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The Russian Auden and the Russianness of Auden

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Abstract

One of Joseph Brodsky&#8217;s primary mentors, W.H. Auden constituted a key influence on the Russian poet. At the same time, Brodsky found Auden extremely difficult to translate. Rendering Auden&#8217;s &#8220;Stop all the Clocks&#8221; in Russian, Brodsky does not preserve Auden&#8217;s form, opting instead for iambic hexameter, a meter not frequently used by Russian poets in Brodsky&#8217;s time. I argue that the difficulty of translating Auden is that &#8220;Stop All the Clocks&#8221; recalls too much the Russian <i>dol&#8217;nik</i> &#8211; for the post-emigration Brodsky, the most &#8220;neutral&#8221; meter. Thus, problems in translation can arise not only because of prosodic differences between poets and languages, but even when two poets happen to be metrically similar, because a translator may seek through formal distinctiveness to pay homage to the author of the original. I further show that Brodsky&#8217;s metrical choice, i.e., iambic hexameter, is not accidental and represents a complex blend of semantic links to various poets and texts, including an echo of Brodsky&#8217;s own earlier poem devoted to his mentor Anna Akhmatova. What is the function of rhythm in poetry? What esthetic ends are served by the formal patterns [&#8230;]? No doubt the formal organization of meter is determined in a complex way by the interacting demands of esthetic function and linguistic form. But how? Kiparsky (1977: 246)

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