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On being told that "translation is an impossible thing," Anatole France replied: "precisely, my friend; the recognition of that truth is a necessary preliminary to success in art." The task of Transplantings is to add flesh and bones to that familiar quip. Indeed, Daniel Weissbort notes that Viereck's study represented a sixty-five year long project. Now, it is finally being brought to print in its full form, with the completion of the final manuscript shortly before Viereck's death.
If translation is a special genre in its own right, the translation of poetry, especially from major foreign languages, is a special subset of that genre. What emerges in the imperfect act of translation is an aesthetic dimension that Viereck considers unique in its own right. Transplantings< /i> provides new insight into Viereck as a poet of substance, but more than that as a public intellectual. He is critical in probing the work of the major figures such as Stefan George and Georg Heym. To round out this monumental new look at German poetical history, Viereck reviews Goethe, Novalis, and Rilke among others.
For Viereck, the difference between the poetical and the political is critical. The quality of poetry is not measured by politics, nor can the worth of political action be defined by commitment to the poetical. The experience of German thought, as well as French and Italian efforts, reveals a divide that can be narrowed but hardly bridged by rhetoric. Transplantings does not simplify the task of the reader. Rather it shows without doubt that the passion of great poetry is part of a national tradition. Efforts at translation indicate how such poetry becomes part of an international culture. This is a major work by one of the great thinkers of the twentieth century. It merits reading, and then, re-reading.