JUDY KRAVIS

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Sunday, 22 January 2017

I bought a different translation of the Duino Elegies. As with a new recording of Beethoven late quartets, I was nervous and curious as I began. My original copy, bought when I was a student, is the dual language JB Leishman & Stephen Spender translation, hardcover, with nearly intact dust jacket, Hogarth Press, soft chalky paper, comfortable layout. The new book is a Vintage paperback, thin rough paper, pinched layout, over inked, also dual language, with translation and editing by Stephen Mitchell.

The new recordings of Beethoven (the Takacs quartet) I have been listening to this winter have easily overtaken the old ones, though I notice quieter transitions or unusual accents. Old involvement with a recording (the Budapest quartet), old investment in quality of sound with ambient associations, holds from one recording to another.

Not so on the page. In visceral, childish fashion I only want these words on this paper. I want my pencil marks, confirmation of my innerness then, the most reliable crux of life.  In order to read the Duino Elegies I have to be able to turn into the person I was when I first read them, and for that I need the paper, the marks, the page layout, the deep W at the start of the first elegy.
Who, if I cried, would hear me among the angelic
orders? And even if one of them suddenly
pressed me against his heart, I should fade in the strength
of his
stronger existence. For Beauty's nothing
but beginning of Terror we're still just able to bear,
and why we adore it so is because it serenely
disdains to destroy us. Every angel is terrible.
And so I repress myself, and swallow the call-note
of depth-dark sobbing. Alas, who is there
we can make use of? Not angels, not men;
and even the noticing beasts are aware
that we don't feel very securely at home
in this interpreted world.
I like the awkwardness and sometimes impermeability of this translation. I want to be as luxuriously bemused as I was when I was 22. Deep inside what I didn't understand, I did understand.

I heard on the radio this morning that ten percent of people in the UK do not have a book in their house. Ninety percent have a cook book or a self help or a manual or a novel. No mention of a bible, not even for smashing a ganglion.

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