“What Is Brightness? or, Justice to Words & Reality”
Number 1980. May 30, 2018
Dear Unknown Friends:
We are serializing a lecture that Eli Siegel gave nearly seven decades ago, in 1949. It is Poetry and Brightness, and in our last issue I called it “amazing and beautiful.” Mr. Siegel shows that the idea of brightness is fundamental to the biggest matters that concern humanity, which means the life of every one of us.
In the present issue, we see him speaking about brightness in relation to religion, love, what the self most deeply is, and what can be called economic justice—a just ownership of the world.
A Poem Translated, & Brightness
There is, here, his discussion of a poem by Charles Baudelaire: “Hymn,” first published in 1866. Mr. Siegel translated this poem for the lecture we’re serializing, but in the 1960s he did another translation of it, which he included in his 1968 collection of poems, Hail, American Development. It is this later translation that you will be reading in the discussion here, because, while the 1949 version was very fine, I consider the later version one of the great translations in world literature.
Reviewing Hail, American Development in the New York Times Book Review, Kenneth Rexroth wrote that Eli Siegel’s “translations of Baudelaire and his commentaries on them rank him with the most understanding of the Baudelaire critics in any language.” I certainly agree with that. And I’ll say a little more about the matter of translation—a subject I love—because the quality of a poem’s translation has to do with what the lecture we’re serializing is about: brightness. Can the radiance, the vibrancy, the vital firmness-and-nuance of thought and sound that are in every true poem be conveyed—brought to us, living—in another language? Most translations fail at this….Read more
The Right Of is edited by Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education, who is author of its commentaries.