Scottish poet and translator Alastair Reid died last weekend, at the age of 88. Venerable and respected in translation circles, he was known particularly for his translations of Borges and Neruda, and for espousing a form of translation that insists on its own status as writing. Interviewed by The Guardian in 2008, he expanded on these views:
In translation, [Reid] says, “your obligation is to ensure that something that goes off wonderfully well in the original works just as well in English. The main thing is to make it sound like an English poem. “He delights in recalling Neruda’s advice: “Don’t just translate my poems – I want you to improve them.” He sees no reason not to depart from the basic text, “if it needs it, and it probably will need it at some point. If you can make the thrill of the original come across in translation, you’ve succeeded. Only bad translators insist on utter faithfulness.”
I feel lucky to have been able to hear him reminiscing about Borges at the Americas Society just last year. For many years, Reid was a regular contributor to The New Yorker, writing from the many corners of the world he peripatetically inhabited. For an appreciation of his contributions, see the articles published this week in that magazine’s Page-Turner blog and The New York Times.