The morality of art is not a subject much better understood than the morality of artists. I have no doubt -- as a retired member of the New York Bar -- that, during World War Two, Ezra Pound committed treason. The country of which he was a lifelong citizen, the United States, was at war with Italy. I have read every word of the many talks Pound gave over the Italian radio: had he been tried -- the decision to certify him insane, and thus immune from trial, made the issue moot -- he would, or at least he should, have been found guilty.

The late Frederick Unger, with whose publishing firm I had at one time contracted to write a study of Pound, was a Viennese Jew who escaped Hitler. When it became apparent, as I sent in chapters of the finished manuscript, that as a New York Jew who had not needed to escape Hitler I was not vitally concerned with this aspect of Pound's life or career (though I duly noted and described it), Mr. Unger made such a fuss that I canceled the contract, withdrew the book, and published it elsewhere (Raffel 1984).

Pound's wartime record had brought about a similar though much larger brouhaha, when he was awarded the Bollingen Prize for poetry, in 1948. How, it was demanded, could an American prize be given to an American traitor, a devoted follower of Mussolini, anti-Semitic and, at the time he wrote The Pisan Cantos -- the poetry for which in particular the prize had been given -- a man confined in an improvised military jail ? (Raffel 1984, 122-27)

Richard Wagner, an immensely important musical pioneer, and a man of deeply if highly unorthodox spiritual feeling, was a uncontrolled sybarite, irresponsible, and a totally unreliable (at times a dangerous) friend. As Ernest Newman once summed him up, Wagner was "at once a voluptuary and an ascetic, a hero and a rogue ... He knew no law of life except the full realization of himself at the moment" (Newman, 150-51) As for his anti-Semitism, it was far worse than Pound's. "We have no need to prove that modern art has been taken over by the Jews," Wagner wrote in 1850. "This is a fact that leaps to the eye unbidden. ...We are repelled in particular by the purely aural aspect of Jewish speech. ... The Jews' ideas on visual observation have rendered it impossible for any visual artist to emerge from them: their eyes have always busied themselves far more with practical affairs than with beauty or the spiritual substance of the material world" (Wagner 1991, 26, 28, 29). We all know where such sentiments led Germany.

No one can legitimately doubt the viciousness of Wagner's views, just as no one can doubt his other characterologic flaws: a "poor little sickly, supersensitive, self-indulgent neurotic ... with [a] lust for domination," as Newman says (159-60). But can anyone doubt the towering significance of Wagner's music? I for one cannot resist that music: at its supreme best, which is quite often indeed, it is to my mind equal to the greatest art Western civilization has ever produced, in any of its forms.

When the late great tenor, Jussi Bjoerling, in an advanced state of drunkenness (as he often was on stage), sang gloriously, was the music any less magnificent than when (if ever) he sang sober? More important, was his singing in fact any different? And if different, which I doubt, was it worse or was it better?

I do not mean to avoid these primordial questions, which neither I nor anyone else can adequately answer. But the issues raised are central to any consideration of either the theory or practice of morality in translation -- which, despite arguments to the contrary, is indeed an art, lesser but by no means trivial. In every translation, willy-nilly, we have a series of disparate and often ill-understood elements; the listing which follows could of course be vastly expanded:

  • 1) a language
  • 2) a culture
  • 3) a written text
  • 4) readers of that text, who are either
    • a) native to the particular language and culture
    • b) not native to the language and culture
  • 5) commentators on that text
  • 6) translators of that text
  • 7) translations of that text
  • 8) readers of translations

It is not hard to see that there are moral issues arising in connection with all of these matters. Some fairly obvious ones, which I mention largely as a matter of scene-setting for the not-so-obvious issues I principally want to discuss, might be the following:

1) and 2) Does the translator have adequate control of the language and/or the culture he or she is translating from? If not, as is sometimes clearly the case, are there others supplying the translator with conscientiously helpful guidance? Are his or her (or their) attitudes toward that language and culture in any significant way negatively (or in excessively and perhaps damagingly positive ways) biased?

