NABOKV-L post 0008736, Mon, 13 Oct 2003 15:32:25 -0700

Fw: VN, Ciardi, translation
----- Original Message -----
From: Dmitri Nabokov
To: 'D. Barton Johnson'
Sent: Monday, October 13, 2003 7:06 AM
Subject: FW: VN, Ciardi, translation

----- Original Message -----
From: Rodney Welch

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The fascinating mention by Dmitri Nabokov of John Ciardi raises a question: what did VN think of Ciardi, especially his translation of Dante? My suspicion -- based on the fact that Ciardi tried to stay true to Ciardi's rhyme scheme -- is that he hated it, as VN famously valued a literal approach to translation.

Rodney Welch


From DN

I wish I could answer Rodney Welch more precisely. I don't recall if my father and I ever discussed Ciardi's Dante, although it's likely we did. VN's version of EO was a deliberate paragon of literality, intended, he said, as a pony. He made a special effort to select English words, even if they were rare or obsolete, that most accurately matched Pushkin's time and style. In general, with regard to poetry, he did not exclude fidelity to the rhythm, or an approximation thereof, and would even welcome a convenient rhyme if it fell into his lap. The important thing was that there be no padding, no omissions, and no sacrifice of exactitude for the sake of rhyme or meter. He espoused the same precision of sense and nuance -- and, to a degree, of rhythm and consonance -- with respect to prose.

I met John Ciardi during my freshman year at Harvard. He was not yet as famous as he would later become, and his poetic talent was being wasted on a mass course designed to instill in all the arriving students at least a modicum of literacy in the English language in order to facilitate their studies. That modicum was often lacking then, although not as sorely as it is today. Fortunately, the occasional student with exceptional proficiency might be absolved of routine assignments and even class attendance, as long as he turned in an original poem or other piece of writing every week. Ciardi's comments were sparse but very much to the point, and helped one considerably to strive for concreteness of style, originality, and precision of language.