The Paris Review

Ms. Difficult: Translating Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson, ca. 1848. Photo: public domain, courtesy of Yale University Manuscripts and Archives Digital Images Database, via Wikimedia Commons.

When she was translating Rilke into Russian, the poet Marina Tsvetaeva wrote in a letter to Boris Pasternak:

And today I want Rilke to speak—through me. In the vernacular, this is known as translation. (How much better the Germans put it—nachdichten!—following the poet’s path, paving anew the entire road which he paved. For let nach be—(to follow after), but—dichten!, is that which is always anew. Nachdichten—to pave anew over instantaneously vanishing traces. But translation has another meaning. To translate not just into (the Russian language, for example), but across (a river). I translate Rilke into the Russian tongue, as he will someday translate me to the other world.

To speak through another always sets us down in a place of no return, a place of exile, translation’s natural habitat. However, precisely because it is a place of exile, translation allows for the confluence of several voices. And suddenly, sometimes, the almost-miracle:

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Paris Review

The Paris Review4 min read
The Woman of a Thousand Faces
Aldous Harding performing at the Oxford Art Factory on November 21, 2015. Photo: Bruce Baker (CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)). Via Wikimedia Commons. Aldous Harding is a young singer-songwriter, the kind usually labeled a fol
The Paris Review9 min read
On Warnings
Still from Belly (1998) It is hard to say when I stopped noticing the sirens. They’re still there, piercing the otherwise normal Wednesday-afternoon noise. But I haven’t noticed them for at least fifteen years. In the central Ohio area, a test of the
The Paris Review7 min read
The Gift of Elizabeth Hardwick’s Attention
Elizabeth Hardwick. Elizabeth Hardwick is one of the world’s most valuable essayists and literary critics. That is to say, her essays are of value to anyone interested in the ways in which women are made present in literature. In Seduction and Betray