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Translator's Note: To Put It Differently

by Peter Cole


Natan Zach's poetry has been something of an Israeli secret over the years. Although Zach lived in England for more than a decade and appeared regularly at poetry festivals around the world, very little of his highly musical work has been translated successfully into English, and so his poetry remains more of a rumor than a presence or influence in the international context. And that, it needs to be said, is unfortunate, for Zach is one of the finest poets of his generation. Like Yehuda Amichai, Zach brought the registers and cadences of spoken Hebrew into the matrix of poetry, sacrificing nothing in the way of style and gaining everything in terms of substance and sound.

His early volumes in particular are among the most important published in Hebrew over the past half-century. Many of the poems from this period—including the one translated here—act as the verbal equivalent of kinetic sculptures, embodying a palpable abstraction that recalibrates our relation to the words we use in the world. A Zach poem in this mode is both a thing in itself and a demonstration of what makes it that thing. It creates a dynamic movement and sense of shifting possibility within the static form of the poem as we see it. The motion is in the hearing. And therein lies the challenge of translation—accounting for that aural intelligence as it moves along the lines. Of course this is the case with all translation, but the self-reflexive nature of Zach's technique elevates that motion in his early work to the level of content.

In "To Put It Differently," this technique mirrors the fact that the poem is about its own (seemingly effortless) creation and permutation. So too, in a sense, the translation should be about its own realization. It must choose as "poetry chooses," "carefully . . . arranging," distributing the weight of the English consonants over and under the acoustic space of its vowels so that the poem will sing, not sag, and certain aspects of the lines rise as others fall, only to be lifted again on the current of a subsequent verse, or the resonant echo of a previous line, or phrase. To put it differently.

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This poem originally appeared in the April 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

April 2008

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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