Not Their Muse: Irish-Language Poetry in Translation, Cross-Gender Linguistic Ventriloquism, and the Problem of Pharaoh’s Daughter


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Irish-language poet Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s bilingual poetry collection Pharaoh’s Daughter (1990) features English translations by a variety of notable Irish poets, among them Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon. An Irish Times review by Douglas Sealy appears to posit Ní Dhomhnaill as somehow blameworthy for spawning the book’s “bewildering variety”, and suggests that she is but the conduit by which the largely male roster of translators in fact create their own poems: a damning critique of the translation enterprise. In referring to Ní Dhomhnaill’s original poems as “starting points”, Sealy’s criticism is underpinned by the notion of Ní Dhomhnaill as but the inspiration – the muse – of these poets, who take what she has to offer and mold it into work that is, as Sealy would have it, emphatically theirs. In its attention to the linguistic and literary ventriloquism at work in Pharaoh’s Daughter, Sealy’s forgotten review provides a fascinating entry point into the overlooked area of gender as it plays out in the translation of Irish-language poetry. Drawing on studies of feminization and translation, as well as notions of feminist translation, both within and without the Irish literary setting, this paper will examine Sealy’s nexus as it informs, and is seen to deform, the fortunes of Ní Dhomhnaill’s poems in translation.


Celtic Studies

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