“A Small Elegy”

I came across this poem, “A Small Elegy,” by the Czech writer Jiri Orten, for the first time years ago, in Ed Hirsch’s wonderful book, How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry, and it knocked the wind out of me.  I gasped at how intensely this terribly young Czech writer articulated a sense of isolation, outrage and disappointment in god’s failure to protect those we love from evil.

Czech poet Jiri Orten

Then I discovered that the translator, Lyn Coffin, lives here in Seattle. And I was delighted to find out earlier this year that after 40 years of translating Orten, with the poems in and out of print, Night Publishing has brought out a full-length collection of her emotionally resonant translations. It’s called White Picture, and this week on KUOW I feature Lyn reading  “A Small Elegy,” as well as a conversation with Lyn about the art of translation and about why she thinks Orten is such an important poet of the 20th century.

Listen to Lyn read “A Small Elegy,” then listen to our conversation.

Here’s a wonderful blog post from Lyn about her connection with Orten, and finally getting this collection in print. And here’s Ed Hirsch on “A Small Elegy.”

3 thoughts on ““A Small Elegy”

    1. Elizabeth Austen

      Happy New Year to you, too, Kathleen! I hope you’ll get a chance to read all of White Picture — it’s an extraordinary collection.

  1. I would like to ask you for a non-trivial favor:

    I was reading Orten poems translated by Lyn Coffin in White Picture and my immediate reaction was that her version of Orten – as wonderful as it is – strays from the original in some cases. One must make choices and translating poems is impossible, as I am beginning to learn, and I am grateful to Ms. Coffin. Her work prompted me to have a go at translating Orten poems. (My progress has been slow like a sloth, even after I stole shamelessly.)

    Please if it is not a too great imposition – since you are a poet, English native and you like Orten – can you read my English translation attempts on three short Orten poems and tell me what you think? I mean just from the English poetry point of view. You don’t need to be polite – I am a chemist and this is only a diversion for me.

    Thank you for your time. Tomas

    ://orgprepdaily.wordpress.com/jiri-orten-translation-attempts/

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