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  #11  
Unread 08-14-2019, 10:49 AM
Jake Sheff Jake Sheff is offline
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Susan,

I appreciate your read and suggestions. I think the poem makes sense in terms of signifying something and making (what it signifies exists but for the poem), but I understand it may seem not to? Maybe I'm wrong... Not making sense almost suggests a lunacy on the writer's part? Or language disorder. But I appreciate the encouragement.

John,

I appreciate your engagement.

Allen,
I hope you'll return!

Julie,

I wish your response engaged the points I went to some lengths to make in my previous post. But it seems to double down on your position.

It does bring to mind a full-spectrum of possibility from the lit-to-film history: The Shining presents a similar case of authorial dissatisfaction; The Godfather presents a case of enhancement, whereby a second-rate novel became the greatest films of all-time (let's not get into part 3).

Another example, which seems to approximate your demands of a translation, is the shot-for-shot Gus Van Sant remake of "Psycho." Although Gus Van Sant held what I perceive as similar principles to yours regarding faithful rendition with his film, nobody would hold up his "Psycho" as a touchstone of anything but "uninspired."

I think a poorly done translation at least does homage to the original in that it "inspired" a fellow artist (talented or otherwise) to create; breathed the generative impulse into him or her.

I do agree, in a perfect world, what occurred with Ursula Le Guin would not happen. But there are, as presented above, examples from what actually happens in our imperfect world where sometimes the result is happy (Godfather), sometimes sad (The Shining) but rarely does it lead to the creation of something which is somehow both identical and different from its source.

I wonder what canonical example you can hold up to demonstrate the principles you espouse, which satisfies the demands you make on a translation?

And it would be appreciated if you engaged with rather than ignored the points I went to some length to make previously. Or else, what are we doing this for? Let there be commerce between us, eh?

Best,
Jake

Last edited by Jake Sheff; 08-14-2019 at 10:55 AM.
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  #12  
Unread 08-14-2019, 10:54 AM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
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Well, Le Guin's translations of Mistral are pretty bad so perhaps it's just a case of what goes around comes around.
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  #13  
Unread 08-14-2019, 12:32 PM
A. Sterling A. Sterling is offline
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Hi Jake,

You’ve picked a hard poem to translate here. I know it from experience, having tried my own hand at this one a few years back. It would feel a little weird, then, to offer concrete suggestions (because obviously, you should do it exactly like I did ). But I’ll weigh in on what I can.

I don’t think it really makes sense to try to separate form from content in a lyric poem, and so it doesn’t mean much to say that you’ve preserved the basic content of the original. What it's about isn’t what you’d get by paring it down to its most abstract terms, which in this case would be basically: It’s autumn – I’m sad – still sad – also aimless. The imagery of the violins, the wind, the dead leaf are means of expressing a particular flavor of sadness – as are the short lines, the rhyme scheme and the simple, direct language.

This is why I agree with others who’ve said it’s a problem that the translation is so oblique in its expression. Maybe it would be better to pick on a single thing for this after all – maybe the word oblivion, in your penultimate line. It’s a nice word. It’s also a nice tango by Astor Piazzolla, incidentally. But it corresponds to nothing in the original. And in its context—oblivion’s grief—I find it a little hard to fathom. I feel like it’s trying for an emotional impact it hasn’t really earned, and just having to do with sadness is not enough to justify it being there.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jake Sheff View Post
Maybe I'm wrong... Not making sense almost suggests a lunacy on the writer's part? Or language disorder.
I think we as human beings are inclined to vastly overestimate the degree to which we make sense to one another. When we use the same everyday language, it can sometimes seem as if we do, but when we’re trying to express something on the edge of communicability, as many of us do in our poetry, not making sense is bound to happen now and then. I wouldn’t be too worried about it.
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  #14  
Unread 08-14-2019, 10:13 PM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jake Sheff View Post
I wonder what canonical example you can hold up to demonstrate the principles you espouse, which satisfies the demands you make on a translation?
I've started a thread over on the Musing on Master Board for Apollinaire's Le Pont Mirabeau (which I immediately thought of when I encountered "Sonne l'heure" in this Verlaine poem). I think Richard Wilbur's translation of it is astonishing in the way it preserves both the music and the simplicity, while using a bit of poetic license in the service of those two qualities. I'll discuss that more at the end of this post.

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And it would be appreciated if you engaged with rather than ignored the points I went to some length to make previously. Or else, what are we doing this for? Let there be commerce between us, eh?
Sorry, I was rushing off somewhere. Should have waited to send that until I could have read it over and responded to your points.

Quote:
I can't appreciate Homer in the original Greek, but some English versions did a fine job of getting him to me. Imperfect is better than nothing (gone forever, oblivion), perfect the enemy of good.
Since the perfect is impossible, yes, we should admire the good. But I balk at the notion (which you might not have been advocating, but which is how I took it) that since the perfect is impossible, we should be grateful for the almost-good, the mediocre, and the execrable. That's nonsense, and I hope that's not what you meant. None of us can achieve perfection, but we should keep striving for it anyway.

(Even when those efforts seem to make a poem worse and worse, as with the poem I recently workshopped on Met. But none of that effort--my own and that of the critics who were so generous with their time and advice--was wasted. I'll go back to Draft 1 or 2 and will start again, armed with what I've learned about what not to do.)

