Translation, like faith, most often requires preserving scrupulous devotion amid the lurking traps of doubt and disbelief. This is true for both translator and reader alike, especially when it comes to poetry. We expect translations to be “accurate,” and readers often wonder just what essence or art might have been “lost” in the process, causing us to feel cheated somehow of what we perceive as the inviolable authenticity of the “original.” Indeed, looking at a copy of a Vermeer or Rembrandt, we might enjoy or even be fooled by the painter’s skill, but when knowing it to be a copy, we would never wish to substitute it for the masterpiece.

And yet, for translation, this is a false analogy, one born of snobbery. Better is the comparison to music. Listening to Pablo Casals or Yo-Yo Ma or Pieter Wispelwey play a Bach cello suite, we might cling to a...

 

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