If I seem to stress my reservations, that is not from any wish to find fault with Stone's achievement, but to note possible amendments that could be made in a revised edition.

Given Trakl's obscurity, his translator must render his language as precisely as possible, introducing no further ambiguities, so that the reader can explore this unique poetic landscape. Stone makes few outright mistakes, though 'hand' ('Kaspar Hauser Song', p. 99) should be 'heart', and 'wind' ('To One who Died Young', p. 107) should be 'friend'. However, while many poems are flawlessly translated, others contain subtler and inexplicable departures from the original. Stone has a curious habit of making singular nouns plural, and vice versa. There are three examples in a single sixteen-line poem, 'Winter Dusk', and, without hunting systematically, I noticed ten other instances. The most regrettable is the transformation of the last line of 'Grodek', 'Die ungebornen Enkel', into 'The grandson still unborn', which loses the suggestion that the First World War has destroyed a whole future generation. Several times, and again for no apparent reason, Stone changes the tense of a verb (e.g. 'Ruft' becomes 'called' in 'Helian III'), and fails to notice that the accusative case indicates motion: thus,again in 'To One who Died Young', the phrase 'stieg … In seine stillere Kindheit' should become 'descended … Into his calmer childhood'.

Occasionally Stone introduces unnecessary puzzles by complicating Trakl's simple language. In the first poem, 'The Horror', läßt is rendered 'commands', although the unobtrusive 'makes' would have been better. The simple, evocative word Leib ('body') is translated as 'remains' in 'De Profundis' and 'frame' in 'Lament (II)'. The original genitive constructions could have been retained instead of the odd phrases 'olive tree darkness' (p. 69), 'incense sweetness' (p. 75), and 'poppy sap' (p. 89, where 'juice' would anyway have been more accurate). The children in 'Psalm' need not 'surrender play' butonly 'stop playing'. I cannot quite see how Stone arrives at 'chosen fire chasms' ('Mankind') or 'stripped leaf stars' ('In the East').

Stone's introduction tells us much about Trakl's drug habit and mental disturbance. 'There is no doubt', he asserts, 'that the natureof Trakl's poetry was heavily influenced by his mental disease'. Presumably, but does this conjecture help us to appreciate the poetry? [End Page 282] Since Stone rightly invokes Hölderlin and Rimbaud, whom Traklread intensively, it might have been better to remind us how Rimbaud created, and Trakl developed, a new poetic language based on non-referential images. He does, however, locate Trakl firmly and vividly in his native Salzburg. And his own versions enable us to consider Trakl's relation both to Symbolism and to more recent European poetry. The penultimate line of 'Psalm', 'In his grave the white magician plays with his serpents', leaps off the page as an anticipation of a key line in Paul Celan's 'Death Fugue'. Although I cannot rate this volume quite as highly as Alexander Stillmark's translation of Trakl's Poems and Prose (reviewed in Translation and Literature, 11 (2002), 118-23), anybody...


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pp. 281-284
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Archived 2009
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