Emily Dickinson's poems in translation/Polish/Success is Counted Sweetest

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The following project is originally intended for and highly recommended to Polish students of English Philology who specialize in Literature and/or generally for anybody who can read English and has developed a passion for the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Despite the fact that some parts of the project are provided exclusively in Polish (information on the Polish translators), I believe that it still represents a great educational value. The reason behind my daring remark is that the project is an interesting synthesis of the pieces of information from various sources (information ranging from the very form and content of the poem, to biographical elements of Emily Dickinson, manuscripts, scansions, and most importantly Polish translations and their analyses). If one found the project not sufficiently exhaustive, he or she could further investigate into the topic by clicking on external links provided in the section Criticism.

Timeline of Emily Dickinson's Life[edit | edit source]

A Timeline of Emily Dickinson's Life


The poem[edit | edit source]

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of Victory

As he defeated - dying -
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!

Success is counted sweetest is a lyric poem by Emily Dickinson written in 1859 and published anonymously in 1864. A common idea in Dickinson's poems is that not having something increases our appreciation or enjoyment of what we lack; the person who lacks (or does not have) understands whatever is lacking better than the person who possesses it. In this poem, the "loser" knows the "definition" of victory better than the winner. The implication is that he has "won" this knowledge by paying so high a price, with the anguish of defeat and with his death.[3]

Historical background[edit | edit source]

The American Civil War overlaps with the most intense period of Dickinson's creativity (1858-1865) which resulted in her composing, revising, and saving hundreds of poems. The war inspired the poetess in many of her works and has an important role in Success is Counted Sweetest, as shown in the 3rd stanza 3rd line “strains of triumph”, and the scenes of defeated armies “as he defeated - dying -” [4] During that period, Dickinson's personal life also underwent tremendous change. [5]

Nevertheless, When scholars do approach the subject of Emily Dickinson and the Civil War, they tend to see it as merely a metaphor in Dickinson's poetry; for them, the martial elements of her work are just a key to her psyche. Dickinson may well have internalized the war, and she certainly employed war imagery for a number of purposes. But the civil conflagration that consumed her nation was more than a trope in her work. Emily Dickinson was interested in the Civil War as an historical event. The evidence of her ruminations lies in her war-related letters and in a rich and varied body of war poetry.

Dickinson biographer Richard Sewall establishes the link between the poet and the war, affirming that Dickinson was well-informed about the issues and events of her day. For example, she had a detailed knowledge of Thomas Wentworth Higginson's liberal views on slavery and women's rights from her extensive reading of periodicals, and she corresponded with him as he traveled south to command a black regiment in South Carolina. She was certainly aware of her father's abolitionist leanings and her brother Austin's purchase of a substitute to take his place in the Union army. More importantly, the deaths of Francis H. Dickinson, the first Amherst citizen to fall in the war, of the Adams boys, acquaintances of Dickinson, and of Frazer Stearns, a friend of the family, deeply affected Dickinson.

Despite these connections, Sewall argues that Dickinson generally made a metaphor of the war rather than discussing it openly. Daniel Aaron and Barton Levi St. Armand also focus on history but contend that the Civil War merely mirrored Dickinson's inner battles. Similarly, Karen Sánchez-Eppler and Betsy Erkkila seek to resituate Dickinson in her cultural context yet fail to acknowledge the significance of the Civil War, concluding that Dickinson simply was not a political poet. [6]

Manuscripts[edit | edit source]

Emily Dickinson's manuscript of the poem Success is Counted Sweetest; Johnson Poems (1955), J67
Emily Dickinson's manuscript of the poem Success is Counted Sweetest; Johnson Poems (1955), J67

Emily Dickinson's manuscript of the poem Success is Counted Sweetest; Franklin Variorum 1998, F112

List of translations[edit | edit source]

Sukces najsłodszy jest dla tych,
Którym nie wiodło się w życiu.
Żeby docenić nektar,
Trzeba się karmić goryczą.

I żaden z pełnych męstwa
Żołnierzy, co sztandar zdobyli,
Nie może określić zwycięstwa
Tak jasno, jak ten, który w chwili

Agonii - zwyciężony -
W śmiertelnej męce słucha,
Odległej pieśni triumfu,
Co z piersi zwycięskich bucha!

Sukces zda się najsłodszy
Tym - co ugięli kark.
By pojąć - czym jest Nektar -
Trzeba spieczonych warg.

Nikt z tych - którym Sztandar zdobyty
Wieje purpurą znad głów -
Definicji Zwycięstwa
Nie pojmie tak - jak ów -

Co - pokonany - kona -
Słysząc daleko gdzieś
Rozdzierająco dźwięczną -
Obcą triumfu pieśń!

Najsłodszy zda się sukces,
kiedy się jest na dnie.
Oceni dobrze nektar
ten, co z upału schnie.

I żaden z tych zwycięskich,
którzy sztandar zdobyli dziś,
nie zdoła jaśniej pojąć,
czym złoty lauru liść -

niż ten, co zwyciężony
słyszy spływając krwią,
jak od przeciwnej strony
surmy triumfu brzmią.

Translator: Ludmiła Marjańska Translator: Stanisław Barańczak Translator: Kazimiera Iłłakowiczówna
Ludmiła Marjańska on Wikipedia(PL) Stanisław Barańczak on Wikipedia(PL) Kazimiera Iłłakowiczówna on Wikipedia(PL)

Analysis of the translations[edit | edit source]

A closer look at the analysis of translations.

Scansion[edit | edit source]

A closer look at the rhythmic patterns, rhyming patterns and types of metre. Why is graphic scansion important in poetry? The technique puts visual markers onto an otherwise entirely heard phenomenon.

Form vs. meaning[edit | edit source]

Why does a certain poet choose a certain form to be the working basis for a certain poem? Simply because the form usually affects the meaning of the poem.

Criticism[edit | edit source]

In Polish:

In English:

Audiovisual material[edit | edit source]

Did you know?[edit | edit source]

Sources[edit | edit source]

  1. https://www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org/timeline
  2. http://www.edickinson.org/editions/1/image_sets/237040
  3. http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/success.html
  4. http://wayanswardhani.lecture.ub.ac.id/files/2013/06/Success-is-Counted-Sweetest-1.pdf
  5. https://www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org/book/export/html/15
  6. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/emily_dickinson_journal/summary/v005/5.2.marcellin.html
  7. http://www.edickinson.org/editions/2/image_sets/74738
  8. http://www.edickinson.org/editions/2/image_sets/74739
  9. http://www.edickinson.org/editions/1/image_sets/237040