Same song, second verse

{ Tuesday, August 5, 2008 }

When last I wrote on books and poems day, we had started a bit of conversation about the merits of translations of Dante's Inferno.

Because of this, I re-read the Pinsky translation that had originally weighed so heavy on me and did some thinking about translations. I loved what Burning Prairie noted in the comments:

"When it comes to translations of any kind, Italian poets, dreary
Russians, Bibles, what have you, I don't care for the translators who try to
make these florid originals "fit in" with today's manner of speaking and
writing. We still read Milton and Shakespeare in all their original glory.
And I would hate to think what Jackie Collins would do with, say, Edith
Wharton if given the chance. Hew as close to the original flavor as
possible, always, and you can't go wrong."

Well said. That's why I still like the Ciaran Carson version of the Dante -- the original doesn't strike me as florid! It has short lines, short words -- it's snappy. And Carson pulls from an extensive vocabulary and surprising constructions, creating a poetry with short, dense muscles. It's very different from Pinsky's poetry, which has a thicker, more fluid line and a darker, sweeter tone. So which is better?

I suppose, accuracy of narrative aside, it depends on how your palate perceives the flavor of the story, the flavor of the translation, and the flavor of poetry itself. So, considering the two translations, my conclusion is that I'm glad we have both.

It seems to me like music. I may prefer one version of The Goldberg Variations over another, but who would I have stopped from attempting it? Glenn Gould or Simone Dinnerstein?

With the Inferno, my problem is that reading Dante's Italian is like being a child half-asleep listening to adult conversation. It sounds like words I should know and I feel like it makes a kind of sense, but I don't really understand what's going on.

I need a translator. The translator's problem, or one of them, is that he or she has to bring an archaic language to modern readers. I think about this: how would an Italian translator bring Chaucer to Italian readers? Should the translator use forms and syntax that evoke the period in which it was written? Does it serve the reader for the translator to attempt to marry contemporary language to the spirit and form of Chaucer?

Either act seems to me at the dizzy height of self-confidence. And I am so humbled by the thought of attempting it myself that, far from critiquing translators anymore, I can only wish for more translations. I want to learn to listen. And really, when the song is that beautiful, though I might only pay for the rendition I liked best, I would no longer be the one to stop it in the mouth of any singer.


Give us your sunny hello!
What author or book would you like most to read in the original?

2 comments:

pcso lotto results said...

Yutarets! kasagad bah!

ann pai said...

Good grief. Where ARE the translators?

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