Saturday, March 07, 2009

Recommended Reading: The Branch Will Not Break

Don Wentworth of Issa's Untidy Hut recently posted at his blog - well, not his blog but Lilliput Review's blog - about a book of poems by James Wright called The Branch Will Not Break. Don likes the small size - smaller than a cell phone - of this particular publication which fits conveniently in his pocket. Here is an excerpt from his post:

. . . let me share another little gem from this groundbreaking volume. Besides being a lyrical poet of the first order, Wright was an accomplished translator. I will forever be in his depth for his translations of Hermann Hesse, in the volume simply entitled Poems. Though narrow in scope, Wright strictly selected work concerned with what might loosely be described as "homesickness," a theme the two poets shared. It is nonetheless a valuable collection, one of only a few in English by the prolific poet, Hesse (yes, we have lots of his great fiction, but a truly miniscule amount of his poetry - if there are any translators out there who want to see Hesse's work see the light of day, I'm interested).
In a footnote to the following translation, Wright says: "These three stanzas are from Goethe's poem Harzreise im Winter. They are the stanzas which Brahms detached from the poem and employed as the test for his Alto Rhapsody of 1869."

Three Stanzas From Goethe
That man there, who is he?
His path lost in the thicket,
Behind him the bushes
Lash back together,
The grass rises again,
The waste devours him.

Oh, who will heal the sufferings
Of the man whose balm turned poison?
Who drank nothing
but hatred of men from loves abundance?
Once despised, not a despiser,
He kills his own life,
The precious secret.
The self-seeker finds nothing.

Oh Father of Love,
If your psaltery holds one tone
That his ear still might echo,
Then quicken his heart!
Open his eyes, shut off by clouds
From the thousand fountains
So near him, dying of thirst
In his own desert.

translated by James Wright

The subject, tone, and even style perfectly fit the poems this translation is surrounded by in The Branch Will Not Break. As with Hesse, it shows how a translator/poet, in a sense, makes another's work his own.
So if you'd like something to carry along while waiting around for your front-end to be aligned, your wisdom teeth to be extracted, or your boss to stop talking, this tiny little volume may do the trick. . . . No matter what the size, this is a near perfect book of poems.
Excerpted from accessed 3/7/09.


Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thanks, Andrew, for passing the post along. Very much appreciated ...


Andrew Christ said...

You're welcome! I agree with you that "The Branch Will Not Break" is an important book for contemporary poets to familiarize themselves with, if they haven't yet.