TRANSLATE OR NOT TO TRANSLATE?
TRANSLATION IN PERSPECTIVE
in the use of language is communicative competence and so distinguished
from formal competence (for example, the capacity to judge whether
a sentence is grammatical or not).
Communicative competence comprises reception, production, and
reproduction, the last partaking a little of the other two.
Competent reproduction implies competent reception of the original
or model leading on to competent production of a replica. Like the other two skills, reproduction may
operate either at the level of the signant (significant) or
at the level of the signate (signifie).
Just as reception may be either bare listening (or reading)
or the same with comprehension, reproduction may be either bare repetition
(i.e. re-rendition confined to the level of auditory or visual signals)
or re-expression (i.e. re-formulation at the level of form and meaning
as well). Paraphrase from formal to colloquial, for example,
is reformulation within the same language. Translation, on the other hand, is reformulation across languages
at least across dialects of the same language.
It can therefore be defined as the reformulation of a text
in some linguistic code (the source text in the source
language or dialect) into a replica text in another linguistic
code (target language or dialect).
The involvement in this
kind of reproduction of two languages or dialects — two linguistic
code — creates a complication. So
long as we are not aware of this complication we think of translation
simply as removal of one set of clothes and putting on another set
of clothes to cover the same meaning — French cheval goes to
English horse but chien goes to dog, or vice
versa. This simple (and simple-minded)
scheme can be presented as follows :
Here the symbols S and T are shorthand for “in
the Source text” and “in the Target text (replica)” respectively. Now, while such a scheme may do some justice
to intra-language reformulation (“e.g. paraphrase), it hardly
does any justice to inter-language reformulation, i.e. translation. To realize this is to realize that translation
is a difficult job full of compromises and thus say despairingly with
Italians, Translators are traitors! Rather than giving up translation
as an impossibility, we should give up our too simple scheme. A more realistic scheme will be as follows:
In translating we are not merely matching forms
in the two languages in respect of meanings; we are also matching
meanings as well in the two languages.
What are distinct meanings in one language often turn up as
a single merged meaning in another – we drink water, eat
bread, and smoke cigarettes in English, in Bangla all three
verbs translate as khā (etymologically, ‘eat’).
This does not mean that Bangla speakers ‘eat’ their
water or cigarettes, rather it is simply that khā in modern
Bangla corresponds to English consume. Meanings are rearranged
– English he is hungry comes out as il a faim (he has
hunger) in French, he has cold feet as il a froid aux pieds
(he has cold in the feet). The
Marathi question tyā rāngetla kitva ghar (that row-in
how-many-eth house?) can be translated into English or French only
in a very roundabout manner. The category jūṭhan
in Hindi can be easily matched in Marathi (that which has been tasted
by one person and thus rendered unfit for another’s consumption by
virtue of a taboo – said of a portion of food or drink
and, by extension, said of spoons, cups, mouth-pieces of musical instruments,
and the like) but not in English or French – the leap across meanings
(from Meaning-S to Meaning-T) may also turn out to be a leap across
cultures. Finally, translators
can choose to be more ambitious; they may attempt to bridge the gap
between forms as well. Between
closely resembling languages like Hindi and Urdu, translation is often
no more than a change of script (or speech accent); even at its most
difficult, it is only a morpheme-by-morpheme replacement. Translating a sentence in British English into
American English is often indistinguishable from repeating it with
sound-by-sound replacement. But,
loosely speaking, the language gap can be bridged even when the languages
do not resemble each other so closely.
The French cela va sans dire is matched by the English
Gallicism that goes without saying.
(The French call this process a calque.)
Schematically, we can symbolize this bridging over as follow:
Translations that attempt to graduate from (2)
to (3) more or less successfully can be termed close translations;
those that do not may be termed distant translations.
now it should be abundantly clear that an original in one language
may be translated in more than one manner in another language; that
a translation cannot achieve everything – it can achieve one thing
usually by sacrificing another; and that one translation can be said
to be better or worse than another only in respect of what we expect
the translation to achieve. If
we should translate “His eyes are blue” to Il a les yeux bleus
(he has the eyes blue) in French, we are guilty of rearranging the
meaning but we are to be given credit for idiomatic, natural French. On the other hand, if we select Ses yeux
sont bleus, we are more faithful to the English arrangement but
less elegant in French. No
wonder that the translator’s predicament was likened by Voltaire to
the prospective husband’s. Translations,
like wives, can be either faithful or beautiful, but not both!
important question, then, is, what do we expect a translation to accomplish?
Translations can give more weight to the exercise of receptive competence
(decoding) or to the exercise of productive competence (encoding). We have already pointed out the essentially
two-sided nature of reproductive skills.
Given the original text in the source language, to offer a
translation of it in the target language is to offer an answer to
either of the two following questions:
(4) (i) What
does the original text say? (The answer being a decoding
translation, a gloss, so to say.)
(ii) How can one say the same thing in the target language?
(The answer being
translation, a counterpart or equivalent, so to say.)
A translation of the first
sort does not care too much for acceptability in the target language
(Ses yeux sont bleus is good enough).
To say that a given translation does not read like a translation
at all is appropriate praise only in respect of the second sort.
“My mother’s brother is here” offers a better decoding of the
Marathi sentence containing māmā, but “My uncle is
here” is a version that is more nearly English (“Mother’s brother,
do take me with you!” is indeed impossible as a re-encoding.)
Similarly, while consume may be a perfect gloss for
Bangla khā, we’ll have to think of eat, drink, smoke
as its ready equivalents.