3) Has the text been in some way falsified, in whole or in part? This can be a difficult matter; those without access to the original are without question at the mercy of the translator. Rex Warner, a fine and knowledgeable translator, published a fluent version of Caesar which, as I pointed out in 1976, eliminates passages of the original without any indication that anything has been removed or any explanation of his reasons for these omissions (Raffel 1976, 23).

When I myself was first working on my translations from Horace, I used, all innocently, an early twentieth-century British text of the Latin original. A colleague in the Classics Department at the University of Texas, Austin, pointed out that a Latin text with that provenance was likely to have silently suppressed certain passages of sexual content. He lent me a text produced in Paris, which contained the expurgated lines. 1

4) and 5) Although they are usually called upon to act in such roles, natives of a language and culture are often not the most satisfactory judges of translations. They want the translation to sound, to their ears, exactly like the original, although as any linguist knows this is simply not possible. Indeed, what distinguishes a mere dialect from a fully separate language is, by definition, what is called "mutual unintelligibility," and a good part of that unintelligibility is always the difference in sheer sound between one language and all other languages, even those historically in close relation to one another. In Baudelaire's "Hymne à la beauté," for example, there is the sequence "ange ou sirène," not one phoneme of which can be fully reproduced in English, for English simply does not contain any of the sounds which compose these four simple syllables. Indonesian "verb" structures (not "verbs" at all, of course) as well as Indonesian phonology are utterly alien to English. Some cultures -- Russian, e.g. -- operate from a theory of translation not at all like that prevailing in places where English is the dominant language. Is it moral for a great Russian poet like Joseph Brodsky (it is certainly honest of him) to review a translation into English and say, quite explicitly, that he prefers what he knows to be bad translations because bad translations sound, to him, more like the Russian originals?

6) and 7) Translators do not often consciously and deliberately distort a translation. More usually, either they are focusing, sometimes obsessively, on some particular aspect of their work, and thus lose sight of the larger picture (the Zukofsky example, below), or else they have some distorting initial perspective which prevents them from seeing the work as it actually is (the Pound example, also below). Indeed, the examples I am about to discuss not only exhibit both such distortions, but also show the severe strains imposed on a translation when the translated work, rather than the original, is allowed to become primary in the translator's mind.

Zukofsky : The "Translator's Preface" to the Zukofsky version of Catullus declares: "This translation of Catullus follows the sound, rhythm, and syntax of the Latin -- tries, as is said, to breathe the 'literal' meaning with him" (Zukofsky 1969, unpaginated). If this sounds exceedingly odd, considering that the "sound" of Latin has nothing much to do with the sound of any other language, so that the "rhythm" of Latin is unique to that tongue, and that the "syntax" of no language is transferable into any other (Raffel 1988, 14-16), yes, it is odd -- but not as odd as the "translation" it instigates. Two lines from Catullus 32 will be sufficient. Here is, first, the Latin, followed by Charles Martin's fine translation and then the Zukofsky rendering (the poem is a request for an assignation, from a man to a woman):

nequis liminis obseret tabellam,
neu tibi lubeat foras abire.

Don't let another client shoot the door bolt,
and don't decide to suddenly go cruising

no case, limb, menace obscure your tableland,
no tidbit love you outdoors far as a bier.

Zukofsky's version is schoolboy game-playing, adolescent verbal fun; it is not translation, though it comes reasonably close to a sort of addled transliteration.

Pound : Operating from the antiquated view that Old English (or Anglo-Saxon) poetry represents a hearty, emphatically secular culture of muscular and highly combative primitives, Pound's famous translation of "The Seafarer" turns every one of the poem's religious lines to secular ones -- and suppresses those, at the end, which he cannot thus transform.2

for thon his thaese modwlonc mon ofereorthan,
ne his gifena thaes god, ne in geoguthe to thaes hwaet,
ne in his daedum to thaes deor, ne him his dryhten to
            thaes hold,
thaet he a his saefore sorge naebbe,
to hwon hine Dryhten gedon wille
(Exeter Book, 144; orthography normalized).

