“I used to say,” wrote in 1980 the French poet Eugène Guillevic, “that poetry translation is not difficult, it is just impossible, but man has always reached the impossible (...) and missed the possible.” To the widespread opinion that poetry is untranslatable, poets who translated other poets have brought a striking contradiction, especially throughout the 20th century. Christine Lombez dwells here on the case of some prominent European poets-translators such as S. Beckett, Y. Bonnefoy, A. Guerne, E. Guillevic, P. Jaccottet, R. M. Rilke, B. Pasternak, H. Thomas, M. Tsvetaeva, while rediscovering other atypical personalities like Pierre Albert-Birot, Jean Prévost or Armand Robin. Poetry translation has always fascinated the theorists since it deeply questions the understanding of the art of translation itself. To which extent does the poem, when translated by a poet, still belong to his creator? Can (and should) the poet-translator disappear behind the author he translates? Will he dutifully serve him, or seek to make his work his own, to “ingest” him (B. Folkart)? And what if a poet translates himself? Can one still speak here of “translation”? In her essay, Christine Lombez teaches the reader to listen to the translated poems in order to discover the secrets conflicts and (potentially) antagonistic interactions that heavily weigh on the process of poetic recreation. Her book is a masterly reflection on the tensions haunting any poetic writing: to write a poem seems to be closer to translation than one thinks… An anthology of poets-translators theories on translation completes this book.
Through the selection of a several translations (in French, English, Spanish, Italian, Modern Greek and Russian) of the incipit of the First Duino Elegy (1912) by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), this book aims at proposing another way of reading the famous German poet. It also questions the choices made by various European translators (poets, scholars, professional translators or devoted "amateurs") between 1930 and 2000, while reflecting, in the process of translation, the specific Weltanschauung of these different languages and cultures.
The translation of literary works is one of the most certain ways of opening oneself to other writing traditions, instating dialogue between cultures. However, this dialogue can turn out to be biased when the activity of translators is carried out in a politically confined landscape oriented by ideological intention. In these conditions, what “Other” does one import into the target language? How, for whom and for which objective? The period of German Occupation of France (1940-44) emphasizes these problematics in an exemplary way. In addition to obvious political and economic repercussions, the four years during which France was subject to the law of the Occupier had a great impact on the cultural life of the country: it was effectively a question of Fascist Germany bringing defeated France to heel following the 1940 armistice and imposing a new order, based on national-socialist ideals, with in the foreground and through the medium of translation into French, the massive introduction of German authors into the “official” editorial marketplace (itself wholly or partly controlled by German capital).
Actually, the Occupation years witnessed (in France and also in a francophone country such as Belgium) a very keen interest in literary translation. In the media of the time (whether official or dissident), not only the works to be translated but also the way to do so and the choice of (sometimes rather controversial) translators were discussed on a very regular basis. In collaboration with an international team and grounded on extensive bibliographic data (mostly unpublished so far), this research project aims at investigating an important area of French (and francophone) literary history which has, to date, never been systematically explored.
This study analyses the general significance of translation in the literary life of an epoch, a country and a language, and engages in particular with the status of German lyric poetry in French literature in the first half of the 19th century. In the wider context of a study of the problem of translation, the author enquires into the poetical affinity and relative synchronicity of Germany and France, and points the way to areas which have not yet been sufficiently researched, such as the significance of translations and translators for the development of French poetry. She goes beyond traditional research approaches into “influence” and sees translation as the vehicle for the transfer of motifs or forms, or of changes in metre. (Niemeyer, Tübingen, 2009)