But it was his powerful war poems, the creations of a would-be hedonistic traveller caught in a physical—and mental—trap in Southeast Asia in the early seventies, that moved me to study and translate his poetry and to publish Côté guerre côté jardin: excursions dans la poésie de James Fenton Greaves Fenton All the poems quoted here are taken from this collection. An erudite, passionate critic of art, theatre and poetry, a writer of opera librettos and a book on gardening, he is also a man of action. In the case of the Cambodia poems, poetry was the form he ultimately turned to when the travel narrative he had planned proved too painful to write 5. Series 6, Radio 4, 13 December,
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But it was his powerful war poems, the creations of a would-be hedonistic traveller caught in a physical—and mental—trap in Southeast Asia in the early seventies, that moved me to study and translate his poetry and to publish Côté guerre côté jardin: excursions dans la poésie de James Fenton Greaves Fenton All the poems quoted here are taken from this collection.
An erudite, passionate critic of art, theatre and poetry, a writer of opera librettos and a book on gardening, he is also a man of action. In the case of the Cambodia poems, poetry was the form he ultimately turned to when the travel narrative he had planned proved too painful to write 5. Series 6, Radio 4, 13 December, Although a number of the poems in Out of Danger are set in places of high tension, he had returned to Britain and would succeed Seamus Heaney as Oxford Professor of Poetry from to Moreover, the reader is, as it were, not left alone to digest the facts but accompanied as it were to the edge of the precipice… and back again, out of danger, like Dante the pilgrim with his guide Virgil, by an articulate humanism.
Concise reporting is combined with a stance, a restrained yet appropriate expression of sickening disgust and sadness. The following blunt statements are again structured around repetitions, this time parallelisms and chiasmus, formulating a contained outrage: One man to five. A million men to one. And still they die. And still the war goes on.
I have been told that the prince is still fighting Somewhere in the Cardamoms or the Elephant Mountains. But I doubt that the Jockey Cap would have survived his good connections. I think the lunches would have done for him— Either the lunches or the dead soldiers. Fenton had gone to Southeast Asia in the hope of witnessing a communist victory; he witnessed two within the same month of April , one in Phnom Penh and one in Saigon, and was deeply affected by the ensuing catastrophe in Cambodia, a country he had come to love: 12 Fenton , The lexeme also occurs in the later poetry and comes to seem emblematic of an experience both personal and generational.
While the living construct a new life in denial of the past, seemingly only half alive as they collude in a deadly institutional amnesia ironically commemorated by special rites, the dead seem poignantly alive, their makeshift graves marked by the plaques on the doors of their former homes: But when so many had died, so many and at such speed, There were no cities waiting for the victims.
They unscrewed the name-plates from the shattered doorways And carried them away with the coffins. So the squares and parks were filled with the eloquence of young cemeteries: The smell of fresh earth, the improvised crosses And all the impossible directions in brass and enamel. The speaker predicts that, unlike the inhabitants of Berlin or Lichfield, these children—who are exiles, separated from the social structures they were born into—will not be able to forget.
Yet, he notes, they are growing up with a positive image of America. Skin-voice 16 Fenton , Thus, both skin and skin-ego contain the individual, provide protection from external aggression, are porous and allow for exchanges between inside and outside, and so on. George-Arthur Goldschmidt, German writer and translator, on the contrasting sensory experiences He thereby enriches collective memory in a lyrical-epic gesture that contributes to a fragmented historiography of the postcolonial aftermath and the Cold War.
A hybridisation in terms of poetic techniques takes place and there is a move towards narrative ballads and the use of increasingly diverse registers. It can helpfully be seen in terms of an overall metonymical shift rather than a metaphorical one, based on the principle of contiguity as much as analogy, on displacement rather than the replacement of one text by another. The skin-voice is the product of the orality of the poem and a poetic discourse designed to articulate catastrophe, which awakens the body through rhythm and prosody; it is a touchstone to the psycho-sensory dimension of our relationship with language.
It is this voice that the reader of a translated text is reliant upon, a hybrid comprised of the voice of the author and the interlingual one of the translator, that is, with a text that fixes that voice at a certain moment, but which bears the brunt of countless restless crossings back and forth. I have rhymed the final couplets of each stanza there are five in all , and, rather than the narrative effect of the English syntax, allowed a more paratactic syntax to emerge.
Here is the first stanza: 20 Greaves , There was a river overhung with trees With wooden houses built along its shallows From which the morning sun drew up a haze And the gyrations of the early swallows Paid no attention to the gentle breeze Which spoke discreetly from the weeping willows. There was a jetty by the forest clearing Where a small boat was tugging at its mooring. As with writing constraints as practised and theorized by writers of the Oulipo group 21 , translating into alexandrines both restricts and liberates, combining within the same words a discursive energy that is both impersonal and personal, such that the translated words become intensified and foreground their double status of belonging and not belonging to the translator, or for that matter to the poet.
The first translation below , in alexandrines, is too loose and baggy; the second is composed of decasyllabics and includes irregular rhyme or half-rhyme, giving a more satisfactory result: 23 Greaves, A nasty surprise in a sandwich, A drawing-pin caught in your sock, The limpest of shakes from a hand which You'd thought would be firm as a rock, A serious mistake in a nightie, A grave disappointment all round Is all that you'll get from th'Almighty, Is all that you'll get underground.
In French an equivalent lexical ordinariness would risk lying dead on the page, were it not for abundant internal rhyme and rhythmic effects: 25 Greaves, Stay near to me, stay true to me. Heart never hoped that one might be Half of the things you are to me— The dawn, the fire, the rainbow and the day. The choice of extra fulfils a metrical constraint while generating sound patterning within the stanza moi, toi, extra, ira, extra, extra, extra Both sides contribute to a poetry at once personal and political, grounded in the body and the body politic.
Such is the fate of whoever has to say in French what he hears in German. There he stands, in the middle, between the two, like Georges Dandin in his garden, breathlessly flapping his arms. This is the translator in the initial situation in which the need to speak is felt, at the exact point at which language comes about Agamben, Giorgio. Alferi trans. Anzieu, Didier. The Skin-ego. Turner trans.
Appelfeld, Aahron. Zenatti trans. Benjamin, Walter. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Bloom, Harold. A Map of Misreading. Buford, Bill ed. Granta 15 Carpenter, Humphrey. Auden: A Biography. Fenton, James. Harmondsworth: Penguin, Out of Danger.
Yellow Tulips: Poems London: Faber and Faber, Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English Fournel, Paul. Site updated in , consulted on 2 August Goldschmidt, Georges-Arthur.
La Traversée des fleuves. La joie du passeur. Greaves, Sara. Meschonnic, Henri. Poétique du traduire. Pilger, John. Telesur, 21 September Site consulted on 2 August Plath, Sylvia.
Radios à Fenton
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