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Thursday, August 01, 2013

"A poem should not mean but be" - ARCHIBALD McLEISH

The American Treasures of the Library of Congress houses the handwritten copy of Archibald McLeish’s (L) 1926 poem Ars Poetica (R), the last line of which is
‘A poem should not mean/but be’
Literary quarrels have been waged since time immemorial. The first recorded one is Aristotle’s answer to Plato. 
Plato argued that writers should be expelled from his ideal kingdom because they distracted people from the pursuit of the spiritual. Aristotle said that literature could give us insights into character and life. In the early 20th century, there was a great deal of to-do on the subject: Is the novel dead? Also, Is Tragedy dead? 


Robert Bly, a major American translator writes, “Translating allows one to go deeply into the adventures taking place inside another person’s poem; translating with friends is one of the greatest pleasures in the world.” For his translations of Kabir, he used the translations into colonial English made by Rabindranath Tagore in the 1920s.
“Even in his stodgy English,”Bly writes, “one could feel the astounding courage and brilliance of Kabir. For the Ghalib translations, my son-in-law, Sunil Dutta, made literal translations from the Hindi with elaborate commentaries in English on each line.” 

Later in the Preface he writes, “The most important gift we receive when translating is to see genius — in Mirabai, Rumi, Lorca, Ponge —shine through into the world.” Perhaps the most extreme view of translation comes from the Russian-born linguist and semiotician Roman Jakobson. He says that “poetry by definition is untranslatable.”

Long article at


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