El método de Stanley Burnshaw

Thirty years ago in This Quarter, I published "A Note on Translation" which suggested that the only way one could experience the poetry of a language one did not command was by learning to hear and pronounce (if only approximately) the sounds of the originals and "simultaneously" reading literal renditions. Since the poetry inheres in the tonal language (the sounds of the poem in its original language), how could one possibly experience a Spanish poem in any language but Spanish, a French poem in any language but French? The "Note" appeared at a time when translators felt free to do anything: they were "re-creating originals"! Bilingual editions had not yet become familiar -nor had Frost's definition of poetry as "that which gets lost from verse and prose in translation". Before long a publisher expressed interest in my notion, and I embarked on a small anthology. But then he insisted that verse translations also be included, despite the danger of confusing and distracting the reader. And so for the time being I abandoned the project, certain as ever that mine was the only means by which a reader could begin to experience the poetry of other languages.

But my method had not gone far enough, as I discovered many years later when I found myself working on some poems by Mallarmé. My literal renditions were scrupulous, yet in certain key places a single French word could not be rendered by a single English word -pieces of two or even of three might be required. Other words, with double denotations in the French, had to be halved in English or equated by impossible compounds. And certain phrases that looked easy in the dictionaries carried quite untranslatable connotations essential as meaning. As for syntax, the reader would have to untangle it for himself. And the allusions -though at times they might hold the key of the poem, they could not even be considered, since they stand outside the purview of all translation.

What sort of experience, then, did my confident method offer? Obviously, an inadequate one: a great deal more would have to be added before an English-speaking reader could begin to experience Mallarmé. [...] The method had to be expanded, the line-by-line rendition enriched, at least with alternative equivalents where necessary and with leads where ellipsis and syntax might frustrate a reader. Other clues had also to be given: to telescoped images, private allusions, specialized symbols, systems of belief, and similar problems. And what of the poem as a work of sonal art? For a reader who wishes to hear and pronounce the original, however approximately, any number of interesting points might be signalled; not only of rime, assonance, meter, and strophe, but of graces, stops, turns, and the sonal felicities of the whole. To be faithful to its intent, the method had to be enlarged into a literal rendering plus commentary -into a discussion aimed at enabling the reader both to understand the poem and to begin to experience it as a poem.

BURNSHAW, Stanley. A Stanley Burnshaw Reader. Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 2010, pp. 95-96.