issue 30 > slavitt tribute > raffel
David Slavittby Burton Raffel
In this era of electronic speech, friends and cooperators are often physically unknown to one another -- unless direct communication of voices can count as direct contact. David Slavitt and I have had a good many of both varieties, messages on electronic paper, voices on electronic telephones. But if he came walking down a sidewalk, I would not know who he was.
I am deeply grateful to this magic man, who has a big, friendly heart, and especial openness to other writers. I suspect that more than any other literary activities, our mutually dedicated translation activity, mostly of poetry, puts us rather close together. I have translated forty-four volumes; he has translated forty-two -- and we have never yet duplicated one another, though God knows we have both splashed in a lot of directions. I tend to do French, Spanish, and Old and Middle English. David does Latin and Greek, as well as Italian; however, we both wander literally all over the place.
But he and I have never worked together. Our translations are always literary, and mostly poetry: we both seem to neither use or need cooperative parties. He approves of my work; I approve of his.
But the real things he has done for me have not been directly literary. He has wonderfully helped me to line up a new literary representative. He has pointed my nose toward useful publishing editors. He has tried to do many more acts of support for our two personally unknown men, one (David) far more comfortable and effective with literary business men and women, the other (me) pretty well hidden away. I don't recall where he lives. Our homes will remain at permanent distances: neither of us, I suspect, are drawn to man-to-man proceedings.
I do not write analyses of friends or, as in this case, those who work in the same fields as I do. I believe that this, in both minds, has always kept us from repeating what the other man has done. And that respect will always keep us from conflicting. I know that, also, I have never written about him, and I suspect he has returned the favor. In my case, much high-pressing assistance in fact tends to come from women. One in particular is wonderfully free of any restrained responses. Her highest level, in one particular translational case, declared that "Burton, I have never liked this less than anything that you have done." I was delighted, not a bit offended: this was what I had suspected, but could not readily correct on my own. (The language I was translating for the first time desperately required good critical informing -- and she gave it to me.) It was, for the records, not until my twelfth version was there something she could begin to tolerate, but it was only the fourteenth that was totally approved.)
I feel that David is the kind of highly responsive co-worker who actively desires to assist others engaged in similar tasks. There is not a jot of self-conscious assertion, not a jot of personalized jealousy. He is simply a first-class man -- and who does not know that not all writing people have earned such a label. Nothing has ever been in it for him, as he helped me. And I have never been able to reproduce his openness -- though perhaps this brief little note will at least open the door a crack. Indeed, we had both better get to it: I am already eighty-five years old, and he is not more than seven years behind me. If there is a single man I would like to meet for the first time, David is it, a full and eminent soul whose hand I ought to shake. Will a wholly withdrawn worker in the fields stay where I have always been? I suspect that, for better or worse, I will -- and even David, wonderfully friendly as he is, will not break through my wired fence. But I suspect that neither of us is going to be offended. This is how it is, and we are as we are. C'est ça.