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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...

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Everything matters

In a poem everything matters. The sound of words, typography, etymology. A grammatical category that might be inert in a non-poetic use of language comes alive in a poem. (By inert, mean that it is grammatically functional, but essentially meaningless.) Take the example of gender: a noun can have a grammatical gender, but that gender is essentially meaningless in everyday language, where we don't think of "el sol" as male in any but the grammatical sense. But in a poem, the gender signifies maleness. The sun is male, not just grammatically "masculine."

My idea for translation (one of my ideas) is that in a translation of a poem, everything should matter, just as it did in the original. By this I don't mean that it should matter in the same way, but rather that it should have that same feeling of necessity. I should think of the etymology of word, even if it is a different etymology than that of the corresponding word in the original text.

This is a roundabout way of saying that the translation should be a poem. You know it's not a poem when the translator starts justifying questionable choices with reference to the original text.

1 comment:

Roland Greene said...

I wish more translators thought about it the way you do, Jonathan.