6 Pages

Homage to Sextus Propertius

The identification of Propertius as a master of logopoeia and the desire to convey this in translation was probably the main cause of the poem's negative reception by Latin scholars and critics. According to Pound's own formulation, 'Logopoeia does not translate; though the attitude of mind it expresses may pass through a paraphrase' (LE, p. 25). Even if translation at the literal end of the spectrum were desirable in a poem, then, it is ruled out in this case by the logopoeic nature of the original. Of course, one of the main criticisms of the Homage that has persisted to the present is that Pound misrepresents the amount of logopoeia in Propertius and introduces irony and verbal play where there are none. A contemporary translator of the complete poems of Propertius who clearly admires Pound's achievement, nevertheless is of the opinion that where Propertius is 'muted, suave, subtle', Pound has 'a verbal swagger', is 'a little vulgar, flamboyant' (Shepherd, 1985, p. 29). It may well be that Shepherd's translation provides 'Propertius-in-itself, having found some ideal translator who shall be only translator'. Even if that were the case, it would not invalidate the text that is Homage to Sextus Propertius which invents a Propertian world, not only for its time but for its readers, whenever they happen to be. The debates about the 'accuracy' of Pound's translation, the focus on perceived 'howlers', were and still are tinged with pedantry and oversensitive erudition. Of course, 'docta testudine', literally 'with a skilful tortoise-shell lyre', becomes 'Like a trained and performing tortoise', a brilliant simile for the timeserving propagandist poet. Of course, 'Wordsworthian' is used anachronistically to characterize a tedious ancient Greek poet. What is often overlooked when such instances are highlighted is the fact that many of Pound's lines are as literal as one could want in a poetic translation or convey the sense of the original far better than any literal version could. George Steiner includes in his definition of translation 'the writing of a poem in which a poem in another language (or in an earlier form of one's own language) is the vitalizing, shaping presence; a poem which can be read and responded to independently but which is not ontologically complete, a previous poem being its occasion, begetter, and in the literal

sense, raison d'etre' (Steiner (ed.), 1970, p. 34). Homage to Sextus Propertius is the archetype here and it is a shame that Pound was driven by reactionary 'scholarship' to deny its status as a translation altogether. Indeed, if Cathay is arguably the first modern translation, then the Homage, with its self-conscious intrusions and textual distortions, is the first one to be truly modernist.