Göran Malmqvist, ed. and trans. En Ö på Månen. Uppsala: Brombergs bokförlag, 1979. Facsimile of the manuscript, transcription, Swedish translation, 14 reproductions. $14.50.
As author of Songs of Innocence and of Experience and as visionary artist Blake has had a fair amount of attention in Sweden, and individual short poems have been translated. As visionary poet he is less well known outside academic circles, and even intra muros he is certainly not a familiar name to most students. In these days of soaring book prices and some diffidence on the part of publishers it is pleasing that a comparatively small but enterprising firm, Messrs. Bromberq of Uppsala, should have ventured to bring out, beautifully produced, a Swedish translation with parallel English text of An Island in the Moon. In a country with the firmest of beliefs in specialization, it is equally pleasing that the translator-editor is not an Eng. Lit. man but a professor of sinology. Göran Malmqvist of the University of Stockholm is widely known not only as a scholar but also as an assiduous translator of Chinese verse and prose. As these things will sometimes happen, his interest in Blake is said to have been aroused during a visit to Peking.
For this volume—which includes some well-chosen black-and-white illustrations—Professor Malmqvist provides a lengthy introduction where, with obvious zest and an entirely convincing knowledge of the period concerned and of Blake scholarship, he outlines the intellectual and social background of Blake’s burlesque. It is to be regretted that he did not take time—or perhaps was not granted the space—to say a little more about Blake as poet and artist, the more so since An Island in the Moon provides more than one early glimpse into Blake’s firmly held tenets and, of course, presents not only the waywardly burlesque songs but also three of the Songs of Innocence. How one wishes that the volume could also have contained the text and translation of, for instance, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell; the Swedish reading public would then have had more of an introduction to Blake’s thought and genius. However, there is every reason to be grateful to Professor Malmqvist, the more so because as translator of an often intriguing text he succeeds excellently, even with those difficult, bafflingly allusive songs.
He offers an independent, conjectural interpretation of the enigmatic word “wickly” (in Chapter 5) which he translates as if it were a deliberate corruption of “videlicet.” It has much to say for his skill as translator that the only passage that leaves him resourceless is Blake’s elaborate pre-Joycean pun, “An Easy of Huming Understanding, by John Lockye, Gent.”
A mock-serious appendix by the translator is one large joke at the expense of the government-imposed begin page 218 | leveling-down tendencies in the Swedish educational system of these latter days. However, as a Swede one feels a slight consolation after having listened to a lecture at the recent I.A.U.P.E. conference in Aberdeen, where Professor George S. Rousseau of UCLA gave his somber view on the lack of interest taken in eighteenth-century literature by American university students. Some of his colleagues from both sides of the Atlantic chimed in, but all showed determination to do something about it. The academic world everywhere is in sore need of daring enthusiasts; Göran Malmqvist is certainly one of them.