Ted Hughes’s poetic legacy is beyond question. But for such an emphatically monolingual poet, his greatest contribution to the landscape of British poetry may be the internationalism he promoted through Modern Poetry in Translation (MPT), the magazine he co-founded in 1965 with Daniel Weissbort, through the founding of Poetry International in 1967, and through his own translations and the poetic dialogue he had with those he translated, particularly the Hungarian poets János Pilinszky and Ferenc Juhász in the 1960s and 1970s.
The timing was propitious: interest in poetry in translation was growing in the early 60s and a number of poets were already engaged in serious and systematic translation work. The “dull” and suspicious “isolations of the 50s” were over, as Hughes wrote, and the “passionate international affair commenced”. In retrospect, “it seemed easier to let the magazine take off than to keep it grounded. The sheer pressure of material forced the issue.”
The quotes above come from a 1982 piece Hughes wrote, at Weissbort’s request, about the beginnings of Modern Poetry in Translation nearly 20 years before. Hughes’s immediate response to the request was self-deprecating: “I wish I remember better what really happened right away there in the beginning. I remember walking up North Tawton Street with you saying the only people who would ever get anything out of the mag would be you and me.” Weissbort replied that he remembered standing in a corner with Hughes at a New Year’s party in Belsize Park and Hughes saying: “Why don’t you start a magazine of poetry in translation?” Weissbort was fired up by the idea and immediately began making preparations.
However, it is clear that Hughes had been preoccupied with the idea for a while before he mentioned it to Weissbort. He had already begun considering and collecting translations by other poets, and when Weissbort responded to his enthusiasm the electricity fairly crackled. By early 1964, the two men were discussing the paper they would use: it would be “a fairly scrappy-looking thing”, on airmail paper to keep the costs down, and they would send a free copy to all poets. They invited Richard Hollis, who later designed John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, to collaborate on the magazine, and letters concerning advertising, advisory editors, print runs and costs flew back and forth. Hughes was full of enthusiasm for this new project, sending suggestions with the lively confidence of the chief conspirator, writing to this and that important person, dashing off requests and opinions with an engaging high-handedness.
The first issue appeared in print in 1965 as a handsome broadsheet, delicate and almost transparent, with the black typed columns of a newspaper. It included generous selections of poets who would in time become part of the British literary landscape: Miroslav Holub, Yehuda Amichai, Ivan Lalić, Vasko Popa, Zbigniew Herbert, Czesław Miłosz and Andrei Voznesensky: men who had witnessed war and occupation, and, with the exception of Israeli poet Amichai, men who were living in the Soviet Bloc.
The 1965 editorial was a rallying cry: a short, categorical piece that talked about postwar eastern Europe as the “centre of cataclysm” and rated eastern European poetry higher than English-language poetry. “This poetry is more universal than ours,” wrote Hughes and Weissbort, more “insistent”, and closer acquaintance with it would only “stimulate poetry-making in this country”. Their words are echoed by Seamus Heaney in his much later essay “The Impact of Translation”. Heaney, too, believed that the poets of eastern Europe had inherited the mantle of great poetry and English-language poetry had much to learn from them.
It is easy to see why translations of poets such as Holub and Miłosz might have seemed models of great potential. They wrote about what they had seen: war, dislocation and destruction. And they wrote with a spare, elegant dispassion, mostly translated into a limber-free verse. Often they were able, in translation, to reach heights of pathos unavailable to the English-language poet, through some strangeness of language, metaphor and image. Their work resembled nothing being written in English and it had a political as well as a poetic urgency. Pilinszky’s poem “The Desert of Love”, translated by Hughes and János Csokits and published in Modern Poetry in Translation in 1970, ends memorably: “Years are passing, and years. And hope / Is like a tin cup toppled in the straw.”
The 2014 Next Generation poet and scholar Tara Bergin has written extensively on how Hughes’s own work, particularly the songs of Crow – “songs with no music whatsoever”, as Hughes phrased it – owes a great deal to his proximity with the deliberately unadorned poetry of Pilinszky.
