“Look for Me” in the Guardian

I’m very pleased to have this translation as Poem of the Week. For a poem of 12 lines it took a long time to get right, and I think now I should have made that final effort for the alexandrine to sound right in English – it makes a lovely rallentando in Russian but I was afraid it would simply sound like a mistake.

There’s a comment from Pinkroom on the Guardian website:
“I like the sense of this poem but the translation is not working for me. Not liking the flitting (rotten poetty word) preferring ‘fly’ nor the quivering (ditto) preferring ‘trembling’. Got to get your verbs just so or the poem has the wrong energy. This is limp lettuce where it should be charged/electric.”

“Trembling” comes in the third stanza, and there does seem to be a strong rule in English writing that the same word doesn’t get used twice unless there’s a strong reason for it – apart from which the Russian poem has different words, too. The Russian “как взмах неощутимых крыл” [kak vzmakh neoschutimykh kryl] means literally “like the flapping of imperceptible wings”, so “fly” wouldn’t be enough to give that meaning. Poets get ticked off a lot for using words that are allegedly too poetic, and some words do get pretty shopsoiled, but I’m against banning them for any number of reasons. I don’t think “flit” or “quiver” are so seriously damaged, anyway. Pinkroom is lucky this poem doesn’t contain the word “soul” which I’ve been told any number of times is a banned word in poetry – but as it seems about 50% of Russian poems contain that word there’s not much a translator can do if there’s going to be any kind of faithfulness. With poems written nearly 100 years ago I don’t want to be too much either striving for period or updating, but I do want to find something that gives the right kind of experience to an anglophone reader. That can mean using words that might not occur in a new poem now.


Khodasevich reviewed in the TLS

I’m very pleased by the review by G.S. Smith (Emeritus Professor of Russian at Oxford). I even do quite well out of the penultimate paragraph, where the ifs and buts always come in reviews:
“In his own introduction, and particularly in his notes, Daniels is disarmingly open and honest about his method, and about the compromises with semantic equivalence it entails. In both these accounts, though, he ignores the massive legacy of linguistics- and statistics-based Russian expertise concerning European verse form. Fortunately, his ear is consistently better than his theoretical grasp.”

Other quotable moments to preen with:

“Peter Daniels and Angel Books have given us an English Khodasevich worthy of his stature.”

The translations “capture the intelligence, the unerring good taste, and the controlled passion of the originals. They are also commendably close to the primary meaning of the Russian, with its laconically observed social reality tending towards the sordid, but with constant saving glimpses of an angelic realm.”

“There are no disasters, and several ringing triumphs.”

“Knowledge of Khodasevich was always restricted to the literary elite, but he was never completely forgotten, and in post-Soviet times his poetry has risen in esteem. Thanks to Peter Daniels, his reputation may now take off among English-speaking readers.”