From the Archive: "A Miscellany of Translation"
“I hear the death-cough of mortality
choked under corpses by a lake of blood—
my rocklike, unhinging effort to die.”
—from “The Flawed Bell,” Charles Baudelaire,
translated by Robert Lowell
"A Miscellany of Translation"
In 1961 Poetry editor Henry Rago, with visiting editor John Frederick Nims, featured translations of poems from a variety of languages in the September issue. The issue paired Robert Bly with César Vallejo, Richard Wilbur with Molière, and W.D. Snodgrass with Christian Morgenstern, among others. In the April 2006 issue of Poetry, editor Christian Wiman offers 29 translations of poems from around the globe.
Below is a selection of Robert Lowell's translations of Charles Baudelaire from Rago's 1961 issue. Coming off his groundbreaking 1959 volume, Life Studies, with its personal narratives, Lowell worked on this translation as a refuge from his own poetry. These poems were written, he said, "when I was unable to do anything of my own."
In the introduction to his 1961 book, Imitations, Lowell admitted that he had been reckless with the literal meaning of the original poems: "I have dropped lines, moved lines, moved stanzas, changed images and altered meter and intent." Lowell's fidelity is to Baudelaire's tone, which, in his view, constitutes the meaning of the poem as much as its literal narrative.