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Sappho to Valéry: Poems in Translation Paperback – July 1, 1990

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"Nims is graced with a meticulous ear for poetic sound effects as they work to give a poem the uncanniness of a true voice. He knows, therefore, how much in a poem refuses to cross the language border. The wonder remains how much he is yet able to smuggle across." —John Ciardi

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Text: English --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 415 pages
  • Publisher: University of Arkansas Press; 2 Rev Sub edition (July 1, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1557281416
  • ISBN-13: 978-1557281418
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,755,846 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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The book's range marks it as a tour de force of Nims' discursive erudition. By Sappho to Valéry, Nims clearly means Sappho, Valéry and everything in between. The book's contents span 27 centuries (from the seventh century BC to the early 1960s) in ten different languages (French, Spanish, Catalan, Greek, Latin, Italian, Galician, Provençal, German and, of course, English.)

I. The introductory essay

The book's introductory essay on translation is a refreshing read when one compares it to similar essays by such poetry-translators as Walter Arndt, Elizabeth Gray, W.S. Merwin or Mark Musa. Though he spends a little time dallying on the familiar tension in translation between what is being said and how it is being said, Nims does not make the fashionable (yet ultimately misleading) assertion that he is trying to balance the how and the what. Moreover, he actually takes the most unpopular position, stating that" poetry is less a matter of what is said than of how it is said."

This sentiment, though it has become an art-as-form cliché among authors of original poetry, is rarely if ever brought to bear on the issue of translating poetry.

Too often, verse-translators (whether they are poets, poetasters, or scholarly poet-impersonators) seem to think of translation as a brain-teaser. "I've got what the poem literally says" the translator seems to think, "now let's see how I can make this sound like a poem again without changing it too much." It baffles me how few poets realize that this is completely backwards from the way poetry normally comes into being. When writing your own poetry, you often know how you're going to say something before you even know what it is you're saying.
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