In plain prose, this would read: "For there is no man on earth so proud-spirited (brave),/ of such excellent endowment, nor so bold a youth,/ nor so courageous in his actions, nor to whom God (or his lord) has been so gracious,/ that he feels no anxiety when he puts out to sea,/ no fear of what God will do to him." Pound translates:

For this there's no mood-lofty man over earth's midst,
Not though he be given his good, but will have in his youth greed,
Nor his deed to the daring, nor his king to the
But shall have his sorrow for sea-fare
Whatever his lord will (Pound, 208)

Pound warps the poem's content because he is more concerned with the music of the Old English original (which he captures brilliantly -- better than anyone who has ever made the attempt in modern English) than he is with anything having to do with the poem's meaning. This can be immediately seen by a comparison to another version of these same lines:

             But there isn't a man on earth so proud,
So born to greatness, so bold with his youth,
Grown so brave, or so graced by God,
That he feels no fear as the sails unfurl,
Wondering what Fate has willed and will do (Raffel 1960/1964, 32).

8) The biases with which readers may and surely do approach translations -- which biases may and in fact do range from political and ethnic prejudice to antagonistic views of religion, philosophy, and literature -- need no commentary.

Still, most of the moral problems that come first to mind, like those I have been setting out, have to do with things external to the translation process proper. Along with a good many other people, many of whom are, like me, themselves translators, I have written a good deal about these external issues. Such discussions deal, for the most part, with the quality of translation, which is understandably perhaps the single issue most important to those in the eighth of the above categorizations, namely the readers of translations. 3

There is much more that still needs to be written on the quality issue, because on this very basic level there remains an enormous ignorance, not simply among the teachers who have become the primary users of translations, and not simply among those who comment on translations, but frequently among those who actually produce the translations. The useful Winter 1995 issue of Comparative Literature, for example, dealt almost exclusively with these questions. The guest editor, André Lefevere, quite properly called attention to that "intercultural phenomenon of the first magnitude known as translation" (10), and the author of one of the essays, Maria Tymoczko, sensibly notes that "A translator assumes a large responsibility in undertaking to produce a text that will become representative of the source literature and, indeed, of the entire source culture for the receptor audience" (17).

But Lefevere's concerns as a comparatist take him only as far as the "agenda" which "rewriters" (i.e., translators) "always have ... , [whether] hidden or not" (10), and Tymoczko is similarly concerned with "the politics of such representations" of other cultures (17). These are undeniably valid concerns; they need, as I have indicated, a great deal more examination and discussion than they have yet had.

But the internal morality of translations and translators, to which I propose to devote the remainder of this essay, has been left largely undiscussed. Rather than a response to such questions as "How good (or bad) is this translation?", such an approach would seek to answer questions like "Under what circumstances do translators do their best work, and how can those conditions be developed, maintained, and supported?" Or it would try to answer such questions as "What exactly is (and is not) a translation?" and "To whom (or what) is, or should be, a translator responsible ?" These are questions which are not, in the usual sense, often formulated in "critical" writing. Instead of breaking an issue into its component parts, for readier comprehension, these questions are intended to construct an information base upon which -- but only after that base has been built -- criticism may quite legitimately operate. Until, that is, we have asked and to some significant degree answered these sorts of questions, there seems to me remarkably little to be "critical" about.

And it seems to me, further, that we have scarcely begun to even formulate, much less answer, these types of questions about the art of translation. The very words are plainly slippery -- a statement which I will try to explain. By "positive" I do not mean things either exhortative or determinedly optimistic, but simply "possessing an actual force, being, existence," as The American College Dictionary phrases it. The dictionary then adds that in a philosophical context "positive" takes on the meaning of "constructive and sure, rather than skeptical" (946, col.1). To the extent that I am able, in the space of a relatively brief essay, I want to "construct," as best I can, an approach to translation morality which has "actual force and being."

