Posts Tagged ‘seamus heaney’

the eternal gazelle speaks: Heaney, Hughes and Brodsky on the inner language

November 10, 2008

It’s that old translation business again, but as we all deal with it: the inner translation each of us must do whenever we put pen to paper. I wrote about it the other week, in relation to the Catalan poet Joan Margarit and his image of a crypt, which is the first language, opened perhaps by a secret password, and the “cathedral” of the common cultural language. Now we have Seamus Heaney (and, at second hand, or rather peering over Heaney’s shoulder to do a bit of back-seat driving, Ted Hughes) at it as well:

“Every writer lives between the vernacular given – whether it be the vernacular of Oxford or of the Caribbean – and some received idiom from the tradition. Ted Hughes had a marvellous little parable about this. Imagine, he said, a flock of gazelles grazing. One gazelle flicks its tail and all the gazelles flick their tails as if to say ‘We are eternal gazelle’. Most writers, Hughes says, have a first speech of that sort – a dialect of the tribe or the class or whatever. Suppose they are in a foreign city and they hear a familiar accent, it’s like a gazelle tail flicking, so then the other gazelle flicks and thinks, ‘Ah, I’m at home here, I’m strong here’. For every writer, there’s that first language and then there’s the lingua franca.”

SEE! I was right. I said at the time that I thought this was the same for everybody, and I’m vindicated. Not that I needed vindicating. Here’s what I said:

“It strikes me though that there is another way of reading this idea, too, which is less about empirical – or “cultural” – language, and more about each person’s own private language – our unconscious lexicon, our dream world which has its own language, unknown even to us except in translation. In other words, we are all simultaneously translating our inner material, our crypt-material, as we go. (For Margarit this will add another layer to his process…)”

Three weeks ago I asked what Brodsky would make of it. According to Heaney: “Joseph Brodsky believed we must keep to the lingua franca of the forms, but I am equally inclined to the gazelle-speak of south Derry.”

There we have it. Well, that was from the Guardian’s extract from the interview with Denis O’Driscoll (and they are in conversation on a stage in London even as I speak. Shame…) More to follow, I hope, when I’ve seen the book.

I’m posting this at Baroque in Hackney, too.