Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Rod Riesco
Dear Editor,

I enjoyed many of the translated poems in the April issue, which were readable poems in their own right. I was particularly interested in Robert Bly's translations of Olav H. Hauge's work, although one of these, "Barley Field," raises an intriguing problem (one of many that beset the translator).

"The London Bridge" mentioned twice in the poem sounds strange to somebody living in the UK. From the mention of "sooty towers" it appears to refer to Tower Bridge, the famous lifting bridge with its two towers which has become a symbol (I refuse to say "icon") of London. But London Bridge itself is a more utilitarian structure: the latest one replaces the bridge of 1831 which was shipped to Arizona, USA, in 1968-71. Maybe Hauge simply meant "a bridge in London," implying that he didn't know (or care?) what the real name of the bridge was, but if this is so, the upper-case "B" and the definite article seem wrong. Incidentally, nobody in London would ever talk about "the" London Bridge or "the" Tower Bridge (although they would say "the Thames Barrier").

I haven't been able to find a copy of the Norwegian original to discover what Hauge actually wrote.

This may all seem unbearably trivial to a non-UK English speaker reading the poem, but to those of us living in Britain it creates a minor snag that interrupts the flow of the poem. It also illustrates the subtlety and complexity of the translator's task. Otherwise, full marks to Bly for producing these clear and readable versions, which have introduced me, and probably many other readers, to Hauge's poetry for the first time.

Bolton, United Kingdom

Originally Published: July 1, 2008

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This prose originally appeared in the July/August 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

July/August 2008

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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