kaberett: Photo of a pile of old leather-bound books. (books)
[personal profile] kaberett
I'm bilingual in German and English, and I'm terrible at translation, and still I look at Der Vorleser being translated into English as The Reader and I cringe, because there probably isn't a way to do it better, but you're still losing important information: the German actually means The Reader-Out-Loud, and if you're familiar with the book or the film, well...

... and that's a two-word prose title. I also happen to live 30 minutes away from the Saison Poetry Library, and am working my way slowly through a subset of its contents. Most recently I acquired a volume of the selected works of Neruda, with choices and translations by Robert Bly, and I am now pretty certain I am never going to pick up anything he's translated ever again.

On the one hand is that he decided to make a selection of Neruda's early work that demonstrates that during his early twenties, the poet went through a phase of thinking that imagery like waterfalls of sperm and anemones were a good idea (from the complete absence of raining spermatozoa in his later output I deduce that he changed his mind on this subject).

On the other, which I consider far more damning, is the quality of translation. I don't speak Spanish; I have an A-level in Latin (with significant Latin-to-English poetry translation component), and I've just about got enough French to navigate public transport and buy vegetarian food. And yet.

There is the simple, the potentially arguable, as from Ode to Salt:

Y luego en cada mesa
de este mundo,
sal,
tu substancia
ágil
espolvoreando
la luz vital
sobre
los alimentos.

...

Polvo del mar, la lengua
de ti recibe un beso
de la noche marina...
And then on every table
on this earth,
salt,
your nimble
body
pouring out
the vigorous light
over
our foods.

...

Dust of the sea, the tongue
receives a kiss
of the night sea from you...

"Polvo" I would be inclined to translate as "powder" rather than "dust"; it's the same root found in a wide variety of Indo-European languages (e.g. German Pulver), and "powder" for me keeps more of the mouth-shape, the taste, of the word than "dust"; and I prefer the connotations and nuance suggested by powder. But, hey, this I recognise as personal preference, rather than technique.

But to render sal,/tu substancia/ágil as salt,/your nimble/body? No. I'd argue very strongly that Neruda chose to place ágil (nimble, agile) on a line of its own, separate from and following "your body", for reasons to do with poetry; I don't see any reason that Bly couldn't have rendered the English salt,/your body--/nimble-- or similar: preservation (... ha) of both the poetic and the literal.

That's a long-standing argument, of course -- whether translations should be faithful to the letter or the spirit. This is some of why Simon Armitage's parallel translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (which he writes about in the Guardian; excerpts of praise are available on his website) is so highly regarded: he has attempted to preserve both in a new piece of poetry, recognising that poetry resides in alliteration and meter as much as in imagery.

I submit that Bly fails at both.

Read more... )

In sum: I have been reminded once again that I adore parallel translations for all sorts of reasons, even when I don't speak the source language; and I have convinced myself that Robert Bly is someone whose work I wish to actively avoid. And: for all the somewhat woeful and strident tone of this post, I would love for us to talk more about priorities in poetry translation - how we prioritise for ourselves, and how that shifts with context - and about favourite translators. Thoughts decidedly welcome!
alexconall: the Pleiades (Default)
[personal profile] alexconall
Once there was a girl; once there was a girl. Women, both, really. Her name was Lien; her name was Michelle. After Lien met Michelle, she copied out this poem and gave it to Michelle.


Fragment 31
Sappho tr. Anne Carson

He seems to me equal to gods that man )


Sappho. The most readily recognized queer female poet in the world. Not, probably, the first—that honor may go to Enheduanna, the first poet whose name we know. But the most recognizable name among queer female poets, and Sappho 31 may be her best-known poem.

All is to be dared, Sappho wrote. So Lien dared. But the rest of the poem, unless the last stanza of Catullus 51 is an accurate translation (unlikely), is lost.


Source: If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, Anne Carson
lnhammer: colored smoke on a white background - caption "softly and suddenly vanished away" (vanished away)
[personal profile] lnhammer
Sonnets were for a long time strongly identified with the Petrarchan tradition, and even now the form can have connotations of love poetry despite extensive proof that it's useful for a two-part argument of a certain size on any subject. Not to mention, there's quite a few sonnets having nothing whatsoever to do with Laura in Petrarch's Canzone. But to start us off, an actual Petrarchan sonnet, with a more-or-less literal translation (cribbed together from ponies and rusty Spanish) plus a much freer by the poet who introduced the form to English. Note, btw, the classic volta.


Una candida cerva sopra l'erba
verde m'apparve, con duo corna d'oro,
fra due riviere, all'ombra d'un alloro,
levando 'l sole a la stagione acerba.

Era sua vista sí dolce superba,
ch'i' lasciai per seguirla ogni lavoro:
come l'avaro che 'n cercar tesoro
con diletto l'affanno disacerba.

"Nessun mi tocchi" al bel collo d'intorno
scritto avea di diamanti et di topazi
"libera farmi al mio Cesare parve."

Et era 'l sol già vòlto al mezzo giorno,
gli occhi miei stanchi di mirar, non sazi,
quand'io caddi ne l'acqua, et ella sparve.

Literal rendering )

Wyatt's rendering )

Leaving aside the all-too-obvious fact that I am not the poet Sir Thomas Wyatt was, this does raise questions of just how valid adaptations and imitations are as translations and of the role of either in the adoption of forms across languages -- but since this is not translation but sonnet week, I'll set those aside (after linking to this discussion of translations of another Petrarch sonnet by the first two poets to use the form in English). Though doing so leaves me with no question for discussion on this one. Oops. Well, maybe you guys can think of something to ask me. Or we can return to the meta question of what defines a sonnet.

---L.

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