Let me therefore take as a test text a specific and therefore readily limitable translation problem, arising from a phrase in Cervantes' Don Quijote. In volume 2, chapter 7, Don Quijote's housekeeper is forcefully, not to say dramatically, describing what her master looked like, returning from an earlier chivalric expedition. He was, she declares, " flaco, amarillo, los ojos hundidos en los últimos camaranchones del celebro." My concern, here, is with the third through eleventh words (that is, the phrase beginning "los ojos").

The housekeeper is saying that Don Quijote looked as if (1) his eyes ("ojos") were (2) sunk or drowned or merged ("hundidos") (3) in the last or furthest or final ("último") (4) attic or loft ("camaranchón") (5) of his skull or brain ("del celebro"). The five elements of the phrase are clear; the translator's responsibility would seem to be equally apparent. But there are serious difficulties. It is easy enough for the native speaker of English to think of eyes sunk into a man's head, in sickness, weariness, or what have you. But it is a good deal harder for such a reader to visualize eyes which are sunk (a) into an attic or loft in the person's head, and (b) not into the first, but into the last of an unnumbered series of such cranial chambers. Native speakers of English are not in the habit of thinking in such terms: we may think of the brain (as distinct from the skull to which Cervantes refers) as a storage chamber, but when we do so we are employing a manifestly different metaphor, involving highly positive associations (whether treasure chest, computer, bank vault, or what have you). Don Quijote's housekeeper, however, is drawing a deeply negative picture. Further: the native speaker of English may visualize the brain as large, or extensive, or deep, but (at least in our time) he does not see it (or the skull) as a series of chambers.

The key to the problem is the singularly expressive Spanish noun, "camaranchón" (Cervantes uses "camaranchones," which is the plural form), meaning "attic, loft, lumber room." In British usage, a "lumber room" -- which by the way need not be upstairs in an attic, but can occur anywhere, on any floor of a house -- is a place for storing, not lumber, but old and not terribly valuable objects -- unused furniture and the like. We have attics, we have lofts, and (though Americans do not use the exclusively British word) we have lumber rooms. But as I have said, we are not at all in the habit of postulating such chambers as inside a human head, nor are we in the habit of thinking of such cranial chambers as musty, dusty places filled with outworn household objects. And if we did, we would not necessarily think of them as exclusively located in the upper reaches of a house. Significantly, Covarrubias' 1611 dictionary of the Spanish language, uniquely helpful for Cervantes because it was compiled during that writer's lifetime, not only tells us that a "camaranchón" is "el desván de la casa" (the attic/loft of a house), but adds " que sirve de sólo tener en él trastos viejos" (which is only used to store in it old junk) (275, col.b, line 10).

Here are some of the solutions that translators have evolved:

"his eyes sunk right into his skull" (Cohen, 508)
"his eyes were deep-sunken in his head" (Putnam, 428)
"his eyes deep sunk in the recesses of his skull" (Starkie, 570)
"his eyes sunk deep into his skull" (Ormsby et al, 457)
"his eyes sunk into the very lowest pit of his brain" (Smollett, 459)

But translation's responsibility, whatever it is and to whomever it may or may not be owed, cannot be an off-and-on affair. It seems clear that none of the translations just quoted truly captures, or (with the exception of Smollett, who translates fully but, as it were, in reverse, making the image go deeper down instead of farther up into the skull) even tries to fully translate each of the five elements of the Spanish phrase.

