About the Translator

The seeds for this web-site were sown many, many years ago. As a young boy (I was probably not more than five or six at the time), I remember being fascinated by the label that had been gummed on one of those old, pyramid-shaped bottles of pen-ink. In the upper half of the label, the words ROYAL BLUE had been printed in capital letters. I could understand BLUE and (less certainly) ROYAL; but it was the word printed in the lower half that stopped the heart: KÖNIGSBLAU. Where was it from – this strange word – what did it mean, how did you say it, why was it there? It seemed both a wonder and a threat, this KÖNIGSBLAU that had leapt into my boyish world.

Fifteen or so years later, in an undergraduate class, I was asked if I thought I could translate a short early English poem into convincing modern English. With all the arrogance of youth, I of course said ‘yes’. The poem was then presented:


Nou goth sonnë under wode,
Me reweth, Marie, thi fairë rode.
Nou goth sonnë under tre,
Me reweth, Marie, thi sone and thee.

It was not long before I had stammered myself into a proper humiliation. And now, forty years and as many attempts later, I have still failed to translate these four lines adequately. ‘Goth’: is it ‘goes’, or ‘sinks’, or ‘sets’, or what? ‘Under’: is it ‘under’, or ‘below’, or ‘behind’, or ‘beyond’, or what? And how, ever, could the verb ‘me reweth’ be adequately translated? In its utterly self-sufficient simplicity, this poem has ever since haunted me as a reminder of the fragility of the translator’s art.

KÖNIGSBLAU and a four-line early English poem remained back-stage during a career largely taken up with other concerns: teaching and research in English Romantic literature, especially the poetry of John Clare, and administrative work as a Dean of Arts and Humanities. But recent years have provided the opportunity to engage again in that boyish fascination with words and their differences, and with the question of how best to bridge those differences through translation. On average, three major works or writers are added to the site each year, and this introduction of new material will, I hope, be sustained for the foreseeable future.

Copyright is owned for all the material on this site. However, in the spirit of co-operation and mutuality that all translation embraces, I am pleased to give permission for the translations and accompanying material on the site to be copied, on condition only that the customary appropriate acknowledgements are made, and that the copying is not undertaken for profit.

Tim Chilcott

Image of Tim Chilcott

the translator