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“Published in English with additional material…”

Riddle: When is a translation of a book not a translation of that book?

The earliest hint is buried in tiny print on the copyright page: “Published in English with additional material by Hamish Hamilton 2011.”  Despite the similarity in their titles, the recently released English volume Across the Land and the Water: Selected Poems 1964-2001 by W.G. Sebald is dramatically different from it’s German counterpart of 2008 Über das Land und das Wasser, which was edited by Sebald’s longtime editor Sven Meyer.  Across the Land, edited and translated by Iain Galbraith, contains considerably more poems, but, puzzlingly, they are incorporated within a different structure.  Across the Land has five sections: Poemtrees, School Latin, Across the Land and the Water, The Year before Last, and the oddly-named Appendix, which contains two poems that Sebald originally wrote in English.  The German version has three sections: Schullatein, Über das Land und das Wasser, and Das vorvergangene Jahr, each of which is different from its English counterpart.

Gone Missing.

The English edition contains every poem from the German edition – except two: Analytische Sommerfrische and Physikalisches Wunder.

Shuffled Around.

 Across the Land opens with a section called Poemtrees, which contains seventeen of Sebald’s earliest poems.  In the German edition, there is no section by this name; instead, the first fifteen of these poems are in the section called Schullatein – along with four other poems that appear in the School Latin section of the American edition.  (Yes, this is confusing.)  The second section in Across the Land is called School Latin, containing twenty poems – fifteen of which do not appear in the German edition at all.  Four of the poems in School Latin were originally in the Schullatein section of the German edition and one was originally included in the Über das Land und das Wasser section.  (Confused even more?  Sorry, we’re not done.)   The third section in Across the Land is called, appropriately, Across the Land and the Water, which contains twenty-nine poems, ten of which do not appear in the German edition.  The fourth section is called The Year Before Last, which closely corresponds to the German section Das vorvergrangene Jahr, except that it contains six poems that did not appear in the German edition.  How this fourth section got its title is never made clear.  The fifth section is the Appendix, which contains two poems originally written by Sebald in English and, therefore, were not translated by Iain Galbraith.  (Got everything straight now?)

So, What’s Going on Here?

Iain Galbraith writes in his Translator’s Introduction to Across the Land that in the 1908s “Sebald had prepared and paginated, apparently for publication, two collections of shorter poems – ‘Schullatein’ (‘School Latin’) and ‘Über das Land und das Wasser’ (‘Across the Land and the Water’), consisting altogether of some ninety poems – neither of which would find its way into print.”  Sebald’s manuscript for “Schullatein” contained a number of poems that also appeared in an even earlier gathering (which Galbraith calls a “loose bundle of poems”) that he labeled “Poemtrees.”  To further complicate matters, some of the poems in “Schullatein” were included – sometimes in a revised manner – in the later manuscript for Über das Land und das Wasser.  (Endlessly cannibalizing his own poems, Sebald also took some of these early, short poems in their entirety and inserted them into his long poem After Nature.)

If I am reading Galbraith’s introduction correctly, his reshuffling of the poems is based upon the manuscripts in Sebald’s archive at the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach.  Furthermore, Galbraith seems to have made at least some of his translations from Sebald’s manuscripts (where multiple version of the same poems can be found), rather than from the German edition of Über das Land und das Wasser.  This means that one cannot reliably compare Galbraith’s English translations with the published German version because Galbraith and Sven Meyer were, on occasion, using different source manuscripts for their respective editions.  It is very conceivable that every time that a poem was shuffled from one section in the German edition to a different section in the English edition, Galbraith and Meyer were using different manuscript versions of the same poem.

Riddle: When is a translation of a book not a translation of a book?
Answer: When the translator works from a different set of manuscripts.

[Please make sure to click on the Comments line below and read Iain Galbraith’s extended comment to this post, in which he addresses all of my questions and assumptions. Notably, he explains that he and Meyer did use the same source manuscript, so that a direct comparison made be made between his translations and the German originals in Über das Land.]

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Catherine Annabel #

    This makes my own questions about the Bleston poems even harder to answer! There are quotations in French in the new volume, which I’ve assumed were in French in the original (whichever that is) but also some quotations which Galbraith doesn’t identify and my guess is that is because Sebald translated them himself from the French into German, and Galbraith has translated them back into English. They are far too close to the Butor to be merely coincidental echoes. (I’m working on some notes on this – what’s interesting is of course not just what he quoted but why).
    Speaking of cannibalisation, the starlings appear in the Max Ferber section of The Emigrants – in prose but very close indeed to the poem.

