Eliot's Reluctance to Translate

The way words can never be translated exactly fascinates me. Switching the same message from one language to another always leaves bits of the original meaning behind (much like how some elements of music are left out in MP3 compression, for example).  Nevertheless, translation is an important tool – imagine being unable to read Homer or Dostoyevsky because you haven’t mastered Greek or Russian.

That being said, I still wonder why T.S. Eliot included several other languages in The Waste Land. What did he want to preserve in the original texts by leaving them untranslated? He begins the poem with an epigraph written in a mixture of Greek and Latin. In part I, includes multiple lines in German (lines 12, 31-35, and 42) and concludes “The Burial of the Dead” with some French that seems to break the fourth wall. Eliot’s notes cite Tristan und Isolde for some of the German lines (specifically 31-35 and 42) yet leave the lines untranslated. The French is uncited as well; it seems more of an exclamation, enclosed in quotation marks in the poem but not a reference (as far as I can find) another piece of literature.* Curiously, Eliot flips things around when it comes to referencing Dante’s Inferno – he uses English in the poem itself and Italian in his notes.  So, I suppose, my questions are these: What is Eliot so intent on preserving in each untranslated line? Why, keeping this penchant for other languages in mind, is the Inferno an exception?

*Though untranslated in the poem, a quick Google search turns up translations galore for all of these quotes. I haven’t addressed them here, most simply because I’m not sure how to at the moment. This is the second time I’ve read The Waste Land, but it’s still rather mysterious to me.

New Book: Revues Modernistes, Revues Engagées: 1900-1939

A friend recently apprised me of a promising new book from France about modernist magazines. It includes some work on transition, among others.

Aji, Hélène, Céline Mansanti, and Benoît Tadié, eds. Revues Modernistes, Revues Engagés: 1900-1939. Rennes: UP de Rennes, 2011.


Feminism, Art and French Influence in Rhythm

Within the magazine Rythm many modernist artist and writers combined thier works together to expose to the world their thoughts and ideas. Throught out the issues of Rythm the concepts of femisim and humaism was depicted through the sketched and portriats with in the magazine. The use of a womans body as art was a reaccuring event as each issue developed over the course of its publication. The reader is first exposed to a woman siting by a tree holding a piece of fruit on the front cover This could be consider a relation to the moderinst belives that human posses an essence which nature and animals do not posses. The exposed woman is depicted as happy and content while her surroundings grow around her. Women are liberated with use of thier bodies. The depiction of an exposed woman is seen several time through out each issues. Each image either coinsides with the work before, in the mist of, or on the same page it is on. Sometime the images stand alone expressing the betuity and power of the woman at hand. In Vol 2 No. 10 the image Nude Study by S.J Peple  is a drawing of a woman who seems to be sitting and reading.  She is not cloth nor can you see her face. The artist leaves the viewer wondering what she is consitrated on.

Woman were admired for their beauty and grace. Within Rythm vol IV page 3 the drawing by Anne Estelle Rice several women working together. The woman seem to be gathering fruit while dancing through an orcher. The woman are also exposed to the world which reveals their cofidence and power. The woman stand tall along side eachother and bring new light on the concept of care giver. The womans purpose in life was thought to care for the house hold and her family. With the smile and embrace on the womans faces Rice depict several woman who took pride within them selves and their so called duty. They carry the fruit of their labor and open up to the world with in the single frame.

There is a major evident influence of French culture and art throughout Rhythm. It is apparent in various issues, whether in discussing French works, or artists themselves, that French artistry was held in high regard by the authors of this Modernist magazine. As the magazine came out with more issues between 1911 and 1913, more and more of the content of the magazine not only discussed French culture and art, but began to publish full pieces in the language itself. It is quite common to find French epigraphs or titles of pieces throughout Rhythm, as well as French essays and poems.

