Two New Translations Attempt to Bring Avrom Sutzkever’s Poetry into English

Jan. 22 2019

While the moving life story of the Yiddish poet Avrom Sutzkever—who grew up in Siberia, spent part of World War II saving books and manuscripts from destruction at the hands of the Third Reich, fought the Nazis as a partisan, testified at Nuremberg, and spent the second half of the 20th century sustaining Yiddish literature in Israel—resonates in any language, translating his poetry has proved a more daunting task. In greeting two new English versions of his poems with enthusiasm, Mark Glanville reflects on the challenges they confront:

Sutzkever was unafraid to forge his high-poetic Yiddish out of a street “jargon” that had not previously been associated with serious literary culture, creating neologisms at will—but always within the context of strict poetic forms. Sutzkever’s employment of meter and rhyme themselves present considerable difficulty to his translators. . . .

One of the later poems, “The Full Pomegranate,” has given its title to Richard J. Fein’s collection [of translated poems]. Though for the most part it is well and accurately rendered, elements of this translation reveal the difficulties attendant on any non-annotated edition of such a difficult and sophisticated poet. Fein translates the lines “lave zayne kerndlekh. Atomen/ breyshesdik aroysgeyoyerte” as “Lava—its grains. Genesis—/ atoms turbulent,” hurling words at the page like paint at a canvas, omitting the neologisms and imagery that are Sutzkever’s trademarks.

A more literal translation might read “Lava its seeds. Atoms/ Fermented forth primevally.” The word yoyern is used of fermenting bread, while breyshesdik is an adverb Sutzkever has invented, a derivation from the Hebrew b’resyhit (in the beginning), the first word of the first book of the Bible and the Hebrew name for the book known to Christians as Genesis. The seeds of the pomegranate are seen as lava, as atoms, fermented primevally, combining two images—the power of fermentation and the shooting out of lava from the depths. None of this is apparent in Fein’s version, but is any translation able to convey such intricately wrought language without the help of notes?

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Read more at Times Literary Supplement

More about: Arts & Culture, Avraham Sutzkever, Jewish literature, Poetry, Translation, Yiddish literature

Don’t Let Iran Go Nuclear

Sept. 29 2022

In an interview on Sunday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that the Biden administration remains committed to nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic, even as it pursues its brutal crackdown on the protests that have swept the country. Robert Satloff argues not only that it is foolish to pursue the renewal of the 2015 nuclear deal, but also that the White House’s current approach is failing on its own terms:

[The] nuclear threat is much worse today than it was when President Biden took office. Oddly, Washington hasn’t really done much about it. On the diplomatic front, the administration has sweetened its offer to entice Iran into a new nuclear deal. While it quite rightly held firm on Iran’s demand to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from an official list of “foreign terrorist organizations,” Washington has given ground on many other items.

On the nuclear side of the agreement, the United States has purportedly agreed to allow Iran to keep, in storage, thousands of advanced centrifuges it has made contrary to the terms of the original deal. . . . And on economic matters, the new deal purportedly gives Iran immediate access to a certain amount of blocked assets, before it even exports most of its massive stockpile of enriched uranium for safekeeping in a third country. . . . Even with these added incentives, Iran is still holding out on an agreement. Indeed, according to the most recent reports, Tehran has actually hardened its position.

Regardless of the exact reason why, the menacing reality is that Iran’s nuclear program is galloping ahead—and the United States is doing very little about it. . . . The result has been a stunning passivity in U.S. policy toward the Iran nuclear issue.

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy