Saturday, 27 February 2016

Pound's Sophocles

I'm reading Ezra Pound's 1956 translation of 'Women of Trachis' by Sophocles although 'translation' is hardly the word. In his introduction the Greek scholar S. V. Jankowski offers a comparison between Pound's approach and three earlier versions:

First the Oxford translation from 1871:

Go now, my son, for even he that is late in doing
well, yet, when he learns his duty, procures gain.
Next Lewis Campbell:

Go then, my son; though late to learn and do
What wisdom bids, hath certainty of gain.

Finally Gilbert Murray:

Go then my son. To have done the rift, though late
The knowledge came, must needs be fortunate.

 None of these can be acted, only declaimed. They share an Elizabethan high style that has a monumental quality but is awfully dull, even costive. Now here's Pound:

Daianeira: See here, son, this slave talks sense
Herakles:  What's she say? Lemme hear

'Make it new' was Pound's rallying cry. 'Make it now' he might have added. His translation from the middle of the last century is in some ways dated but it's alive still and has great appeal (unlike the excruciatingly horrible cracker barrel vernacular) adopted by 'ole Ez' in the letters). Pound's 'Women of Trachis' could be performed today with little modification as one of his most immediately approachable achievements and (as Jankowski concludes in his brisk introduction) 'an event of unprecedented cultural value'.

Here's a bit more. Daysair (daughter of Oineus) is speaking:

Something too creepy's just happened,
That thick wad of white sheep's wool
that I used to daub the jacket, just disappeared.
Nobody touched it.
                                Seemed to corrode of itself.
Ate itself up, there on the floor-stones,
When that brute of a Centaur
was in agony from the arrow in his lung, 
he told me - and I can remember it 
as if it were engraved on a brass plate -
and I did just what he told me: kept it cool,
away from the fire and sunlight, in a cupboard
until time to use it, which I did inside,
and nobody saw me take it out of the kettle
with wool I'd pulled out of a fleece from our own sheep
and put it inside the box that you saw.
But just now, something you wouldn't believe,
perfectly inexplicable . . . 

Who wouldn't want to read (or hear) what happened next?

Text © The Estate of Ezra Pound / Faber and Faber

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