Discovering the coulisses of artistic collaboration: A genetic reading of the English translation of Saint-John Perse’s poem Amers

Esa Christine Hartmann


Saint-John Perse’s poem Amers (1956) was translated into English by the American translator and literary scholar Wallace Fowlie in 1957. The manuscripts of this translation, which present the main focus of this paper, are conserved in the archive of the Saint-John Perse Foundation in Aix-en-Provence (France), and reveal the genesis of a collaborative translation: Wallace Fowlie’s manuscript is paralleled by the work of an unofficial translator, John Marshall, whose manuscript appears to be the closest to the final version. Both manuscripts show the hand-written suggestions, corrections, and variants of the poet himself.

Spanning the various stages of the writing process from which the generation of this collaborative translation progressively emerges, the two manuscripts show a fascinating interaction. Saint-John Perse constantly confronts the versions of his two translators, sculpting them according to his poetic art. He also creates numerous columns of variants in the margins that display the semantic treasure of the original expression.

The reader approaching this translation from a genetic standpoint can discover the sinuous gestation of the translation process, as well as the semantic and phonetic laws that govern the poet’s choices. He can also make good hermeneutic use of the poet’s variants, revealing an unexpected interpretative key. Consequently, through analysis of these avant-textual discoveries, many metaphors in absentia can become metaphors in praesentia, leading to a better understanding both of the original poem and its translation. 


Genetic criticism; Translation Studies; Collaborative Translation; Closelaboration; Manuscripts

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