15 dic. 2007

The seminar continues...

There's a kind of translation-effect that you would think would be quite easy to avoid: flattening, or choosing a word much less powerful and vivid than the original.

"La piedra es una frente donde los sueños gimen"
Stone is a forehead where dreams grieve {Stephen Spender)

"gemir"= to moan, cry out, is stornger than "grieve," which refers, usually, to a mental state.

"Mientras las llamas te cercan"
"While around you are flames" (A. L. Lloyd)

"cercar" could, should be translated as "besiege," not merely "surround." "around you are" is especially weak.

"Camborio de dura crin"
"An authentic Camborio" (SS)

"crin" is the mane of a lion. What happened to the hard mane of the lion in the word "authentic"?

"guardias civiles borrachos
en la puerta golpeaban"
"were knocking at the door" (SS)

Golpear is to hit, pound, not merely "to knock." If a Spaniard wanted to say merely "knocked on the door" he or she would say "llamar a la puerta"

"de la lluvia que busca débil talle"
"of the rain that seeks the feeble form" (Merwin)

"talle" is "waist." It can mean "form" or "shape" in a metaphorical sense, but this particular choice is considerably weaker, less visual.

Kirkland translates "sonsonete" as "sound." A sonsonete is usually an irritating sing-song effect.

(most examples from the New Directions Selected Poems of Lorca)

And so on... "silent" for the stronger and more specific "mute" ...

This particular kind of (mis)translation is not based on a lack of comprehension of the text, since one assumes that the translator has understood that, yes, the drunken guardia civil is at the door, etc... It's interesting that it seems to go more in one direction than the other. The translation is typically flatter than the original. (The choice of a stronger word where Lorca has a weaker one is more unusual, though that can happen too. Merwin writes "charred" where Lorca had written the equivalent of "burnt.")

These are not mistakes or mistranslations in the usual sense, since they fall within the general semantic range. You could imagine a situation where you'd want to translate gemir with grieve (you could, maybe, but I can't), or golpear with knock. But why would a translator want to consistently err on the side of weakening the effect? It's like making a photocopy of an original and having the print look obviously fainter.

Lorca is a poet of the five senses. Whenever the word chosen by the translator is less visual, tactile, or auditory in its effect than the original word I think a mistake has been made.

3 comentarios:

Joseph Duemer dijo...

There is a related issue when translating Vietnamese poetry, much of which can feel "sentimental" to western sensibilities (at least mine)when translated literally. Vietnamese grammar allows for the piling up of synonyms or near synonyms in a sentence, for example -- "dark, dim shadows," -- where contemporary English usually prefers parsimony in such matters. I would occasionally find myself "toning down" some phrases so that the poem would be more convincing in English.

Jonathan dijo...

That's interesting. That's clearly an issue of "acceptibility" to the target audience. I don't think weaker words, (moan vs. grieve) are more acceptable to contemporary American readers. Quite the opposite. That's why I'm a little befuddled by why this particular translation effect occurs.

Lucía Mazzinghi dijo...

El traductor es traductor cuando da a ir lo que hace un poema y no solamente lo que dice. Su fuerza, su temblor, su pregunta incesante.

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