But it should also be said that nobody understood the travails of translation better than Nabokov himself. In an excerpt of a revealing essay on translation, he laments the translator because: “the greater his individual talent, the more apt he will be to drown the foreign masterpiece under the sparkling ripples of his own personal style.” He is markedly more humble in approaching the titanic figure of Pushkin in a gem of a poem entitled “On Translating ‘Eugene Onegin’”:
What is translation? On a platter
A poet’s pale and glaring head,
A parrot’s screech, a monkey’s chatter,
And profanation of the dead.
Perhaps a sizable portion of the readership for Verses and Versions will be interested in just how successful Nabokov is in fusing Pushkin’s legacy with his own, especially since the editors have capably parsed down his voluminous Pushkin translations into a mere hundred-some pages. But this book is just as notable for the minor poets it uncovers, those who rarely make it out of Russia. In that sense Verses and Versions is an unqualified success, even as it reveals Nabokov’s struggles with translation.
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