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Eastern Poetry by Western Poets: Powys Mathers’ ‘Translations’ of Sanskrit Erotic Lyrics

Italia, M; (2020) Eastern Poetry by Western Poets: Powys Mathers’ ‘Translations’ of Sanskrit Erotic Lyrics. Comparative Critical Studies , 17 (2) pp. 205-224. 10.3366/ccs.2020.0359. Green open access

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Abstract

This essay focuses on a pivotal (if understudied) moment in the history of the translation and reception of Sanskrit erotic poetry in the West – a moment which sees the percolation of this classical poetry from the scholarly sphere to that of non-specialist literature. I argue that a crucial agent in the dissemination and inclusion of Sanskrit erotic poems in the canon of Western lyric poetry was the English poet Edward Powys Mathers (1892–1939), a self-professed second-hand translator of ‘Eastern’ literature, as well as the author of original verses, which he smuggled as translations. Using Black Marigolds (a 1919 English version of the Caurapañcāśikā) as a case study, I show how Powys Mathers’ renderings – which combined the practices of second-hand and pseudo-translation – are intertextually dense poems. On the one hand, Black Marigolds shows in watermark the intermediary French translation; on the other, it functions as a hall of mirrors which reflects, magnifies and distorts the emotional and aesthetic dimensions of both the classical/Eastern and modern/Western literary world. What does the transformation of the Caurapañcāśikā into a successful piece of modern(ist) lyric poetry tell us about the relationship that Western readers wished (and often still wish) to have with ‘Eastern’ poetry? Furthermore, which conceptual tools can we mobilize to ‘make sense’ of these non-scholarly translations of classical Sanskrit poems and ‘take seriously’ their many layers of textual and contextual meaning?

Type: Article
Title: Eastern Poetry by Western Poets: Powys Mathers’ ‘Translations’ of Sanskrit Erotic Lyrics
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.3366/ccs.2020.0359
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.3366/ccs.2020.0359
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Dept of Greek and Latin
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10126042
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