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Fictions of otherness

(An essay on poetry translation, from the Dublin Review of Books, December, 2016

We carry poems around with us in our heads, part of the internal tradition we create for ourselves. Often these are translations, although that fact may not necessarily register. When something causes us to dwell on the poem as translation, the result can be troubling. To give just one example, Czesław Miłosz’s “Encounter” has been part of my own personal anthology for many years. Recently I had cause to dig it out again. Here, first of all, is the poem in the English version I remembered:

    Encounter

    We drove before dawn through frozen fields,
    The red wing was rising, yet still the night.

    And suddenly a hare shot across our path.
    One of us pointed to it with his hand.

    That was long ago and both are dead:
    The hare and the man who stretched his arm.

    O my love, where are they, where do they lead,
    The flash of a hand, the line of movement, the swishing icy ground?

    I as…