Can a full translation in fact be made? If not, there is of course no moral issue presented. There are obviously difficulties here; it is also true that, in general (though much less often than is usually thought to be the case), there can be times when no full translation of particularly idiomatic language is possible. I do not think a one-hundred-percent-full translation is ever possible, though for the phrase I have been discussing I believe a fuller rendering clearly can be obtained. But not easily. What I came up with, after several days of lying awake at night and muttering the Spanish to myself, over and over, is this:

"his eyes shrunk way up into the attic storerooms of his skull" (Raffel 1995a, 383)

In revising the translation, I have many times removed the word "way," and then put it back. I do not think this is deathless English prose, and I am not entirely confident that it is a proper match for Cervantes' stylistic bravura. But as I have said, elsewhere, in discussing this small but immensely (and, for Cervantes, typically) troublesome phrase,

Lacking a suitable English idiom, what I have done, essentially, is combine (or at least juxtapose) two native English terms, "attic" and "storerooms," thereby producing something comprehensible, more or less idiomatic (at least, not jarringly unidiomatic) and, most important, a translation significantly closer to what Cervantes actually meant and wrote than I believe any of my predecessors has been able (or has cared) to do (Raffel 1994, 136).

This is for me a moral rather than a merely technical, literary issue because, as my earlier discussion also emphasized, "the more the writer of such a book [as Don Quijote] is capable of, the more his or her translator is obliged to do." (134; emphasis added) But is this smallish phrase really worth all the trouble? The answer I have given, and elaborated in some detail, is an unqualified "yes": "if Cervantes thought the metaphor important enough to put into his masterpiece, the translator had damned well better find it of equal importance" (133).

I should like to deepen and broaden the roots of this concept of morality. A Nobel laureate, Eugene Wigner, has said that "The world is very complicated and it is clearly impossible for the human mind to understand it completely" (in Gregory, 114). Neither Don Quijote nor any other work of literature can offer us complete understanding: such understanding does not exist, and we are as a species incapable of it. (I do not know if any other species can or will do better; that is not the issue.)

What we say about the world, our theories, are like garments -- they fit the world to a greater or lesser degree, but none fit perfectly, and none are right for every occasion. There seems to be no already-made world, waiting to be discovered. The fabric of nature, like all fabrics, is woven by human beings for human purposes (Gregory, 186).

But what the greatest works of literature do offer us is "great" understanding -- partial, necessarily flawed, necessarily incomplete, yet great. In transmitting so high a level of understanding, the translator has the ever-present, almost awesome responsibility of giving his readers, to the extent possible, what is in fact present in that great original. The translator cannot attain perfection, any more than can the original author. "Be ye therefore perfect, even as thy Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew, 5, 48): Jesus' injunction would have us strive toward a perfection he and we both know we cannot hope to reach, yet that striving is the best and noblest thing we as humans can struggle toward. So too the translator must give of himself, and to the utmost, in order to come as close as he can to transmitting what is contained in the work he is translating.

And here we reach the issue of spirituality, which it seems to me is and must be inherent in any theory of translation morality. Morality governs what we do or do not do; spirituality determines the "why" and "why not" of what we do or do not do. The translator alone in his study (these days with his computer for company), and surrounded more than likely by books and papers, is not exactly a hermit in a desert cave. But in order to attain to the state of mind which will not only permit but actually enforce the level of morality I have been describing, the translator might perfectly well be in a cave or perched on top of a stylite, because what he is after, what alone can in my opinion fully and properly motivate him for his task, is a profound inner communion with what he is translating. I do not need to use words like "love" to describe this state -- though I think almost no human being is capable of properly translating a great work if it is not work which in some way he loves. (I add the cautionary word "almost," remembering a very great novel -- not a translation, admittedly, but definitely a work of art -- which is a book based on singularly intense loathing, namely, Flaubert's Madame Bovary. 4) Remember, please, that I have from the outset said that my theory of translation morality is meant to be positive, to construct rather than either to destroy or to deconstruct.

Communion with the workings of another person's mind and spirit is neither an esoteric nor a previously ignored process. It is not my business to tell anyone how to achieve such communion. I do however insist that, like some verbal Aeolian harp, the translator of a great book must in some sense achieve a state of communion with a book before he can hope to do it justice. It has been my own experience, for whatever that may be worth, that no amount of prior reading or thinking can make such a state occur. It is far too inner, much too intense, to be achieved by relatively casual or predominantly intellectual effort. The more complex the work to be translated, the longer it is likely to take for the translator to come to where he needs to be.

