Translation is the sea change for poetry, often giving it a different coloring and new or odd dimensions during its passage from one language to another. For the linguistic artifact which is the poem, by reason of its structure achieved in and its meaning expressed through language, cannot speak in another tongue with the same sonance, precision, or authority that it possesses in the original. The best that the translator can hope to accomplish is to keep as intact as possible those elements of the poem which resist the violence of change: the larger meaning, the revealing image or metaphor, and sometimes, with luck, an echo of cadence. Without these effects the translation falls into toneless literal statement at one extreme or paraphrase, too frequently distorted and irresponsible, at the other.
In the case of Boris Leonidovich Pasternak, a poet of intensely personal vision and idiosyncratic style, the task of translation must appear insurmountable at times. The problem of adequate rendition involves more than the barrier of language and the difficulties arising from the writer’s passionate fusion of image and meaning. It is also one of distance, the gap between two parts of a world divided by temperament, culture, and ideology in this century. Pasternak is a Russian as well as a contemporary, and reading him with understanding requires adjustment to a different picture of the world and a different evaluation of the human condition.
In his poems Pasternak’s figurative tendency found expression in a joining of symbolist techniques and pantheistic feeling. Historically, he was the heir of Russian symbolism, a tradition he shared with Mayakovsky and Esenin in the post-revolutionary period. Symbolism in Russian literature is not to be confused, however, with the similar movement in France, where it was directed chiefly toward experiment with new modes of poetic expression. The Russian symbolists, although concerned with the re-creation of language, were also interested in a new consciousness of the universe and a new concept of man. Thus Mayakovsky was able to find his themes in the mythology of the revolution; Esenin voiced a lament for archaic peasant Russia, and Pasternak tried to make his poetry an expression and configuration of the essence and uniqueness...
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