PC: Were you writing your own poetry and/or fiction before you started translating?

BR: Oh, most certainly, at least for poetry. (I did not expect for a good many years to write fiction!) I was driven to write poems from about age fourteen -- especially about girls. The output was prolific; the quality was awful -- as I began to see that at about age sixteen, when I started at Brooklyn College. By the end of my first year, I found myself on the staff of the college literary magazine. By the end of my second year, I was the editor, and writing (and sometimes publishing) poems, stories and a short play. At the end of the third year, I resigned from the magazine completely. I could see that it was making me take myself more seriously than I deserved.

I think, but I am not sure, that I began writing novels when I was about eighteen. The first two were burned; the third I still have, in script (i.e., untyped); the fourth's first three or four chapters, much revised, appeared in 1960 as a story in a leading S.F. journal. The fifth novel occupied me from 1960 to 1962, and is now waiting to be published, along with about three dozen other novels.

PC: When did you begin translating? What was it?

BR: My second year in college, in an advanced French class. The professor, born and educated in France, and I, were mostly the only people who spoke in the classroom -- but she was an unmovable critic and never approved the poems I lumbered into English. I have the notebook I worked in and can understand, now, her disapproval.

I went to Indonesia in 1953, and worked there as a teacher of teachers (a mahaguru). I knew the poetry I was then writing was not of much worth, and so, to keep my writing-hand going, I began to translate Indonesian poetry. Shortly before I l left for home, I began to translate some of the Old English poems which I had come to understand, as a graduate student (1948-49; M.A. 1949), were a thousand times superior to the versions of them used in textbooks. A little book, Poems From the Old English, after being rejected by 43 publishers, appeared in print in 1960.

PC: What motivated you to turn your attention to translation in a serious way?

BR: Pleasure; sometimes money; the public's literary needs. (vide, e.g., the little book Yale published not long ago: Nicolas Boileau, Selected Poems. This poet (1636-1711) is virtually unknown in our language. I spent about fifty years working on this very difficult poetry; the dedication says it all: "To the memory of Alexander Pope, a very great English poet whose praise led me to Boileau." C'est ça!")

PC: How did you learn the languages from which you translate? Which did you learn them in school and which on your own? [French, Spanish, Greek, Latin, Indonesian, Old and Middle English, Catalan, Italian, and German.]

BR: I grew up with parents and also relatives who spoke handfuls of language (all of them having been born in Europe). I did not want to ape them, so I took up French, in 7th grade, and then Spanish in high school, and then German in college. Old and Middle English were studied in 1948-49, as I was working for an M.A. Catalan was not entirely foreign to me, since it is quite close to Spanish, but when I tackled a book from that language I had home lessons, one day, for about two hours, from the chairman of the Spanish Dept. at The Univ. of Texas at Austin. In my second and last year there (1968-69), I fell into a joint professorship in the Latin and Greek groups, and had no choice but to learn where I was! They had me translating from both Latin and Greek, and they helped me with them both.

PC: You say you translate "with cooperation" Vietnamese, Chinese, and Russian. What does that cooperation entail-and does that vary from project to project?

BR: I know some Russian, and Russian's sound, from home days. I do not know enough to translate on my own, so I worked with a Russian woman, fully competent in her native language and also with English. She supplied me with English drafts, quite often with alternative renderings, and we handed them back and forth, and over and over.

PC: It might appear that translating poetry present more complications than translating fiction. Is that so?

BR: I would have to say yes -- but a great deal depends on what poem, from what language, and what novel (I don't do stories) from what language. I have written two books on these matters: The Art of Translating Poetry and The Art of Translating Prose, as well as a good many pages in an earlier book, The Forked Tongue.

PC: from one of the novels you translated?

BR: As in all translations, but even more so in prose than in poetry, the translator must be able to put his own literary work aside and try as best as possible, to become the writer of the novel being translated.

There are examples from eight languages in The Art of Translating Prose.

PC: What are some considerations/problems when you translate ancient languages? Can you think of examples of working out these problems?

BR: I do not think anyone can decently translate older languages (even much older versions of their own speech -- as I have done in both Old English -- roughly 800 A,.D., to about 1050 -- and Middle English -- roughly 1100 to 1450 A.D.) without a fairly good knowledge of the society, its history, social proceedings, etc.

PC: Do you ever work directly with authors? [If so, how?]

BR: The authors I have translated from -- all of them -- in both poetry and prose are almost without exception either dead or too old to bother. I did write to the Catalan writer I mentioned earlier, Salvador Espriu, but only because of the social requirements of all Spanish countries. It would be outrageous to them if a translator does not establish contact and, most importantly, does not register strong approval of said writer's work. (Knowing the little book would make no money, I instructed the publisher to give 55% of royalties to the author and 45% to me!)

PC: When you're in the middle of a long translation project, what do you do with your writing your own original poetry and fiction?

BR: For better or worse, I am readily able to shift from A to B to C. Example: I was working as the director of a small philanthropic outfit, housed way upstate New York State; I divided my morning time into two large divisions -- Rabelais' great novel for exactly an hour, and a book of poems I was also working on, which got another hour; and then I drove 35 miles to my paid "job." (This is nothing but inherited brain-work. You are I think either born with it or without it. Period. No medals are to be handed out. I also work very fast -- so what? A man who's 7'6" tall can be a great basketball player. Does that make him better in playing pinochle?)

PC: What are you working on now?

BR: Novels and more novels. After I had finished Dante's great Commedia (2008; it was published in 2010), in the next four years I wrote a novel every three months (sixteen in all). Earlier this year, no new novel had popped up its head, and I did not know if (at age 84) I would write another. So I spent several months repairing and

improving, sometimes discarding, all kinds of stuff I had in my files. When I had finished that, a couple of weeks ago, I did not have any idea where I might be going -- and then what at first I titled "a nameless novel" crept rather hesitantly into my computer. It was not until a few days ago (perhaps 13,000 words into the book) that I gave the book a title (Transformations). After today's work, I am 15,667 words into a decidedly crazy book. What can I do except write on?