Friday, April 07, 2017

English Language and Poetry

I have heard it said by a number of Russian authors that Russian language affords more opportunity for poetry than does the English language.

Most likely the reason that they said this was that they understood Russian language better than they understood English language.

I am a non-native English speaker, and generally people respect my command of English language. When your learning has been conscious rather than unconscious, you understand it better than if your learning has been unconscious. For that matter a person who went from being a bad person to being a good person will understand more about what it means to be a good person than someone who's always been a good person. That is because, when you've had to get from point A to point B, you understand the process better than someone who's always been at Point B.

One claim in Eastern religion is that spiritual truth is inexpressible. I take issue with that claim. I think that anything is expressible, if you are good enough at expressing.

Does Russian language offer more opportunity for poetry than English language? I think not. Some of the most beautiful poetry in history was written in English. Russian language, like Italian or French, is more naturally musical than English language. But if you understand the English well enough, you can write in it poetry as good as what we see done in Russian.

I have translated five books of Russian poetry into English. A professor at Georgetown was saying that my translations are too Russian in style. That is not a bug; that's a feature. I want to transmit the feeling of the original poetry. And in so doing to bring Russian poetry to Anglophone audiences.

So no, I reject the claim that Russian language offers more opportunity for poetry than English. It is possible to write good poetry in any language. Even the Germans came up with beautiful poetry; and there are few people who think that German is a poetic language.

The solution is not to see one language as being better than the other. The solution is writing good work in whatever language you know. In my case, that very much is the English language; and I recommend to these people developing command of the English language in order that they can write works in English comparable to what they write in Russian.


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