Correspondence

Prison Pencil, Supermarket Crayon

"Poets in our civilization," a famous poet wrote in his most famous essay, "must be difficult." He went on to explain his thought, and his Englishspeaking audience understood him. When the thought was translated, it went on living in other languages. But would an English-speaking audience understand his famous lines:

Please come with me

When night

Like a man undergoing surgery . . . ?

Or, for that matter, would any audience understand these lines and appreciate them as poetry? Yet, quite possibly, this is just what the opening of "Prufrock" sounds like in another language.

Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherised upon a table . . .

But why translate back into English the words of a hypothetical translation of an English poem into another language? I have just finished translating "Prufrock" for the winter number of Kontinent, the Russian-language emigre quarterly, and this is how it begins:

Let us go for a walk, us two.

When the volume of autumn twilight

Is...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here

X