On Keston Sutherland

Ian Patterson

Occasionally, really not very often, a translation makes something like a jagged hole in the even surface of literary reception, out of which emerge half-familiar figures, dazzling in their new accessibility. Most translations fail at some point because of the twin principles of fidelity and compromise; too often, especially if they are translations of poems, they are not enough like original writing to carry the conviction they need to embody if they are to come anywhere near the force of the work itself. You can’t just carry over the words of a poem into a different language, across that space Anne Carson describes as ‘like no other’, nor can you just re-create the thinking or the experience in the poem. Both Proust and Valéry described writing itself as an act of translation: translation, equally, is an act of writing, and at its best can make the same kind of impression.

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