41. Übersetzungsstreit

Since his Nobel moment in October, three different Transtromer books have been released (or reissued): THE DELETED WORLD: Poems (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $13), with translations by the Scottish poet Robin Robertson; TOMAS TRANSTROMER: Selected Poems (Ecco/HarperCollins, $15.99), edited by Robert Hass; and FOR THE LIVING AND THE DEAD: Poems and a Memoir (Ecco/HarperCollins, $15.99), edited by Daniel Halpern. These books join two major collections already in print: “The Half-Finished Heaven: The Best Poems of Tomas Transtromer,” from Graywolf Press, translated by Robert Bly, and “The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems,” from New Directions, translated by Robin Fulton. So a little complaining, a glut of books: pretty typical.

But what’s unusual about Transtromer is that the most interesting debates over English versions of his work actually took place before his Nobel victory. In this case, the argument went to the heart of the translator’s function and occurred mostly in The Times Literary Supplement. The disputants were Fulton, one of Transtromer’s longest-serving translators, and Robertson, who has described his own efforts as “imitations.” Fulton accused Robertson (who doesn’t speak Swedish) of borrowing from his more faithful versions while inserting superfluous bits of Robertson’s own creation — in essence, creating poems that are neither accurate translations nor interesting departures. Fulton rolled his eyes at “the strange current fashion whereby a ‘translation’ is liable to be praised in inverse proportion to the ‘translator’s’ knowledge of the original language.” Robertson’s supporters countered that Fulton was just annoyed because Robertson was more concerned with the spirit of the poems than with getting every little kottbulle exactly right.

To understand this dispute, it’s necessary to have a sense of the poetry itself. Transtromer prefers still, pared-down arrangements that rely more on image and tone than, say, peculiarities of diction or references to local culture. The voice is typically calm yet weary, as if the lines were meant to be read after midnight, in an office from which everyone else had gone home. And his gift for metaphor is remarkable, as in the start of “Open and Closed Spaces” (in Fulton’s translation):

A man feels the world with his work like a glove.
He rests for a while at midday having laid aside
the gloves on the shelf.
They suddenly grow, spread,
and black out the whole house from inside.

The first comparison is surprising enough — work is a glove? With which we feel the world? But notice how quickly yet smoothly Transtromer extends the metaphor into even stranger territory; the gloves expand from the refuge of the house (which is implicitly the private self) to obscure everything we know and are. The poem becomes a meditation on what constitutes a prison, what could be considered a release (“‘Amnesty,’ runs the whisper in the grass”) and whether these might lie closer together than we realize.

/ David Orr, New York Times 11.3. (sic)

Die zitierte Passage lautet in der Übersetzung von Hanns Grössel, Tomas Tranströmer: Sämtliche Gedichte, Hanser 1999, S. 99:

Ein Mann befühlt die Welt mit dem Beruf wie mit einem Handschuh.
Mitten am Tage ruht er ein Weilchen aus und hat die Handschuhe aufs Regal abgelegt. 
Dort wachsen sie plötzlich, breiten sich aus
und verdunkeln das ganze Haus von innen.

Und recht ähnlich bei Pierre Zekeli, Tomas Tranströmer: Formeln der Reise. Berlin: Volk und Welt 1983 („Weiße Lyrikreihe“),  S. 41:

Ein Mann tastet an der Welt mit seinem Beruf: seinem Handschuh.
Er ruht eine Weile aus mitten am Tag und legt die Handschuhe weg aufs Regal.
Dort wachsen sie plötzlich, breiten sich aus
und verdunkeln das ganze Haus von innen. 

Die Übersetzung von Zekeli wurde entnommen entweder aus Tomas Tranströmer: Gedichte. Literarisches Colloquium Berlin 1969 oder aus Schwedische Lyrik der Gegenwart, Horst Erdmann Verlag Tübingen und Basel 1979 (beide sind als Quellen angebeben, aber nicht einzeln nachgewiesen). Grössels Übersetzungen erschienen selbständig in Buchform ab 1985 bei Hanser und sind in dem zitierten Band zusammengefaßt.

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