Hall to McNair, April 4, 1978


[Click image to view]

4 April 1978

Wes McNair
5716 C.Colon
Santiago 10

Dear Wes,

I’m terribly sorry to have taken so long. I guess I wrote you what
I have been up to, so there is no point in repeating it now. I dictate
this on a Monday. Yesterday I “finished” the final revision of the revision
of Writing Well, which I will deliver tomorrow in Boston. Today I “finished”
my decisions about the make-up of A Writer’s Reader, which I will meet with
my editor about, for four hours tomorrow in Boston. Then I fly to Baltimore,
read at Goucher College, and come back the next day. I’ve got to finish my
long piece on MacLeish for the New York Times Book Review. I have to finish
taking notes on Henry Moore for the piece I will write about him, in England –
where we go in ten days. And I am supposed to finish the draft of my poetry
textbook for Holt, and I don’t know quite how many days that will take.
And I have two more poetry readings, taking me away. Wow. Anyway, I want
to write.

I’m not convinced about including the translations of Parra in your
first book of poems. I’m not sure that they mean quite that much, in
English. …I’m not against printing translations in a book. Jane is
going to do some of her Ackhamatova’s in the book. We do look forward
to seeing your book. And things are not going to be so horrendous, by
the time you get back. Even before that. I think that things will simmer
down in June and July.

…I’m glad you are coming back at the end of August. I had feared
you might take another year. Good for us all. Oh, I know we will all be
busy, and we won’t see each other all that often – but a little will be
better than none. We look forward to you and Diane.

I do believe that the version of Stone Walls which I sent you is the
last one… Until I do a Selected Poems or something anyway. My book will
be out in August, in time for your return. I have already done galleys.
They are going to print one of the old pictures of this house, on the dust
jacket and the title page. I’m pleased. …I have been having some very
good reviews, and letters, about Remembering Poets, which came out at the
end of February. So far so good.

About the Parra. I don’t like “The Beggar.” That is, I am talking
about the English poem that I read. I am not talking about your translation


as opposed to anybody else’s – because I haven’t read anybody else’s – nor
am I talking about Parra, because I haven’t read it in Spanish, and couldn’t
if I had the text available. I just don’t like the poem I read here. To
me, there is nothing to it. I dislike that kind of rhythm, at the end –
which I see in about two-thirds of poems I read by college freshman.
The irony of the parenthesis seems flat. With the title, and the first two
lines, I knew exactly what the end of the poem was going to be.

And there is not a single word in it that sounds like translation-ese,
or that sounds misplaced or wrong. I wish there were another way to say
“spill their blood” but that is doubtless exactly what it is in translation

from Spanish. And I cannot believe the fault is the translations. Yet,

if you translated it, you must have found it beautiful in Spanish… So
I don’t know what to say. I think it is predictable, uninteresting etc.
I don’t like it.

On the other hand, I like “A Man” at the other extreme. I like it
very very much. It seems to me quite unpredictable. It seems absolutely
cinematic in its effects. Is that true? Or, does it seem so to you?

I don’t like “Stains on the Wall” very much, in either your version
or William’s. Most of the time, I prefer your version to William’s, but
on two occasions I sort of prefer his. I say “sort of” because I don’t like
his first line – it is awkward, really awkward – but I dislike “the darkness
descends” possibly even more. It seems pompous, latinate, overly alliterative,
corny. Neither line seems to me to have any overtones of holocaust. “Falls
completely” is a bit more violent than “descends.” “Darkness descends”
simply seems like poesy. “Falls completely on us” seems amateurish.

One place where I really think you are wrong is in using the word
“horses.” I read your translation before I saw the Williams, and read
your comments – and I was totally bewildered by “horses.” Because horses
are not mythological animals. What is wrong with this series? Horses,
dragons, salamanders. Well, what is wrong with the series is that two
of the three are mythological animals and the third one is not. (There is
a real salamander, I realize. But following mythological animals, this is
the other kind.) So I think it ought to be some osrt [sic] of mythologized horse –
hippogrif, unicorn, centaur…anything, providing it’s mythological – that
is, if it going to go with a griffin and so on.

I much prefer “mysterious” to “extraordinary” and I like “look like”
better than “seemed to be.”

The only other point where I wonder – because I definitely like men
on their knees better than I like kneeling men, etc. – is “equestrian mon-
uments” as opposed to “statues on horseback…”- where it seems to me that
equestrian monuments is a bit literary, a bit pompous sounding.

Does Parra’s Spanish have the rather terrifying pun on “coming”?
It is pretty heavy, in the English.

I like the “Memory of North Sutton.” What about dropping “the” in
the last line? The rhythm seems a bit stronger to me. I like it!

Best as ever, and hurry home, with love to Diane from Jane and me,


Read Memory of North Sutton (published version)