    December 23, 2011
  2. Iain Galbraith #

    Perhaps I can help. It seems to me that much of the confusion you describe stems from a single false assumption, namely that *Across the Land and the Water*, a selection of W. G. Sebald’s poems in English translation, published by Hamish Hamilton in 2011, sets out to be a translation of the German volume *Über das Land und das Wasser*, published by Hanser in 2001 and edited by Sven Meyer. In fact, however, you are quite right to emphasize that it is not a translation of that volume at all, nor did it ever intend or claim to be. As my introduction makes clear, both volumes (the German as well as the UK publication) are separate editions of W. G. Sebald’s poems, the UK book being also a translated edition. Sven Meyer’s volume collects the poems published in journals and books during Sebald’s lifetime. It also adds a number of previously unpublished poems that Meyer found among the material deposited in WGS’s archive at Marbach. My edition (which includes all of the poems in Meyer’s volume except two, whose absence I explain below) follows Meyer in collecting the previously published, uncollected poems and adding a larger number of unpublished poems from the archives, but it also attempts to reconstruct the compositional history of WGS’s poetry over the four decades between his publishing début in the early 1960s and the poems he was writing shortly before his death. The “chapters” of the English-language volume and their contents therefore mirror the different phases (‘Poemtrees’, ‘School Latin’, ‘Across the Land and the Water’, and ‘The Year Before Last’) of his development – as evidenced by the textual material in the Marbach archive and the author’s own organization of that material. The poems included in these sections in the UK edition are also found in their respective German collections, scripts and files in the archive. Again, all this is explained in my introduction. The title of the final section, ‘The Year before Last’, does, however, originate in Meyer’s edition. It is quite simply the title of the first poem of that section. This is the only one of the four section titles that was not given by WGS himself, and a possible alternative would have been to give it a more factual, perfunctory title like “Later Poems”. The titles of the two published book editions *Über das Land und das Wasser* and *Across the Land and the Water* reflect the title given by WGS to the second of his two unpublished typescript collections in the archive (‘Poemtrees’, although containing many poems, was not – unlike ‘Schullatein’ and ‘Über das Land und das Wasser’ – fashioned by WGS as a typescript collection, but was a looser bundle, or file). Many of the poems in the ‘Über das Land und das Wasser’ typescript, as I explain in some detail in the introduction, were incorporated by WGS into the text of his later ‘Elementargedicht’ *Nach der Natur* (After Nature). This placed me before a dilemma: whether to translate these poems nonetheless, although they already existed in English as part of Michael Hamburger’s translation of *After Nature*, or to leave them aside, explaining their absence in the introduction. I chose the second route, which is also why the two poems you correctly identify as “gone missing”, ‘Analytische Sommerfrische’ and ‘Physikalisches Wunder’ – which WGS incorporated almost verbatim in Section II of ‘Die dunkle Nacht fahrt aus’ in *Nach der Natur* – have not been included in the new UK edition. Finally, may I at least set your mind at rest in respect of the source texts of my translations. With the exception of the two poems that have “gone missing”, for the reasons I have explained, the poems in Sven Meyer’s edited volume *Über das Land und das Wasser* have been translated for *Across the Land and the Water* using identical sources. Contrary to what you have suggested, therefore, Sven Meyer and I were not “using different source manuscripts” for our respective editions, and one can certainly therefore “reliably compare” the translated poems with their German counterparts. Further, I should point out that all of the source texts for the translations included in *Across the Land and the Water* are now readily available in German, either in Sven Meyer’s edited volume, or – in the case of the previously unpublished poems I took from WGS’s archive in Marbach – in the most recent issue of the journal *Akzente* (6/2011).
    Iain Galbraith

    December 28, 2011
  3. Iain – Thanks for the extended and very helpful reply. I will make a note at the end of this post encouraging readers to read your comment. I think my newest post “A Silent War: Sebald’s Poetry,” which I was writing at the very moment your comment appeared, will help untangle some earlier misconceptions. Congratulations on a great achievement with your translation and scholarship! -Terry

    December 28, 2011

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