This theory of translation morality, however, clearly contains what is called, in law, a "weasel word." Don Quijote is indeed a "masterpiece"; it is in my judgment the greatest novel ever written. But what of lesser books? I have previously addressed this question, though only in one quick sentence: "As both a translator and a critic of translators I can be, and I have been, less insistent about the absolute primacy of the original, in dealing with the translation of lesser authors" (Raffel 1994, 134). That is, the sheer value of great art imposes enormous responsibility on the translator. What is lost, should the translation fail, is in a sense irreplaceable. This is not true -- or not as true -- of lesser work. Still, there is yet another weasel word here: I have said, and I mean, one "can be ... less insistent about the absolute primacy of the original, in dealing with the translation of lesser authors." I have not said, nor do I believe, the translation of lesser work must be less rigorously subordinated to the original text.

One of the primary and most certain ways by which, as a translator, I know that I have gotten to where I need to be, is that I experience something like a strong sense of identity with the writer. My family have heard me, and more than once, exclaim joyfully, "Now I AM -------." And from that point on, the pace of things is faster, the work goes easier, and the finished pages rapidly pile up. Inevitably, much of what has been done before that state of virtual identity has already been worked over, and then worked over again, and once virtual identity is achieved it must be worked over yet again. After fourteen complete drafts, for example, and I no longer remember how many days and weeks of tinkering, my version of the author's "Prologo" (Prologue) to Don Quijote was finally close enough to permit me to go on to the first chapter of the novel proper. But when I later "became" Cervantes, there were abundant revisions still to be made, both in the Prologo and in all the early chapters. They were not false starts so much as incomplete ones; lacking the necessary sense of communion, the indispensable transcendence, they could not be anything but incomplete.

A translator's state of communion is of course not permanent, nor is the experience of transcendence immutable. Just as with other and more overtly religious states, external events can interfere -- an illness, a domestic upheaval, a death -- and the communion can be broken. It can be difficult to re-achieve. I translate best when I can come to a state of communion and, over some continuous period of time, manage to stay there. I have worked hard, over the years, to find ways to sustain that continuous state. These are not, unfortunately, things I can be terribly clear or rational about. Indeed, they resemble the sort of spiritual exercises which religious devotees often practice, as they endeavor to hold onto the non-physical realities they have learned. The translator, too, must discipline his own inner being, if he wants his inner self to resonate with any other.

I should point out, hastily, that while the writer of original work may face significant dangers, if he or she falls into the trap of relying too heavily, too exclusively, on an inner transcendence, the translator's peril is much reduced. The transcendence achieved in this secondary art is in a sense not completely the translator's own: like the work he is producing, it is confined and limited by the original author's vision. 5 There are thus built-in checks and balances. Confinement is, in art at least, not always or necessarily detrimental.

If I had not developed these essentially spiritual exercises, I doubt I could have translated -- that is, readily sustained myself through -- first Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel and then the even longer, greater, and more complex Don Quijote. If -- and for any reason whatever -- communion is once broken, interrupted, or is not achieved, I find that I struggle, sometimes almost impossibly hard, for every word and every page. Locutions that, before, virtually turned themselves into the English I wanted, now suddenly resist me -- and I find myself possessing sharply reduced powers for dealing with them. And when, once interrupted, communion simply will not reappear, I have found that I can no longer translate.

There is a poem in my first book of translations, Poems From the Old English, "The Phoenix," which nicely illustrates the process. The poem is 677 lines long; I translated, and have so indicated to the reader, only the first 423 lines. And in this case, as it happens, I know exactly why I lost the ability to go on. The part of the poem I was able to translate was based on, even partly paraphrased from, a much older Latin original. The Old English scop, or poet, was however quite on his own for the last part of the poem -- and for whatever reason, his unaided mind and spirit did not speak to me. It is in a sense a poem with two authors, one of whom I vastly admired, the other of whom left me quite cold. And when writing leaves the translator cold, he is well advised to leave it alone.

