12 jun. 2012

Translation Notes

1. In the first place, I have to feel that the poem I want to translate it worth it. It has to be able to stand up to the process of translation without revealing any flimsiness. The questions you ask about a translation only make sense with a text of a certain solidity. You can ask if a translation of a weak poem is faithful, accurate, but it doesn't really matter too much.

2. Then, I have to feel that I, personally, am capable of translating this particular text. I could feel that it is simply beyond my powers, that the end result would not be an acceptable one. I wouldn't always know this in advance.

3. The results have to stand up on their own. I don't want to write any line in the translation that I wouldn't accept as a line in a poem of my own. (This simply rule would eliminate a lot of translations. Of course, many poets would accept poor lines in their own poems too, so that wouldn't work.) A translation that is a bad poem in the target language is a double betrayal: it tells the reader that the original poem might be bad, while also doing damage to the literary tradition of the target language.

4. The translated poem has to be my own. It has to have my voice, or a voice imaginable for me. It has to have a prosody that I accept, diction with which I am comfortable, etc...

5. Finally, the translation has to find an audience. Translation is for people who cannot read the original, so the translator cannot translate for himself alone. The translator does not belong to that group. Nor does the most expert judge of a translation belong to its intended audience.

6. One more point. I tend to be more literal with the "content words," while tinkering a lot with prepositions, conjunctions, and articles. If the translation is to be my own text, one that I can defend as a poem in its own right, I have to find elements to play with, or elements that have some "play" to them in the sense that they can "give" a little without breaking.

The way a crow

Shook down on me

The dust of snow

From a hemlock tree



Has given my heart

A change of mood

And saved some part

Of a day I had rued.

If I was translating this poem to another language I would only care about way / crow / shook / down / me / dust / snow / hemlock tree / heart / mood / saved / part / day / rued. Maybe my target language doesn't have "the" or "a" or doesn't use "my" or "of" in the same way.

2 comentarios:

Andrew Shields dijo...

Those moments in the original that provide space for the translation to become a poem in the target language.

mongibeddu dijo...

These are excellent principles and yet I see that mine would be slightly different (if I even have the right to make principles, needing a dictionary and a lot of time — or someone to work with — just to contemplate translation).

Your second principle is key for me: I enjoy translation as an intellectual problem and test of craft. And for that reason I can even take pleasure in flimsy poems (violating your first principle), in fact they can be preferable if they have (as you say in your sixth) some play in them, since then a departure from the original doesn't feel so wrong. Are improvements still mistranslations? I suppose so, but given the choice...

So I agree wholeheartedly with your third and fourth principles. As for the fifth: I also translate just to stop the erosion of what little skill I have. And that's work I undertake with no regard at all for audience. Just scribbles in my books.

Fun to think about this. I hope your post was the start of a long run on the topic!

Ben F.