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In loving memory of
Professor Dr. Burton Nathan Raffel
a translator, a poet and a teacher of literature and humanity
(April 27, 1928 – September 29, 2015)

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In March of 2015, I was fortunate to meet Dr. Burton Raffel, who translated Chairil Anwar’s work into English. Having read his book The Voice of the Night: Complete Poetry and Prose of Chairil Anwar, I sought to talk to the man who had so eloquently translated the work of the brilliant Indonesian poet. I contacted him and to my delight, shortly thereafter, Burton welcomed me to Louisiana, where over the course of four days he shared with me his unparalleled insight.

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Burton and his wife, Elizabeth, gave me a tour around their home in Lafayette, Louisiana, which showcased over 15,000 books. Many of the volumes in his vast personal library were his own work (translation and non-translation).

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In his lifetime, Burton had spoken eight languages, including Bahasa Indonesia which he learnt during his stay in Makassar in 1953 to 1955. This man had given me a very personal and inspiring view on Chairil Anwar.

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From Burton, I discovered that Chairil Anwar was a passionate artist. Anwar’s work had presented a new paradigm in Bahasa Indonesia through many hard work and daring experiments which broke the conventional way of thinking during his time.

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Before I left Lafayette, Burton and Elizabeth gave me dozens of books, amongst which were rare classical books of Indonesian literature: Penjair dan Sandjak by Bakri Siregar, Surat Kertas Hijau by Sitor Situmorang, Zaman Baru by Sitor Situmorang, Wadjah Tak Bernama by Sitor Situmorang, Chairil Anwar: Pelopor Angkatan ’45 by H.B. Jassin, and many more treasures.

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It is difficult to track down the original versions of Anwar’s poetry due to the changing nature of the Indonesian language. In addition, references/sources regarding his work are not readily available and editorial liberties have been taken over the years as his works have been republished. Due to these circumstances, I am deeply grateful to Burton Raffel for graciously allowing me to use his translations for the Bio Fantasy Project.

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Burton Raffel is a literary scholar and master. His knowledge of the mechanics and pathways of language have taken many forms over the decades. From translating epic poems like Beowulf to canonical novels like Don Quixote and The Divine Comedy, he has time and again made great writers accessible to younger generations. His deep understanding of the complexities of language are evident in his translations, which element-by-element follow their original texts. In this way he has made Anwar’s words as impactful in English as they are in Indonesian.

Warmest regards,
Melissa Sunjaya


{ Bio Fantasy Preface by Burton Raffel }

I have never changed my mind about Chairil Anwar’s achievement and what I very clearly still see as his never-threatened literary status. There is of course no doubt that he was not entirely sane, nor that he gave no more than a dime to his (or to any) society’s concerns. Poetry, considered completely, was essentially all he really cared about. Indonesia has had some very fine poets but very few poets can achieve what Anwar’s poetry most certainly did. Very few poets in any culture ever will.

Kalau sampai waktuku
‘Ku mau tak seorang ‘kan meraju
Tidak djuga kau

These are the first three lines of an Anwar poem entitled Aku [Me],
which I long ago translated:

When my time comes
I want to hear no one’s cries
Nor yours either.

This is precisely the carefully composed poetry that only immensely powerful poets can produce. You are able to see this fact beautifully set together with the illustrations provided by Melissa Sunjaya – designer, painter, poet, and more.

Burton Raffel
Lafayette, Louisiana
2 March 2015

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