From William Carlos Williams

Footnote 151.22 re Sappho (From William Carlos Williams, Selected Poems, Edited by Robert Pinsky)

This is a translation of Sappho’s Fragment 71. When it was published in Poems in Folio (1957), Williams included this note:

I am 73 years old. I’ve gone on living as I could as a doctor and writing poetry on the side. I practiced to get money to live as I please, and what pleases me is to write poetry.

I don’t speak English, but the American idiom. I don’t know how to write anything else, and I refuse to learn. I’m writing and planning something all the time. I have nothing to do——a retired doctor who can’t use his right hand anymore. But my coco (my head, you know) goes on spinning and maybe occasionally I work it pretty hard. It goes on day and night. All my life I’ve never stopped thinking. I think all writing is a disease. You can’t stop it.

I have worked with two or three friends in making the translation for I am no Greek scholar but have been veritably shocked by the official British translations of a marvelous poem by one of the greatest poets of all time. How their ears can have sanctioned the enormities that they produced is more than I can understand. American scholars must have been scared off by the difficulties of the job not to have done better. Their prosy versions were little better——to my taste. It may be that I also have failed but all I can say is that as far as I have been able to do I have been as accurate as the meaning of the words permitted——always with a sense of our own American idiom to instruct me.

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