The Alabama Crimson Tide concluded fall camp this week and begins regular game preparation from here on. You are forgiven if this tidbit slipped your attention, as most observers have been dissecting Simeon Castille’s disorderly conduct arrest.
Cecil Hurt came down on the side of forgiveness and flattery. The Great Leader took pains to support his player while trying to forfend anyone from popularizing Tuscaloosa as not a good place to be if you’re young and black. After all, most recruits aren’t 59.
Besides, anyone who’s been to an SEC football game knows that disorderly conduct isn’t a crime but a characteristic. Too much prerogative is afforded those who elevate order as a virtue. In small doses (for example, to celebrate the completion of an arduous training camp), disorder can lead to wonderful places--and also, truth be told, to the back seat of a cruiser.
Not everything frowned upon should be criminal. I certainly don’t approve of the Zbigniew Herbert translations released earlier this year, but I wouldn’t throw Alissa Valles in the clink over it. Michael Hofmann might, but not me.
Yet, using the scope, one would think that Valles has done more harm than a boisterous cornerback in a college town. Weighing in at nearly two pounds, her volume will likely not be replaced in my lifetime. To a generation of English readers, this Herbert will be their only Herbert. The smaller, scattered, and selected volumes we’ve known will eventually fall out of print, if only because of college syllabi pragmatics.
What a shame it will be to lose this other Herbert, my Herbert. Valles’s decision, or (according to some) defalcation, to value the colloquial over the classical diminishes a good deal of what English readers have come to treasure in John and Bogdana Carpenter’s earlier translations. And she defends herself with the catchall of being “true” to the Polish. In the translator’s game, this is the same, sorry line as “just following orders.” In this regard, Valles pleads guilty to the charge some have leveled against her translations as being “unthinking.”
For to the English reader, I think it not important to be true to the arbitrary mechanisms of Polish grammar as it is to be true to Herbert, as best we can surmise his intent. So although Valles seems proud to exorcise articles from (the) verse--as Polish grammar does not apparently use any--a quiet voice asks, “but what if Herbert had written in English?”
That same voice is the one I remember in the earlier translations, where Herbert’s poems seem to be written for Western Union rather than the Western canon, telegram messages from some great celebration or tragedy. That Herbert’s collected volume registers such a hefty mass is impressive given that he rarely extends a line to ten syllables.
Hofmann’s critique of the new translations lost some traction when critics of the critic pointed out that he does not (or cannot, to use his words) read Polish. Irrelevant! Hofmann, as a translator himself, knows that the mother tongue never makes it to the finish line. Our problem here is thoroughly English.
Still, enough of the Herbert I remember makes it through to make the reading worthwhile (after all, he was a tough guy who withstood worse occupiers), so I bear no real enmity toward Valles. When it comes to print crimes these days, I’m more concerned with gimmick infringement!