I have already mentioned poet Joan Grigsby, who adapted Korean poems in accordance with her own poetic vision, in a previous post. On Brother Anthony’s site there is a page linking many of Grigsby’s freely adapted poems to some of the literal translations from which she drew.
Grigsby’s contemporary in England, E. Powys Mathers, did something similar with a Sanskrit poem called the “Chauraspanchasika,” which he adapted freely into a piece called “Black Marigolds.” This page offers a full text of “Black Marigolds,” including Mathers’ preface (linked from a physicist’s personal poetry archive here). The pages Translating: Bilhana 1 and Translating: Bilhana 2 discuss differences between Mathers’ free translation and more literal translations. This page has a complete text of Barbara Stoler Miller’s literal translation of the “Chauraspanchasika.”
I am interested in particular to discover the differences between these free translations and the originals: what these Eastern-minded poets conserved, and how they wove it with their own visions. This kind of study is different from that of occidental haiku or sijo. Those works are not directly grafted onto another poet’s vision, though some of them respond to Eastern poets. The grafted poems are distinctive to me because their essences are still partially derived from an earlier source. This kind of response of Western poets to Eastern work seems distinctive for two reasons: they’re leaning toward a different, perhaps opposite ideology, to their native system, however loosely or tightly they adhere to that system, and they are, in some cases, expressing more generally the emotional truth of an original than a literal translation into English can for those without extensive knowledge of the culture.
My interest in Grigsby stems from that first point: how she creates a cohesive feminist vision from traditional patriarchal works by inserting the female perspective into them, as with “Rainbow Sleeves.” And in Mathers, without having studied any Sanskrit poetry, I feel I have come suddenly close to complex aspects of Indian literature by reading “Black Marigolds.”