Is it just me, or does anyone else think that Vijay Seshadri's translation of Ghalib's Yeh Na Thi Hamari Qismat (the original here) in this month's Poetry is really terrible? I'm vaguely fond of Seshadri, and quite enjoyed his last book, but this translation of his doesn't so much miss the boat as not even make it to the harbor. The first time I read the translation I didn't even recognize the original (which I know large chunks of by heart - as who doesn't?) in it, and even now I have trouble reconciling the translation with Ghalib's ghazal. I mean, seriously, who renders
Koi mere dil se pooche tere teer-e neem-kash ko
Yeh khalish kahan se hoti jo jigar ke paar hota
You are a laconic marksman. You leave me
not dead but perpetually dying.
That is so far from the original (roughly: "Someone should ask my heart about your half-hearted arrow / Would it have hurt this much if the shaft had passed through?") that it's practically a different poem. Not only does it not stay true to the tone and sensibility of the original (always a difficult thing to do) it completely mangles the sense of the verse, obscures Ghalib's wit, and ends up 'telling' rather than 'showing' the final line. And that's one of the better verses of Seshadri's translation. Gah!
Meanwhile, Jim Holt, writing in the NY Times informs me that Robert Browning is "not quite a first-rate poet". I'm sorry, what?! I have no idea what Mr. Holt has been inhaling lately, but if Browning is not a first-rate poet I'd like to know who is. Personally, I consider Browning the greatest poet of his era (admittedly, this is an era that consists of Arnold, Swinburne and Tennyson - not English poetry's finest hour) and would gladly lose several minor appendages if I could turn out one poem that has half the flow and precision of My Last Duchess.
And finally, to calm my indignant nerves, Lawrence Raab's 'The Poem that Can't Be Written' from last week's New Yorker.