Great poetry lives in state of perpetual transformation, perpetual translation

      Poetry is that which is worth translating.

      For example, this four-line poem, 1200 years old: a mountain, a forest, the setting sun illuminating a patch of moss. It is a scrap of literary Chinese, no longer spoken as its writer spoke it. It is a thing, forever itself, inseparable from its language.

      And yet something about it has caused it to lead a nomadic life: insinuating itself in the minds of readers, demanding understanding (but on the reader’s own terms), provoking thought, sometimes compelling writing in other languages. Great poetry lives in state of perpetual transformation, perpetual translation: the poem dies when it has no place to go.

      The transformations that take shape in print, that take the formal name of “translation,” become their own beings, set out on their own wanderings. Some live long, and some don’t. What kind of creatures are they:? What happens when a poem, once Chinese and still Chinese, becomes a piece of English, Spanish, French poetry?

Eliot Weinberger and Octavio Paz, introduction to 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei: How a Chinese poem is translated Asphodel Press, 1987 (sadly out of print!)


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