Many of these poems and works are accompanied by illustrations and drawings. There is a common trend with these poems that host artwork on their pages: that is that the drawing or painting is never done by the same author, and are often seemingly irrelevant. Petit Poeme by Tristan Dereme, in the Winter 1911 issue, depicts the trite scene of a relationship, lacking in the romantic ardor it once possessed. The scenario is blatantly set, and the scene is painted as if the romance should still be there, but discusses how smiles are forced, gardens are abandoned, and silence ensues between the two. Atop the poem is an abstract drawing by Jessie Dismorr. It depicts a nude woman, with dark hair, blank eyes, extended arm, and an unidentifiable figure in the background. A similar pairing of works is seen in Le Petit Comptable by Jean Pellerin. This poem, found in the 1912 Spring issue tells of an accountant taking inventory of a produce shop in his book. The poem uses sensory imaging in discussing the colorful touch and feel of the fruits and vegetables, almost as if one is caressing them romantically, reminiscently. Then the author nostagically takes in the sky on the rainy, dreary day. It is also accompanied by a drawing by Dismorr. The drawings possess similar features: both appear to be of nude women, with bold outlines, blank stares and awkwardly sketched background images. The poems, both posessing similar themes of the end of love in sad scenarios, are accompanied by these unusual drawings, which could merely be the editor's way of filling space, or an objective influence on how the reader should perceive these poems, particularly the reader who does not speak French. The Dismorr drawings could be acting as a link between the two poems for those who cannot comprehend the text. By placing these drawings near these poems, the editor offers a unique insight to the similarity in the themes of these French poets. He does not offer a translation; however, these drawings aid the reader in making the connection between the two.

Throughout its one-year, eight month run Rhythm used a certain piece of art on four different occasions. The drawing is of a figure in a prostrate position and seemingly studying either something on the ground or something floating in the air just above its outstretched hand. When I first discovered the picture, I thought it added something to the poem it was printed under. What I saw after seeing it attached to three other works is how the picture changed depending on what it was printed next to. The figure first appears in the very first issue of Rhythm after the first article. The opening article to Rhythm (Vol. 1, No.1) is an article on the philosophical belief of Thelema. A quick Wikipedia search will tell you that Thelema is the belief in living your life according to your own conscience. “The New Thelema” by Frederick Goodyear is a highly stylized look at this philosophy. Goodyear sees Thelema as more than just a religious philosophy, but as an imminent future. He writes, “Thelema lies in the future, not the never-never land of the theologian, but the ordinary human future that is perpetually transmuting itself into the past” (1). After two more pages of writing that consistently looks towards the future world the figure closes the page. Here, the figure seems to be the author, Goodyear, looking into the globe that is floating above his hand, looking into the future.

The next two times the figure appears is after poems of loss. The first poem is “The See Child” by Katherine Mansfield, featured in Vol. 2, No. 5 of Rhythm. The overwhelming feeling in this poem is despair. In the first stanza a mother is depicted forming her child with her own hands, yet in the second stanza the mother abandons the child. In the fourth stanza the mother is seen selling the very things she used to make her child and returning home heartbroken. In the fifth and final stanza the speaker takes on the persona of the mother, telling the daughter not to follow her. The poem ends, “There is nothing here but sad sea water, / And a handful of sifting sand” (1). The second poem is “Geraniums” by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, featured in Vol. 2, No. 7 of Rhythm. The poem is the story of a man who bought flowers from a poor woman so that she would have a place to sleep for the night. In the end, the speaker cannot help but think that not only will the flowers be dead tomorrow, but the old woman may be dead too. The speaker sees the woman’s death as an end to her “heavy sorrow” because they’ll be no “need to barter blossoms – for a bed” (73). The figure at the bottom of these two pages is a decidedly despondent one. The drawing loses its hopeful, philosophical bent and becomes a figure of bent over sadness and the orb seems to be merely a spot ink and not part of the picture.

