13 jun. 2012

Grading Translations

I normally translate several poems by the same poet at once. I give each one a letter grade, based on my satisfaction with how good the poem is in English. It is good to do this cold, after a day or so, when no longer caught up in the excitement of the translation process. Now a lower grade might be because the poem is not as interesting in the first place, or because it simply doesn't "translate" well (in the intransitive sense of the verb), or because of my lack of skill, knowledge, or imagination. Or any combination of factors. It doesn't matter. A B- translation is just that, whatever the cause.

Of course, I could just give myself all A s, but I don't do that. I know the difference between an A and a B or C. If it is a C level translation, I try to work on it until it is a B. Then I have a group of poems that are on the A or A- level, good enough to publish. If I am committed to translate an entire book, I have to make sure that most of the translations are at B level or above. Naturally, there will be some variation in quality, because I'll never be totally convinced by my version of every single poem.

I have no way of imposing my grades on the reader, who is still free to think all of my work is mediocre. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that readers will consistently grade me higher than I grade myself, so I wouldn't expect work that I deplore myself to be accepted by the reader. (Actual readers might be far too indulgent for my taste, so I am talking about the reader who is a mirror image of myself, not an inferior reader whom I can easily deceive.)