Susan Ranson read Modern Languages at Oxford in the late fifties but had already begun translating from German at school where her teacher Denise Mary Joad had introduced her to the works of Rainer Maria Rilke. By profession she is a freelance proofreader, with strong linguistic interests such as the cross-currents between words and music. She is also a single-author translator specialising in Rilke, of whom she says: ‘Nothing in my working or reading life has brought me such a sense of touching the numinous as the slow, word-by-word connection with this master of the language. Since many English people hear German as harsh to the ear, my wish has been most gently to persuade some of them otherwise.’
Three questions to Susan Ranson
Kind encouragement at school first fired the life-long ambition; translation in earnest began only on discovering that I might achieve a translation (of the Book of Hours) more fitting than those I had read.
It is Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus, which epitomizes lyricism, running sound into image into rhythm so indivisibly and in such bright light that it seems to turn on its own axis, so to speak, like a separate sphere of existence. To my mind it stands alongside Shakespeare’s sonnets: what more need be said?
The same Sonnets. But the opportunity has already fallen my way: in the Selected Poems of Rilke, above, it was not only given to me to translate the Duino Elegies, the Sonnets’ equal in stature, but to work alongside Marielle Sutherland on the Sonnets, translating a few of them with the sense of indescribable privilege. Awestruck, I suppose, I had skirted round them for too long; Marielle revealed them to me.