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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry / translation

o du roher iasmin

Oskar Pastior

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase o du roher iasmin

Title: o du roher iasmin
Author: Oskar Pastior
Genre: Poetry
Written: 2002
Length: 65 pages
Original in: German
Availability: o du roher iasmin - Deutschland
  • 43 intonationen zu 'Harmonie du soir' von Charles Baudelaire
  • Includes a CD of Oskar Pastior reading o du roher iasmin
  • o du roher iasmin has not been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

-- : fascinating experiment, but not exactly an easy 'read'

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Die Zeit . 9/10/2003 Gabriele Killert

  From the Reviews:
  • "Was weiß der Text noch von Baudelaire ? Was weiß der Fuchs von der Maus, die er frisst und sich einverleibt samt ihrer Mäuseseele ? Pastior nimmt, was er gebrauchen kann und braut daraus seinen Absurd-Absud." - Gabriele Killert, DieZeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       o du roher iasmin is an approach to a poem by Charles Baudelaire, Harmonie du soir. Sharp-eyed readers -- or those familiar with Pastior's work -- will immediately have noticed that the title of the book is an anagram of the title of Baudelaire's poem (i.e. the letters are rearranged to form new words -- in this case also ones in a different language), suggesting what readers are in for.
       o du roher iasmin is an attempt to translate Baudelaire's poem -- but Pastior understands translation in its broadest sense. He doesn't merely want to render the poem from the original French into German, he wants to translate it in a wide variety of different ways, to see what can be wrung and sprung from it. Hence he calls these pieces 'intonations', rather than mere translations, and many seem more like musical variations on a theme than what are generally considered to be translations. They are also intonations because sound is important to Pastior; usefully, a CD of Pastior reading the content of the book (with a bit of additional commentary) comes with the book.
       Oskar Pastior is a poet, and a member of the Oulipo, who famously enjoy all sorts of word-games and writing using certain literary restrictions and rules. That's also the approach Pastior takes to Baudelaire, and several of the variations are tried-and-true Oulipo methods, such as the SVA+7 (in which specific words (in this case nouns, verbs, and adjectives -- more than the usual Oulipian N+7) in a text are replaced by the seventh next such term in a selected dictionary). Pastior also offers anagrams, acrostics, and quite a few freer variations.
       Pastior doesn't begin directly with Harmonie du soir: the first poems are lines of anagrams on 'Baudelaire', 'Charles de Baudelaire', 'Les fleurs du mal'. and 'Spleen et idéal'. They serve not only to introduce and slowly approach the text, but also to separate the readers capable of making it all the way through the (short) book from the ones who will toss it aside in frustration or disgust, serving as a test, as it were, of the reader's patience and a certain kind of open-mindedness. The first poem begins:

baude laïre

duale raibe
laide braue
aie durabel
aber du laie
rabe die lau
       In other words: not your usual reading experience -- and not everyone's cup of tea.
       It's not all like that, as some of the variations yield results that make a bit more 'sense'. But it's not simple, literal sense that Pastior is after, and surprisingly these different approaches -- anagrammatic, semantic, acrostic, phonetic, and many more -- do offer something. Not what one usually looks for and finds in a text, but rather a great deal that one usually doesn't bother with or think of.
       If nothing else, Pastior impresses with his sheer ingenuity: he does things that wouldn't occur to most. The results are jarring (visually, aurally, and literally) and often amusing. Ultimately, too, they add up to a 'reading' of Harmonie du soir that enhances understanding and appreciation of the original.
       Pastior's approach -- defamiliarizing the text, playing with it, 'translating' it not merely literally -- has its limits, and for many readers those might be quickly reached. Nevertheless, it seems a worthwhile approach: Baudelaire's poem is no simple, staid, classical set of verses here. Pastior breathes a new life into it -- and poetry in general.
       An afterword of sorts briefly explains how Pastior came to write this, and his personal thoughts on the poem and his endeavour, offering autobiographical and other information that make things a bit clearer as well. The enclosed CD (nicely packaged, it's affixed to the front cover, which is protected by a see-through plastic dust-jacket) has Pastior read the contents, and given the strong aural component of many of the variations it's a useful supplement. And Pastior presents the material well.
       Certainly not for everyone, but an appealing and often fascinating collection (and short enough for the experimentation to be fairly easily bearable).

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o du roher iasmin: Reviews: Oskar Pastior: OuLiPo: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Oskar Pastior was born in Romania in 1927 and emigrated to the West in 1968. He is a member of the OuLiPo.

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