an outlaw

May 30, 2020

The wolf is a conventional symbol of marginality in Greek poetry. The wolf is an outlaw. He lives beyond the boundary of usefully cultivated and inhabited space marked off as the polis, in that blank no man’s land called to apeiron (“the unbounded”). Women, in the ancient view, share this territory spiritually and metaphorically –

Anne Carson
The Gender of Sound: in Glass, Irony and God


Don’t let him speak —
by the gods! Brother — no speechmaking now!
When a human being is so steeped in evil as this one
what is gained by delaying his death?
Kill him at once.
Throw his corpse out
for scavengers to get.
Nothing less than this
can cut the knot of evils
inside me.

Translated by Anne Carson

For comparison the same passage with different translator:


By the gods, don’t let him say another thing,
brother, or spin out words at length.
For when mortals are in the thick of trouble,
what can one who is about to die gain with time?
No, kill him as quickly as possible, and when you’ve killed him,
hand him over to such grave-diggers as he deserves,
far from our sight. For this is my only release from
the pains that have plagued me for so long.

Translated by Hanna M Roisman


March 30, 2020

Lovers are always waiting. They hate to wait; they love to wait. Wedged between these two feelings, lovers come to think a great deal about time, and to understand it very well, in their perverse way.

Anne Carson
Eros the Bittersweet; Now Then


October 29, 2019

May I write words more naked than flesh,
stronger than bone

Anne Carson
If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho

When the German lyric poet Friedrich Hölderlin undertook to translate Sophokles’ Antigone in 1796, he met this problem on the first page. The play opens with a distressed Antigone confronting her sister Ismene. “What is it?” asks Ismene, then she adds the purple verb. “You are obviously growing dark in mind (kalchainous’) over some piece of news.” This is a standard reading of the line. Hölderlin’s version: “Du scheinst ein rotes Wort zu färben,” would mean something like “You seem to colour a red word, to dye your words red.” The deadly literalism of the line is typical of him. His translating method was to take hold of every item of the original diction and wrench it across into German exactly as it stood in its syntax, word order and lexical sense. The result was versions of Sophokles that made Goethe and Schiller laugh aloud when they heard them. Learned reviewers itemized more than a thousand mistakes and called the translations disfigured, unreadable, the work of a madman. Indeed by 1806 Hölderlin was certified insane. His family committed him to a psychiatric clinic, from which after a year he was released as incurable. He spent the remaining thirty-seven years of his life in a tower overlooking the river Neckar, in varying states of indifference or ecstasy, walking up and down his room, playing the piano, writing on scraps of paper, receiving the odd visitor. He died still insane in 1843. It is a cliché to say Hölderlin’s Sophokles translations show him on the verge of breakdown and derive their luminous, gnarled, unpronounceable weirdness from his mental condition. Still I wonder what exactly is the relation of madness to translation? Where does translation happen in the mind? And if there is a silence that falls inside certain words, when, how, with what violence does that take place, and what difference does it make to who you are?

Anne Carson
Variations on the Right to Remain Silent


August 4, 2019

If prose is a house, poetry is a man on fire running quite fast through it.

Anne Carson
Interview with Kate Kellaway: 30th October 2016 in Guardian newspaper

You could whisper down a well. You could write a letter and keep it in a drawer. You could inscribe a curse on a ribbon of lead and bury it in the ground to lie unread for thousands of years. The point is not to find a reader, the point is the telling itself. Consider a person standing alone in a room. The house is silent. She is looking down at a piece of paper. Nothing else exists. All her veins go down into this paper. She takes her pen and writes on it some marks no one else will ever see, she bestows on it a kind of surplus, she tops it off with a gesture as private and accurate as her own name.

Anne Carson

victims of love

November 18, 2018

My mother forbad us to walk backwards. That is how the dead walk, she would say. Where did she get this idea? Perhaps from a bad translation. The dead, after all, do not walk backwards but they do walk behind us. They have no lungs and cannot call out but would love for us to turn around. They are victims of love, many of them.

Anne Carson
Plainwater: Essays and Poetry

Short Talk on the Mona Lisa

October 28, 2018

Every day he poured his question into her, as
you pour water from one vessel into another,
and it poured back. Don’t tell me he was paint-
ing his mother, lust, et cetera. There is a mo-
ment when the water is not in one vessel nor in
the other–what a thirst it was, and he sup-
posed that when the canvas became completely
empty he would stop. But women are strong.
She knew vessels, she knew water, she knew
mortal thirst.

Anne Carson

man on fire

October 27, 2018

If prose is a house, poetry is a man on fire running quite fast through it.

Anne Carson
Interview with Kate Kellaway in the Guardian newspaper 30th October 2016