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Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Friday, October 11, 2013

Magic of Translation

I was distractedly reading on Bob Archambeau's blog some poetry that he was citing to make some point:
... the word carries a hopefulness
which has no strict foundation
in the real world.
The world being what it is!
For although I know it cannot be used
in the sense I want to give it
it is the same picture that faithfully
returns in my memory
whenever I pronounce it to myself—
it is the light space over my childhood...
It seemed to me that this was not poetry but another genre, that I might call "translated poetry." It may very well be as prosaic and flat in the original (I don't know), but this is an effect you often see in a translation: "For although I know it cannot be used / in the sense I want to give it." That kind of slackness of language. Once again, you might find that in poetry written originally in English too, whether because some poets like that effect, or because they are incompetent. It seems ok if it is done ironically or with a wink of the eye, but not if it's just that the author doesn't know any better.

I also read a translation of Yeats' "The Lake Isle of Inisfree," by Andrés Sánchez Robayna. It was a very good translation, but wasn't recognizably Yeatsian.

The translator imagines that there is a magic in the original. It could be in the original language itself. Or in the genius of the author. Borges points out several times that there is no inherent reason why a translation should be inferior to the original. There could be as much magic in English (Yeats, Shakespeare, Alice Notley) as in Spanish (Lorca). Nevertheless, we think only the magical texts are worth translating. We cannot even do an analysis of how good a translation is unless we first invest the text with some value. Without this value the traditional questions we need to ask of a poem-in-translation don't even make any sense.

So my point is that we should hold translation to a much higher standard, never make excuses for it.

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