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

  • Steven G. Yao

Abstract

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).

Keywords

Semantic Content Literary Production Source Text Literal Meaning Literary Mode 
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Notes

  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
  2. 5.
    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
  3. 6.
    Thorn Gunn, “Imitations and Originals,” Yale Review 51 (1962): 480–89.Google Scholar
  4. For Steiner’s assessment, see “Two Translations,” Kenyon Review 23 (1961): 714–21.Google Scholar
  5. For Louis Simpson’s see “Matters of Tact,” Hudson Review 14 (1961–62): 614–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. And for Fitts’s, see “It’s Fidelity to the Spirit That Counts,” New York Times Book Review, November 12, 1961, p. 5 ff.Google Scholar
  7. Also see John Simon, “The Abuse of Privilege: Lowell as Translator” in Michael London and Robert Boyers, eds., Robert Lowell: A Portrait of the Artist in His Time (New York: David Lewis, 1970), pp. 130–51.Google Scholar
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    Daniel Hoffman, “Robert Lowell’s Near the Ocean: The Greatness and Horror of Empire,” The Hollins Critic, IV (February, 1967), pp. 4–5.Google Scholar
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    Ben Belitt, “Imitations: Translation as Personal Mode,” as cited in London and Boyers. The essay was originally published in Salmagundi 1 (1966–67): 44–56.Google Scholar
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    Stephen Yenser, Circle to Circle: The Poetry of Robert Lowell (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1975), p. 167.Google Scholar
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  13. 13.
    Lowell’s co-winner for the prize was Richmond Lattimore for his version of Aristophanes’ The Frogs (University of Michigan Press, 1962).Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Alan Brownjohn, “Caesar ‘ad Some,” New Statesman 78 (Aug. 1, 1969): 151.Google Scholar
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  20. 24.
    As cited in Ian Hamilton, Robert Lowell: A Biography (New York: Random House, 1982), p. 293.Google Scholar

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© Steven G. Yao 2002

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  • Steven G. Yao

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