Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The Death of Peter Zollman

Peter Zollman has died. 

Who was he? A remarkable man. Born in Hungary in 1931, a scientist in the first place, then an industrial scientist, and then, after he retired, an extraordinarily gifted translator of Hungarian poetry into English. 

That in itself is something of a miracle, partly because he believed in form-for-form translation and practised it with great skill, but even more because a man of Peter's age,  that is to say someone who did not enter the English language very early as I was fortunate to do, usually finds it impossible to develop a keen ear for English language poetry. Peter went through a period of 'apprenticeship' as a verse translator but over the last twenty years or so could 'hear' English verse, feel its balance, and shift gracefully between registers while keeping true to form.

He was a dedicated and copious translator. He translated all the major Hungarian poets from the 16th century to the present, and in considerable quantity. His work rarely appeared in the English publishing world, but it did appear in book form on many occasions, often through Hungary-based publishers but also through the US.

We sometimes translated the same poem and there are a good number of occasions on which I would recommend his rather than mine.

I am looking to write a proper obituary for either the Guardian or The Independent if I can persuade them. He certainly deserves it.

He died in his sleep last night. His widow, Denise, rang this afternoon to give us the news.


Anonymous said...

Thanks you for this George and look forward to the obituary.

Agi L.

Mihály Vajda said...

Kedves George Szirtes!

Peter was my beloved cserkészörsveszetőm. Nagyon sokat köszönhetek neki. Ha kívánja, szívesen írok róla többet is.


Mihály Vajda