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The following is an excerpt from an essay written by Jakob Ziguras. For the full text, please see below.


My contribution to Rhyming the Dead begins and ends with translation.

Towards the end of my own recent winter journey, in my birthplace Wrocław, I was asked by the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski to translate an essay of his, written in honour of the recently deceased Stanisław Barańczak (1946–2014), and destined for an English-language issue of the journal Zeszyty Literackie (Literary Notebooks) dedicated to Barańczak. This evolved into the larger task of co-editing this issue, and the ongoing project of translating one of Barańczak’s most intriguing poetry collections, Podróż zimowa (Winter Journey).

As it turned out, the poetry and critical prose of this great Polish poet, translator and literary scholar, entered into a very fruitful dialogue with developments in my own poetic work. Out of this confluence came the suite of poems dedicated to Barańczak and titled “Snow Like Wool, Frost Like Ashes.” These poems grew, in equal measure, from the struggle to translate a particularly challenging poetic text, from a wrestling with my own relationship to my mother-tongue and birthplace, and from an engagement with various poetic and philosophical problems implicit in the very notion of translation.

All of these threads were further complicated with the issues arising from the premise of the project: a commerce with the dead that is, in its own way, a model of translation. I am reminded here of Walter Benjamin’s conception of translation as the afterlife of the original. Is our relation to the dead—or to a text, after the actual death of the author—one in which some saving remnant is retained and borne across the river of forgetfulness? Or, as Paul de Man’s rather bleak reading of “The Task of the Translator” would have it, do all attempts to translate reveal, by their failure, that even in the author’s life-time, “the original was already dead,” already subject to decomposition. Is the reception, interpretation, translation of a body of work, more akin to an autopsy—performed on John Doe—where even our sharpest instruments reveal no more than that “Life is slow dying” and “leaves / Nothing to be said”?

In any case, this journey to the underworld, successful or not, was made under the sign of Hermes, herald of the gods, psychopomp, god of travellers, roads and boundaries, of thieves and eloquence, and above all, patron of the art of interpretation, which is, of course, another name for translation.

 For Jakob’s full text, complete with footnotes and references, please click here.

This text would be particularly useful for anyone wishing to study the academic theory, translation of literature, Barańczak, Polish translation, or Polish literature. It includes a close reading of Ziguras’ own poetry.


Jakob is a poet commissioned for the Rhyming The Dead Radio Series.

Jakob Ziguras was born in Poland in 1977 to Polish and Greek parents and came to Australia in 1984. He studied fine arts before completing a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Sydney. His poetry has appeared in Meanjin, Australian Poetry, Mascara, Measure: A Review of Formal Poetry, Snorkel, Southerly and The Australian. He was shortlisted for the Newcastle Poetry Prize in 2011 and 2012 and won the 2011 Harri Jones Memorial Prize and the 2013 David Harold Tribe Poetry Award... read more »


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