There are inevitably ethical corollaries to my theory of translation morality. When an editor invited me to translate Balzac's Les Illusions Perdues, I declined, on the grounds that there was already a fine translation in print. Responsibility to the literary work requires, as a very plain corollary, the obligation to do one's best for both the work and, when possible, for its author. Replication of extant good translations does not meet that standard. I eventually did agree to translate, instead, Balzac's Le Père Goriot, for which I did not think anything like a good enough rendering existed. Similarly, I declined, and on the same grounds, the proposal that I translate Propertius. The inquiring editor replied that there had not been a new translation in some years. I responded that this was true, but none was needed. So too I have never considered translating Catullus, though the question has more than once been put to me -- and my disinclination is not because I am out of sympathy with his work, but for exactly the opposite reason. I am so much in sympathy with Catullus' poetry that I don't think I could attain transcendence, even if I managed communion. That is, it seems to me there must be some serious inner obstacles to overcome, before a translator, like any artist, can do his or her best. The essence of all art is challenge: even an expert tennis player, who is in a certain sense an artist, will decline the opportunity to play against a mere duffer. "It will spoil my game," he correctly says. Artists must be challenged in order fully and completely to practice their art; that which is already known, that which is utterly simple, is of no real interest -- or use. Whatever level the artist works at, he needs to keep reaching for the next highest one.

To put it differently, translation must involve a spiritually educative process, an inner lesson or series of lessons to be learned. So I translated Horace instead of Catullus. Horace is a poet I deeply admire but have always found -- and yes, still find, though to a lessened degree, now that I have lived with him -- somehow alien, even intimidating. His mind does not work like mine (or, to put it more decently, mine does not work like his), and so the continuous effort to be Horace, at least in English, more or less kept me up to snuff.

When I translated the brilliant, dazzling, reckless, extravagant Indonesian poet, Chairil Anwar, communion and transcendence were so difficult that, the day I mailed the completed manuscript to my publisher, I found myself writing a poem to the dead poet. This appears in my second collection of poems; it is a useful piece of quite contemporary evidence:

Like a drunken house-guest you nailed
My ass to my chair, chewed
My ear as my eyes faded away:
You haunted the bathroom, hung
Under my bed, slopped
In my coffee, pissed
In my beer.
Bastard: this morning
I packed you off, mailed you out.
Let the printer sweat your guts,
Let the world worry:
You're out of my house
At last.
            (Raffel 1979, 14)

This is plainly not a poem of loathing but one of immense relief: the strain of maintaining communion with so difficult a man's work was a very substantial burden. One might well write a poem like this, or say words to the same general effect, after a too-long visit from a difficult but well-loved friend. My admiration for Anwar's poetry has never wavered. Indeed, though I no longer actively translate Indonesian poetry, I recently did a thorough-going revision of The Complete Poetry and Prose of Chairil Anwar (Raffel 1970 and 1993), and have translated a "lost" poem of his that was by great good luck sent to me (Raffel 1995b).

There are, I am sure, ethical dimensions that go beyond those I have mentioned; so too I have no doubt that there is a great deal more to these notions of communion and transcendence than I can readily articulate. I have tried to erect a structure, but not a skyscraper or a fortress. But I should like to provoke more assiduous minds than mine to a sense of just how much richness of feeling, as well as complexity of thought, underlies the often disregarded, often passed-over work of the literary translator. As Einstein has said:

It seems that the human mind has first to construct forms independently before we can find them in things. ... The belief in an external world independent of the perceiving subject is the basis of all natural science. Since, however, sense perception only gives information of this external world or "physical reality" indirectly, we can only grasp the latter by speculative means (Einstein, 266; emphasis added)

Notes and Works Cited