Valikuid ja võimalusi: ülevaade Uku Masingu luuletõlkimisest. Choices and possibilities: A survey of Uku Masing’s poetry translations


  • Aile Tooming Tallinna Ülikool



This article gives a survey of the emblematic Estonian poet, theologian and scholar Uku Masing’s (1909– 1985) known poetry translations. The object is not a poetics of translation or an analysis of language, but an overview of the texts of poetry Masing translated: the time of publication, political influences on publishing, and the public reception or the lack of it. The focus is on the choices and interests of Masing as a translator, as well as the influence of society on which texts he translated. Masing started translating in the 1920s; by the end of the 1930s, he was known both as a theologian and poet, as well as a translator. Just before the beginning of the Soviet regime, two very important translations by Masing were published: Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali and The Gardener, and a new translation of the Bible (Masing was one of three translators). In the Soviet era, Masing translated constantly from material that interested him and that was available to him (the poetry of Shanfara, Omar Khayyam, Matsuo Bashô, Louise Labé, Tagore et al.). As might be expected, from the standpoint of publication, the Stalinist period was Masing’s least productive period as a translator: in Estonia only one excerpt was published in a school textbook and without the name of the translator; a few new editions of Tagore’s prose poems were published in exile. From the 1960s on, as controls on society relaxed, Masing’s name as a translator returned little by little to the public eye. At that time, Masing was in greater favour as a translator than he was as a poet; this was the case for many other translators who were also poets. In the 1960s, many different poetry translations by Masing appeared along with commentary by the translator; reviews were also published. The mid–1970s was also an influential period, when the new editions of Tagore’s prose poetry collections The Gardener and Gitanjali appeared; the impact of these books persisted long after publication. The real “(re)discovering” and (re)publishing of Masing’s works (among them translations) began some years after his death, in 1988 with the political liberation of Estonia, and continues to the present day. We can distinguish between those translations that Masing carried out for his own interest (works by Tagore, Shanfara, Omar Khayyam, Matsuo Bashô, Louise Labé et al.) and those that were commissioned, such as contributions to anthologies (Anthology of Greek Literature, Anthology of Roman Literature and Anthology of Renaissance Literature). Through his translations, Masing was also searching for something reflected in his own poetry and discussed in his essays. Masing translated poetry from English, German, French, Italian, Ancient Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit, Sumerian, Syrian, Coptic and Tigre. The list can perhaps be expanded by a few more entries. The cultures and eras that are the source of the translated texts also form a variegated and extensive tapestry, including ancient Sumer, the Old Testament world, the classical culture of antiquity, the Italian and French Renaissance, and Japanese, Persian and Arabic poetry. In the case of a number of translations, Masing was a trailblazer, since traditions of translation from the given languages and cultures were lacking altogether in Estonia. As a translator, Masing represented the rare combination of scholar (theologian and linguist) and poet, which is the key to his meticulousness in translation, as well as his fluid and creative use of language.


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