Thursday, October 20, 2005

Poetry Musings

Lately, I find myself reading tons of Russian poetry. I'm not big on most verse, but there are several poets I just can't get enough of, and no matter how often I read them I still get shivers. Mandelshtam, Tsvetaeva, Brodsky… There's a great epic poem by Brodsky, Procession, that features an incredibly varied cast – Lovers, King, Harlequine, Columbine, Hamlet, Devil, Poet, Prince Myshkin, etc etc. And their monologues are just heart-rendingly beautiful. There are also some very interesting bits, such as the story of Pied Piper of Hamelin as told by rats.

I don't know why I never get that same reaction with English poetry. Sure, I like some of it well enough, but never to such a visceral level, when a certain line strikes such a chord that it resonates through your whole body.

And I find it incredibly frustrating that poetry is impossible to translate. It seems so unfair that most of my friends will never be able to feel this, to appreciate it the same way I do. I tried translating often enough; but I suck at poetry. I looked for translations, and some are competent. But they can never capture the emotion – it's like a black-and-white photograph of a painting; gives you a fair idea of what it's about, but loses all savor.

It seems that often foreigners find themselves isolated in such small ways – certain linguistic delights, certain frames of references are not shared by anyone around them, and it creates a sense of isolation more profound than any other. One can learn the language, but one will never be able to fully explain the frames, the earliest memories, the thrills of Hamelin rats' song.

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