“dent those reprobates, Romulus and Remus!”: Lowell, Zukofsky, and the Legacies of Modernist Translation

  • Steven G. Yao


Among the (American) writers of the post-World War II era, Robert Lowell and Louis Zukofsky stand out as the principal inheritors of the Modernist revolution in the theory, the practice, and, perhaps most important of all, the generative cultural possibilities of translation as a mode of literary production. As “original” poets, of course, these two could hardly be more different. The nakedly emotive portraits, monologues, and reminiscences of Life Studies (1959) and For the Union Dead (1967), for example, resemble nothing so little as the mathematically rarefied celebrations of A (1959–72) and 80 Flowers (1978). But in their efforts as translators Lowell and Zukofsky share a common lineage in the manifold and extensive liberties taken by their Modernist ancestors. And like two brothers with opposing temperaments, they each took their inheritance and pursued starkly different directions. No less audacious, but rather more savvy than his most notorious predecessor Ezra Pound, Lowell produced during the span of his career a number of decidedly “free” renderings of both poetic and dramatic works by various writers from several different European languages, at least one of which (Russian) he freely admitted to having no knowledge of at all. Deriving a lesson in marketing, if not modesty, from Pound and the critical furor aroused by the Homage to Sextus Propertius, he gave the most significant and wide-ranging outcome of his engagement with translation as a mode of literary production the distincdy less confrontational tide Imitations (1961).


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  1. 3.
    see Stephen Yenser, Circle to Circle: The Poetry of Robert Lowell (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1975), pp. 267–70.Google Scholar
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    A. Alvarez, who declared it a “magnificent collection of new poems by Robert Lowell, based on the work of 18 European poets.” For Wilson’s full review, see New Yorker, June 2, 1962, p. 126.Google Scholar
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© Steven G. Yao 2002

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  • Steven G. Yao

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