The Lumber Room

"Consign them to dust and damp by way of preserving them"

Why good translations matter

with 6 comments

Sonnet by Keats, On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer. Keats was familiar with other translations of Homer, such as the one by Pope, but reading Chapman’s work was a different experience altogether:

Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
    And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
    Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
    That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne;
    Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
    When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
    He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
    Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Written by S

Mon, 2010-07-19 at 11:35:00

Posted in literature

6 Responses

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  1. Ahh, the iambic pentameter. Wodehouse quotes this often. Are you reading Chapman’s Homer? :)


    Thu, 2010-07-29 at 09:05:01

    • No I’m not. But I empathize with the experience that the same poem may appear insipid for a long time, until you see a really good translation that changes it completely for you.


      Thu, 2010-07-29 at 23:12:11

      • Oh, yeah, totally. Like, Fitzgerald’s translation of the Ruba’iyat is miles ahead of the rest, and in fact the first bit of poetry that really got me, and also got me to believe that a good translation needs a free hand.


        Sat, 2010-07-31 at 16:01:30

    • I just remembered the unforgettable (heh) quotation from Wodehouse:

      “Jeeves, who was the fellow who on looking at something felt like somebody looking at something?”

      Brilliant! (And Jeeves gets that correctly, of course.)


      Sun, 2010-08-08 at 23:55:12

      • LOL!


        Thu, 2010-08-12 at 12:01:27

        • For future reference, the full context, from one of the early pages of Thank You, Jeeves. Bertie has just met a girl Pauline Stoker:

          She got right in amongst me. Her beauty maddened me like wine.

          “Jeeves,” I recollect saying on returning to the apartment, “who was the fellow who on looking at something felt like somebody looking at something? I learned the passage at school, but it has escaped me.”

          “I fancy the individual you have in mind, sir, is the poet Keats, who compared his emotions on first reading Chapman’s Homer to those of stout Cortez when with eagle eyes he stared at the Pacific.”

          “The Pacific, eh?”

          “Yes, sir. And all his men looked at each other with a wild surmise, silent upon a peak in Darien.”

          “Of course. It all comes back to me. Well, that’s how I felt this afternoon on being introduced to Miss Pauline Stoker. Press the trousers with special care to-night, Jeeves. I am dining with her.”


          Sat, 2011-08-13 at 05:03:28

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