Hughes knew no foreign languages, and so his translations were undertaken in partnership, usually with a native speaker who provided a “literal” translation from which he worked. The “literal” was a translation of the words of the poem, without poeticisation or formal qualities. It retained the linguistic structures, images and metaphors of the original. Literals are often pleasing to read because of the shadow of otherness that hangs over them, and Hughes particularly relished this quality. In the editorial to the fifth issue of MPT, he and Weissbort make a policy of this quality: “The type of translations we are seeking can be described as literal, though not literal in a strict or pedantic sense. […] We feel that as soon as devices extraneous to the original are employed for the purposes of recreating its ‘spirit’, the value of the whole enterprise is called into question.”
Daniel Weissbort obituary
A desire for authenticity is palpable in these words and perhaps a polemic with the Imitations of Robert Lowell, but it is, I believe, misguided to believe that literals serve authenticity better than any other approach. The art of literal translation is no less “the record of the effect of one poet’s imagination on another’s”, which is how Hughes describes Lowell’s Imitations, and Hughes amply demonstrates this in his own working.
But it would be wrong to think of him as dogmatically wedded to one approach. In a touching note to his 1982 piece about the beginnings of the magazine, he wrote to Weissbort: “ … on the vague and idle acquaintance we have with most things as I have with the translation business which MPT drew on, you can really only make the most provisional subjective comments of impression …”.
One of the most startling translations by Hughes does not follow his own rules at all. He was moved by the Juhász poem “The Boy Changed into a Stag Cries out at the Gate of Secrets”. It was published in the early 60s in a version by Kenneth McRobbie and, according to Weissbort, Hughes wrote his version “at great speed” when they were together in Devon considering material for a Hungarian issue of MPT. Weissbort described how Hughes, usually so careful to stick to the wording and the syntax of the literal, felt complete freedom to write without reference to the existing version. The poem is incantatory, sinewy and powerful, and, in an extra twist to the translation tale, it served as a provocation for Pascale Petit to write her own version, “At the Gate of Secrets”, in which she replaces the Stag-Boy with a Stag-Girl, also published in Modern Poetry in Translation.
By the end of the 60s, Hughes was trying to escape from the considerable administrative and practical work of running the magazine. “I don’t want to be a poetry telephone exchange operator,” he wrote to Csokits. By 1970, he had detached himself to all intents and purposes. But Weissbort continued to edit the magazine until 2003: Hughes had helped him find his great vocation and Modern Poetry in Translation, 50 years later, is in good shape and celebratory mood.
• Poet in the City presents Ted Hughes: The Art of Translationto mark the 50th anniversary of Modern Poetry in Translation on 16 November at Kings Place, London N1. mptmagazine.com.
Pike Ted Hughes Essay
1260 Words6 Pages
Pike Ted Hughes
Choose a poem you studied recently which challenges the reader to view something familiar in a new and thought provoking way.
Stanzas one to four of the poem are there to describe the Pike, its nature, what it looks like and it’s destiny in nature as a predator.
The poet, Ted Hughes, in writing this poem challenges the reader to view nature in a totally new perspective by exploring the power and violence in it by using one animal in river life, the Pike, since the
Pike is the supreme species of fish in river life he uses it to full extend to show the power and violence of nature. Hughes starts the poem with “Pike, three inches long, perfect” using this as a start to describing the…show more content…
“Silhouette of submarine delicacy and horror” Hughes uses juxtaposition in this line to show how terrifying it is to the river world but so delicate in our world.
“A hundred feet long in their world” describing the Pike as its seen in the river world, even though so small in ours, in the river, it’s horrific, huge and deadly. “In ponds, under the heat-struck lily pads
– Gloom of their stillness” the poet uses this to imagine what it is like in the river for the Pike lying in wait, using “gloom” Hughes sets the mood and the eeriness of the river the world. “Logged on last year’s black leaves, watching upwards, Or hung in an amber cavern of weeds” again the poet sets the scene of the Pike lying in wait, ready to strike upon it’s pray. “The jaws’ hooked clamp and fangs not to be changed to this date” using this to describe the pike’s power, reflecting potential for violence and that the pike is a killer and perfectly designed for killing. “A life subdued to it’s instrument”
This meaning that its life is over-run by it’s instinct to kill, it’s role as a predator.
As the poem appears to be separated into 3 sections, we move to the second section which seems to be about the poet’s personal anecdotes.
Starting with describing where he came across them and the habitat they were kept in. “Three we kept behind glass, jungled in weed: three inches, four and four and