Poetry & Nature in Translation
It’s been said that poetry is what is untranslatable, yet one poem often translates another, and many of us only read one another’s languages in translation. As a catch-all concept for whatever resists being captured in human terms, “Nature” can also be thought of as a language only ever encountered in translation. In this senior seminar we will explore the complex relationships between these three shape-shifting terms--“poetry,” “nature,” “translation”--as we read together poems and essays from various linguistic traditions, including Chinese, English, French, German, Greek, Japanese, Latin, and Spanish. Each of you will be responsible for a poet in the language in which you are working. All readings will be provided in English, with bilingual editions used wherever possible.
We will track poetry’s investment in metamorphosis and movement between organic and inorganic states, while considering the relation between the emergent fields of ecopoetics and world literature. Other questions will include: What happens when we conceive of “world literature,” not in terms of national linguistic traditions and political territories, but in terms of the elements or agents traditionally understood to compose the material world (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water in the Chinese tradition; earth, water, air, and fire in the Greek tradition)?
If in many traditions poetry is intimately bound up with the notation of seasonal change, circadian rhythms, and other temporal cycles, what becomes of poetry in a time of accelerating global climate change, accelerating species (and language) extinction and habitat-loss, and 24/7 round-the-clock modes of production and consumption?