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'An extra ear'

24 September 2012

'Never will a writer be read more closely than by his or her translator. The best translators seem to have an extra ear, indeed, have to have an extra ear, for the literary dimensions and possibilities of their own language. Translation can draw the poet out of someone who may not have realised the poet in himself. The response to poetry is in us all but it takes an extra talent to turn response to invention, to hear and speak echo in a fresh voice.

There will always remain the question of the faithful translation. The difficulty is deciding what it is that one should be faithful to. A poem is a complex whole made up of many elements, not one of which has an exact equivalent in another language. Yet we hope for recognition, for some ideal combination of surface and depth fidelities. The ideal does not exist. But living translations do: echo on echo on echo.'

George Szirtes, author of The Burning of the Books and Other Poems, and many other poetry collections, in The Times. His blog.