The Homophonic Imagination: On Translating Modern Greek Poetry

Van Dyck, Karen

To focus on the sound of the source text is to run counter to the dominant translation strategy, which focuses on meaning. This is true more generally, but also in the case of Modern Greek poetry. Translations such as those by Edmund Keeley and Phillip Sherrard introduced the poetry of C. P. Cavafy, George Seferis, Odysseas Elytes and Yannis Ritsos in an idiom that reads easily in English and makes the living tradition of myth and history readily available to an Anglophone audience. The Greek tradition, with its notion that sound is meaning, complicates the picture. It is not that sound doesn't have meaning in British and American poetry. But in the Greek case, meter isn't imagined as additional information that situates the poem in a tradition and a culture; it is seen as the very stuff of political and historical consciousness. From the nineteenth-century national anthem of Dionysis Solomos to the prose poems of a contemporary poet such as Jenny Mastoraki, meter and rhyme are integrally related to the project of nation-making that began with the War of Independence in the 1820s and ended with the recent economic and political crisis.

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New Ohio Review
Ohio University

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Creative Writing Program, Ohio University
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July 27, 2015