I'm really struggling with how to write about Stephen Mitchell. I tried starting like this:
Stephen Mitchell is an author/poet/translator, best known for his translations of poetry and religious texts. He was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1943.
I go on to talk about him studying at Amherst, The Sorbonne, and Yale. His Zen training under Zen Master Seung Sahn. How he can read in 8 languages. But it's trivia. It sounds trivial. It's painful for me to write about him in such a dull and uninspired manner, when what I want to say is this:
Stephen Mitchell's translation of Genesis made me cry.
True. And understand that I am skeptical at best of organized religion and its trappings. I was shocked to find myself reading the first book of the Bible, moved to tears.

The significance of Stephen Mitchell is not really who he is or what he does but how he does it. As a translator, he works under the philosophy that voice and tone are more important than literal meaning. Structure, rhythm, and word choice subtly affect our perception of the text. The goal is to hear and understand what is being said, and then relate it in a way that feels genuine. To capture the power and beauty of the original, something that is usually lost in translation, and therefore, lost on the audience.

His critics argue that his methods are too subjective. He takes a lot of liberties with the text; finding what "feels true" to him often results in changing or omitting things to suit his fancy. He sometimes interprets more than he translates. However all alterations are duly noted and explained. It really comes down to which is more important to the reader, being literal or being expressive.

Overall, his reputation is as a man who writes with grace and clarity, bringing new light and insight to things we might otherwise ignore.

Stephen Mitchell lives with his wife in Northern California.

Books by Stephen Mitchell


Parables and Portraits


The Gospel according to Jesus
Meetings with the Archangel - A Comedy of the Spirit
The Frog Prince - A Fairytale for Consenting Adults

Translations and Adaptations

The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke
The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge
Letters to a Young Poet
The Lay of the Love and Death of Cornet Christoph Rilke
The Sonnets to Orpheus
The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai
The Book of Job
Tao Te Ching
The Selected Poetry of Dan Pagis
A Book of Psalms
Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Ranier Maria Rilke
Genesis: A New Translation of the Classical Biblical Stories
Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon: Selected Poems of Pablo Neruda
Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation

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