The third and final time we see this figure the picture regains some of its hopefulness; not because of the work’s subject matter, but because of the tone it is delivered in. In Rhythm (Vol 2., No. 10) Gilbert Cannan writes a piece on marriage entitled “Observations and Opinions.” The piece is decidedly against marriage the institution as it stands in Cannan’s day. Cannan writes, “Every marriage is in itself a sacrament or a piece of blasphemy and neither the sanction of the State nor the blessing of the Church can alter its character” (265). Cannan even takes a surprisingly feminist stance in his views on marriage stating, “The majority of marriages are ruined by the absurd masculine theories concerning women, theories to which women, being ill-educated and economically dependent, subscribe.” Cannan is arguing for the right for people to divorce without becoming social outcasts, yet in his argument he makes points that could be used in the feminist movements of the time as well as the gay rights movement of our time. Cannan ends his piece, “Without simplicity, without courage, without generosity there can be no good marriage, and without good marriage, without ideal of marriage which can conquer fear of public opinion and its purblind, hypocritical, official morality there can be no health in us” (267). The figure once again looks hopeful, looks towards a better future and a better world.

Maintenant nous permettre de discuter la musique et la poésie...

At the turn of the twentieth century, the world of classical music, much like the rest of the literary and artistic world, was undergoing revolutionary change in regard to what was considered tasteful and acceptable. If one were to review a basic timeline of the eras in classical music, they would note the very separate structure in these various eras, as well as particular attributes pertaining to the music of those respective times. To the connoisseur of classical music, identifying a musical work's historical origin is as simple as listening to a piece. When considering classcial music as has been made known to the world, France was never particularly prominent in producing great works until towards the end of the classical era. Its height is certainly noted to be within the Romantic era, while music's earlier roots held stronger in the Italian and Germanic world. The Romantic era spread throughout Europe in the nineteenth century, giving France the breadth to exhibit its emotional musical granduer; therefore, it is no suprise that when music began to break from its classically structured roots into the contemporary, experimental realm, France was once of the first nations to take the leap. French composer Claude Debussy is renown today for his contributions to the world of music. A genuine iconoclast, he was one of the first composers to break from the necessity of establishing melody: heresy to the old pricks at the conservatoire! Debussy had, in his mind, a genuis that not only revolutionized the world of music, but the critical way musicians use their inner ear. By experimenting with cacophany and the structure behind music theory, what was generally and concensually considered pleasing to the ear, Debussy delved into the world of music. His concern and attention to overtone was inclusive in his delicate musical practice. (An overtone is a rung tone that is audible as a result of the virbrations produced from a chord that is played; however the overtone is not actually struck on the instrument.) In 1911, amidst the most unusual of Debussy's experimental phase, towards the end of his life, Rollo H. Meyers, published an essay, "The Art of Claude Debussy" in Rythym. It is quite obvious that Meyers' held Debussy in high regard as a misunderstood genius conveying his radical "hip new beat" to the old conservative musical ear. Debussy's work in the field today has claimed its place in it's genre, along with the works of his progressive thinking contemporaries such as Maurice Ravel and Cesar Franck. His career marks the turn of the century and rite to the Impressionist, Modern music throne. Composers such as Britten and Vaughn- Williams in Britain were next to follow, and a great deal of what is know of American music by composers like Barber, Menotti, and Copland fall under this field; however, none of these said composers truly made their statement until after World War I. In the Germanic world? Contemporary music did not hit Germany or Vienna until even later! France led this race for certain.

In skimming these documents, it is more than apparent that French appears quite often as a device. Often the title or an epigraph can be found in French, while the rest of the piece is in English. It seems as though France, or the French language held an enigmatic claim to the bohemian tendencies of the Modernist movement. Le Petit Journal des Refusees carries it in its title, as do many poems and works in the archives. "Abstrosophy" is a short poem that discusses present struggle in its progressive state towards becoming reward; what seems negative now, will be held positive forthcoming, (much like the rebuke of Debussy's compositions). The first half of the poem is somewhat illegible, if it is even part of the poem. It seems to be set to music, but the staff it is written on is artistically curvy, and askew, which seems relevant to the ideas expressed about Debussy's musical style, although one would never attempt to read music off such a staff, so it must be meant as an artistic statement about music. Written in 1896, years before the article on Debussy's later work, the poem seems to foreshadow the Modernist movement that is coming. The word abstrosophy is not in the dictionary, nor is it a French word. I am plagued with curiosity: what does abstrosophy mean?