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Think of Aristotle -- how much was translated into a middle eastern language and from those sources into European languages. It's impossible to imagine it was all done so without losing and gaining things.
Yes, but just because losses and additions (I wouldn't call them gains) are inevitable in translation, that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to minimize them. (And for much of Aristotle, the original Greek was made available to Europe when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople and some Byzantine scholars fled West in the 1450s, just as Gutenburg was inventing lead-antimony movable type, thus helping to spark the Renaissance "rediscovery" of Greek literature in Europe.)

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In your opinion, were the translators of the King James Bible upstaging the genius of the original and drawing attention to their talents? (Talents English teachers have been pointing to since the 17th century. While English preachers continue pointing to the content.)
No, I don't think the translators of the King James Version were showboating. So far as I can judge of their New Testament, they were translating relatively simple, colloquial Greek into the simple, colloquial English of their day, without adding extra flourishes to make it sound better.

(Although, of course, with the understanding that King James wanted this translation to undermine or support various political agendas. For example, he specified that the word ekklesia had to be translated a certain way, in order to de-legitimize the Geneva Translation's more decentralized, less hierarchical depiction of the early Church, which the Puritans advocated, and which clashed badly with King James' own influence over the Church of England. So not all of the translators' decisions were motivated by accuracy or aesthetics alone.)

That the English language has changed over the centuries since, making the King James Version sound archaic and "fancy" in our day, isn't the translators' fault.

Quote:
I feel like the aesthetic effect is primary, and trade-offs both unavoidable and necessary. I don't see, in your view, much "poetic license" for trade-offs, which is why I bring these large examples to the discussion and ask, "Could these really be here today with nothing gained and nothing lost?"
I like Richard Wilbur's trade-offs and poetic license in his Apollinaire translation, especially his rendering of this strophe:

L’amour s’en va comme cette eau courante
          L’amour s’en va
     Comme la vie est lente
Et comme l’Espérance est violente


as

All love goes by as water to the sea
          All love goes by
     How slow life seems to me
How violent the hope of love can be


A literal prose crib:

Love goes away like this running water
          Love goes away
     Like [or how] life is slow
And like [or how] Hope is violent


Wilbur's addition of certain words and phrases that are not in the original--"All," "to me," "of love"--might seem like filler for the same of rhyme and meter, at first glance. But the emphasis of "All" doesn't seem out of place to me, when Apollinaire clearly wants the "love goes by" bit emphasized, or he wouldn't have repeated it; "of me" makes the whole thing seem more personal; and "of love" quietly clarifies the context of the statement, while lending a bit more emphasis to the "love goes by" repetition. The effect of the "to me" extends over this fourth line of the strophe, too. (And Wilbur's inclusion of "me" in the refrain reinforces that lonely, personal vibe, too.)

Good stuff, and completely in harmony with the original, in my opinion, even though Wilbur has added so much stuff that wasn't there. I don't get the sense that he was adding stuff in order to improve the original poem, or hoping that we would forgive a certain degree of filler because translation is hard. He was doing what he felt was necessary to convey the original's spirit and flavor. And succeeding.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 08-15-2019 at 12:37 AM. Reason: Fussing with my literal prose crib; Constantinople
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  #15  
Unread 08-15-2019, 12:13 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Jake, there is no one correct solution to the infinite problems raised by translating poetry. In Julie's posting of different translations of Apollinaire's poem, different people will prefer different versions because of differences in taste. At the upper levels of translation, many fine translations of the same work can exist, and no two will be the same. Even a bad translation can't actually harm the original, which continues to exist in its original form. But there will also be many translations that will be unsatisfying for various reasons: problems with rhyme, meter, diction, syntax, adding or leaving out too much, etc. We're all on this translation board to help one another get better at those things, but none of us can dictate the only right way to do it.

Susan
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  #16  
Unread 08-15-2019, 10:27 AM
Jake Sheff Jake Sheff is offline
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Sterling,

I appreciate the read and feedback! You're right about communication. Thanks!

Julie,

Thank you for coming back. I know we all have busy lives. I've been guilty of attempting a quick response which I later found incomplete.

Anyway, you're right, I certainly don't advocate for appreciating unsuccessful translations i.e. atrocious ones. I don't know if that'd be black-and-white thinking or taking the argument against perfection to ad absurdum...but you are correct, I wasn't saying that.

I don't know if the KJB is really colloquial and archaic-sounding now, but it isn't important at this point.

Your Wilbur example is a fine example! I appreciate you pointing it out. High my list of books to read is a translation he did of Moliere. I think it's Tartuffe? But I see where and how this example works for you, and appreciate the demonstration

Thank you for the back and forth. It was really elucidating regarding the positions one can take in this matter.

Susan,

You're right. Those are wise words. I hope I don't sound like I'm trying to dictate the only right way to do it. I completely agree with you in that matter. We live in a free internet (for now).

To my mind, we've been having a conversation about principles and aims with varying degrees of success with regards to persuasion. But you're completely right in what you're saying.

Cheers,
Jake
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  #17  
Unread 09-03-2019, 05:04 PM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Check out the last paragraph of this seemingly unrelated article today:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/201...ond-world-war/

We might have corrected that mis-translated word near the end of S1 before it went on the air, and thus screwed up D-Day....

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 09-03-2019 at 05:06 PM.
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  #18  
Unread 09-03-2019, 05:50 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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That's a great story. Yeah, the Verlaine shows up in, I believe, The Longest Day, that's how I knew about it.

Cheers,
John
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