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Illuminations Hardcover – May 16, 2011
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About the Author
Pulitzer Prize–winning poet John Ashbery has translated many French writers, including Alfred Jarry, Pierre Reverdy, and Raymond Roussel. In 2011 he was awarded the National Book Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
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Top Customer Reviews
In an interview in Rain Taxi last year, the ever candid and clear-sighted John Ashbery made a couple of admissions that put this project into perspective. The idea of a translation came from the publisher, who was looking for a follow-up to Heaney's Beowulf, their best-selling pairing of well-known contemporary poet with classic text. And as Ashbery put it, "I didn't feel I was going to be coming up with a definitive translation. I was doing it really for the enjoyment of it, and for the possible after-effect it might have on my own writing....I like Wyatt Mason's version. The Varese is still pretty good....The poet Donald Revell, a friend of mine, has published excellent translations of both A Season in Hell and Illuminations."
I don't think he was just trying to be nice, or sound humble, I think he states the case. There is something bloodless and unconvincing about the writing here, falling as it does somewhere between vernacular naturalness and strict faithfulness to the cognates. Comparing it to the Varese, often what changes were made were merely so as not to "repeat someone else's successful version," as JA puts it. The earlier phrasing naturally is almost always better. And the Varese sounds more passionate, and tense, even somewhat formal on occasion--the Ashbery diction sometimes seems inappropriately flabby and demotic.
Further, if you stick with the New Directions books you get certifiable artistic masterpieces on the cover--Ray Johnson for the Illuminations, superb Val Telberg photo for the Season in Hell.[oops! they have issued a second edition that drops that cover. Pity.] These are high water marks for twentieth-century cover design! I plan to check out the Wyatt Mason volumes too, which promise a much-needed replacement for the Wallace Fowlie complete works.
The text has been translated with a modern voice that makes it feel as if you're reading the poems for the first time again. It feels as if it was written in 2011 not 1866.
Rimbaud was so far ahead of his time. The length of the line, the imagery, the clarity, the intensity of his vision.
I can only assume this will become the definitive translation of this work, clearly a labor of love.
If only Ashbery takes on A Season in Hell and The Drunken Boat.
Let's hope he does.
I started by reading each poem in French two or three times, without consulting either the translations or a dictionary. Only then did I turn to Ashbery's versions and read them through as a single sequence, without looking back at the French. They were very different experiences, both challenging, but for different reasons. In between, I tried translating two pieces myself: MARINE, which is one of the few written in verse, and one of the prose-poems, FLEURS. I found the former more demanding but ultimately easier, since the structure of verse forces a search for the most evocative verbal jewel to set in its precise place. The experience gave me a greater respect for Ashbery's work -- but at the same time made it clear that any translator was attempting the virtually impossible.
The collection was Rimbaud's farewell to poetry, completed in 1875 before he was even 21. It is astounding that these poems, penned when Impressionism had hardly got going, should already look forward to the verbal equivalent of Post-Impressionism and even Cubism. They are modern in a way we associate with verse of the Twentieth Century.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Very convoluted. It's almost humorous how difficult Rimbaud can be to understand. But once you get it, it's so worthwhile.Published 18 months ago by AliciaJones
One of Rimbaud's most illustrious works. If you enjoy reading Rimbaud or about him, you don't want to miss this one.Published 20 months ago by Chk
Bought the book enjoyed it thoroughly for about four day, then the binding detached from the book. As a collector of books I am disappointed that I didn't buy the hardcover... Read morePublished on January 30, 2013 by Peter
great! nothing less but great this is truly a classic, that everybody should read at least once in their lives.Published on January 10, 2013 by Benjamin Koppel
I ordered the 'hardback' edition -- it was not hardback, but rather a thicker cover and better print and type -- I wanted a good edition because Rimbaud's 'Illuminations' is a... Read morePublished on December 21, 2012 by Allen Prebus
Of course this is a more literal translation than some, which I find most helpful. Of course, you will never find the true meaning of Rimbaud's work through a translation, but this... Read morePublished on December 14, 2011 by Tucker