I promised that I would try to make this blog interesting. In that spirit, it’s only right to begin by quoting obscure translation poetry. Actually, I guess it’s not too obscure, since it appears to appear in a zillion postings on the Web (just did a Google search). So let’s call it an old chestnut instead. (On the matter of chestnuts, I promise no mention of St. Jerome, the patron saint of translators, on these pages ― but that’s just a promise, so stay tuned.) And there’s that “No Va” story about translation screw-ups, too.
Anyway, Nabokov on Translating Eugene Onegin:
What is translation? On a platter
A poet’s pale and glaring head,
A parrot’s screech, a monkey’s chatter,
And profanation of the dead.
The parasites you were so hard on
Are pardoned if I have your pardon,
O, Pushkin, for my stratagem:
I traveled down your secret stem,
And reached the root, and fed upon it;
Then, in a language newly learned,
I grew another stalk and turned
Your stanza patterned on a sonnet,
Into my honest roadside prose–
All thorn, but cousin to your rose.
Reflected words can only shiver
Like elongated lights that twist
In the black mirror of a river
Between the city and the mist.
Elusive Pushkin! Persevering,
I still pick up Tatiana’s earring,
Still travel with your sullen rake.
I find another man’s mistake,
I analyze alliterations
That grace your feasts and haunt the great
Fourth stanza of your Canto Eight.
This is my task–a poet’s patience
And scholastic passion bent:
Dove-droppings on your monument.
A brilliant summary of our scholastic passion bent on getting to the right style for a translation deliverable. Something that’s accurate and not too linear, culturally appropriate, with client-specific glossary incorporated into a translation memory, all served with a dollop of ESP (to read the minds of reviewers, those elusive Pushkins).