Winter 1962 • Vol. XXIV No. 1 Department KR: A Section of Briefer CommentJanuary 1, 1962 |


George Steiner has borne down hard on Robert Lowell's translation of Phaedra, and I must take issue with him. Mr. Steiner's criticism submits "that [Robert Lowell's Phaedra has an unsteady and capricious bearing on the matter of Racine. Far too often, it strives against the grain of Racine's style and against the conventions of feeling on which the miraculous concision of that style depends." Mr. Steiner suggests that some English equivalent exists for Racine's style, some chaste, classical murmur, perhaps; that Lowell neglected to look for it; and that his "vivid rhetoric" and "robust eloquence" (Steiner's terms) are no substitute. The fact is that any attempt at a literal transcription of Racine's or Corneille's language comes out with stupefying flatness. There are some eighteen such versions in print, every one of which reduces Racine in English to a careful concocter of plots. Racine's characters are hot and monumental, and the passion, speed, and massiveness of Mr. Low

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