Robert Weil’s Tribute to Edith Grossman
Edith Grossman is honored on the occasion of her 80th birthday. One of the most celebrated literary translators of our time, Grossman has been praised for her translations of work by Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, Antonio Muñoz Molina, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, and many others. Her acclaimed 2003 translation of Cervantes’ Don Quixote is already considered a classic.
This tribute was written by Robert Weil. He is the Editor-in-Chief and Publishing Director of Liveright, W. W. Norton & Company.
After dining with Edie Grossman on many occasions and learning what she was truly passionate about, I commissioned her to translate the works of eight major Spanish poets, whose canonical poems, while familiar to Spanish readers, were largely unknown in English. The book that resulted, The Golden Age (Siglo de Oro), became a transformational work that helped to define for English readers the lyrical, and essentially tragic, beauty of a period that spanned over three centuries, from the late 1400s, the age of Columbus, right through the late 1600s.
Edie had told me on numerous occasions that it was one of her life’s ambitions, in fact something of a dream, to render the works of these Spanish Renaissance poets in English: poets like Jorge Manrique, the fifteenth-century balladeer who had not been translated since Longfellow, or Luis de Argote Góngora, whose sonnets came to define the sound of the seventeenth century, just as they would captivate Picasso 300 years later. Or Sor Juana, the a self-taught scholar-turned nun, known as “The Tenth Muse,” whose poetry now lies at the root of Mexican literature. Or Francisco de Quevedo, Edie’s favorite, whose lyricism produced metaphysical poems and psalms of overpowering emotion.
These were just some of the poets she chose to translate in a book we worked on, which then came out in 2006. Throughout our memorable collaboration, I was struck not only by Edie’s inescapable literary genius, but by her courage to tread where others dared not to go. The Golden Age provides, then, a cogent example of Edith Grossman’s determination to shape our own literary culture, following a tradition begun by her poetic forbears many centuries ago.