One must not confuse this
distinction between decoding and encoding translations with the other
distinction, established earlier, between close and distant translations. A decoding translation may be close or distant;
and a re-encoding translation may also be close or distant. Theoretically, there are four possibilities
in all. A decoding translation
is primarily faithful to the source text.
A re-encoding translation is primarily faithful to the target
language. A close translation
seeks to be faithful to the grammatical and possibly phonological
form of the text as well – typically, it achieves this by choosing
a smaller unit for processing, say, a word rather than a stanza.
A distant translation is content to take care of meaning and
leave form to take care of itself.
The everyday terminology
of free rendering and faithful rendering is lax in that “faithful”
tends to mean close or decoding or both and “free” tends to mean distant
or re-encoding or both. This
everyday terminology probably goes back historically to the main arenas
of European translation activity – the translation of the Bible by
the faithful for the faithful that began with the Reformation and
the translation of the Greek and Latin classics that began with the
Renascence. The two are set
up as ideal types by Goethe and, later, by Friedrich Schleiermacher,
both good translators. Says
Goethe in the eulogy of Wieland:
There are two maxims for
translators; one demands that the author belonging to some other nation
should be brought over to us, so that we can regard him as our own
[cf. re-encoding] ; the other demands of us that we should
go across to the stranger [cf. decoding] and accustom ourselves
to his circumstances, his manner of speaking, his peculiarities [cf.
is an improvement:
A translator either leaves
the author as much alone as is possible [cf. decoding] and
moves the reader towards him [cf. closeness] ; or he leaves
the reader as much alone as is possible [cf. re-encoding] and
moves the author towards him [cf. distantness]1.
TRANSLATION OF LITERATURE
translation of literary texts is translation at its most challenging;
for a literary text is produced as well as received in a more complex
manner. So the leap from Meaning-S to Meaning-T is
correspondingly more difficult.
the first place, style in its broadest sense mediates between the
linguistic text comprising Form and its Meaning on the one hand and
the work of literary art looming behind it on the other.
From the producer’s point of view, style is finding the right
means for the communicative end in view.
From the receiver’s point of view, on the other hand, to become
aware of style is to trace the enjoyment, the feel of the text to
the way the text is formed. Each language has its own norm or norms of
style. In Victorian English
the stylistic norm required that men sweated and ladies perspired!
Between French and English thresholds that decide what constitutes
an overstatement or an understatement differ noticeably.
An Englishman who is unaware of this difference will take a
Frenchman’s Je suis enchanté (I am enchanted – to see you) too seriously;
a Frenchman who doesn’t know of the Englishman’s tendency to understatement
will be put off by the latter’s not too bad. (In American English, not too bad may of course translate as fantastic
or super!) Languages may also
differ as to what is regarded as language appropriate to literature
and on how far this language differs from everyday language. Thus poetry in Modern Indian languages tends to depart from ordinary
language much more than poetry in contemporary English does. A good literary translation has to translate
meaning in its entirety and the meaning of the source text in its
entirety includes the style of the source text.
It might be objected that what has
just been said about style and its relation to translation points
to a problem that is not peculiar to the translation of literature
as such. All literary texts are stylized, but not all
stylized or crafted texts are literary works of art. The objection would be a valid one in that something more is involved
in literary translation than leaping across the stylistic gap between
the source language and the target language.
We have to point out, first, that poetry is fundamentally untranslatable
and, secondly, that all literature aspires towards this condition
of poetry. To get at the root of this problem let us follow
Punya Sloka Ray’s attempts to get at The Formation of Prose (1962a:
Let us begin with a dilemma. Language
is impossible if the speaker and hearer do not agree at all on what
forms should carry what meanings.
And yet, language is useless if the speaker and the hearer
could agree completely without recourse to the meaningful forms between
them. So language is usable only insofar as we do
not depend upon it, and yet language is useful only insofar as we
do depend upon it. Fortunately,
the absoluteness of the paradox is only a metaphysical make-believe….
But this formulation does serve to highlight a certain duality in
our handling of language – the systematic cultivation of dependence
on language will be defined as poetry and the systematic cultivation
of independence from language defined as prose – prose we shall define
as a movement away from poetry.
One can now begin to understand why one finds it difficult if not impossible
to translate poetry. In poetic
style, finding the right means for the communicative end in view ;
nor can understanding the enjoyment, determining the feel of the text
be separated from tracing the way the text is formed.
The success of prose (and Punya Sloka Ray has primarily utilitarian
prose in mind in the discussion quoted from) depends precisely on
the separation of the Form and the Meaning of the text. (After all, that is precisely what a technical vocabulary is trying
to accomplish.) The artistic
success of poetry and of a good deal of literary prose depends on
the integration of Form into Meaning.
That is why poetry most resists both paraphrase and translation. A poem can only bear repetition.
This leads us to the next step in out argument. Translation of a literary text is no mere exercise
in the reproduction of the original text. Rather, literary translation is the recreation of the whole original
communicative transaction itself, inclusive of the original text. The result is a fresh communicative transaction,
namely, the production and reception of the replica text. The translator’s job here is more akin to the
job of the stage team producing a play – both are acts of interpretation.
The translator of a literary work has the same privilege of
expecting his reader to rise to the occasion as the original artist
has. What is more, the demand
made on the reader of a translation is always going to exceed the
demand made on the reader of the original text.
Earlier we set up a scheme of four modalities of translation.
(i) Decoding translation – which may range
from very close to quite distant.
translation – which may range from very close to quite distant.
example is in order – the opening line of Goethe’s well-known poem
about Italy (Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre 3: 1) will serve our
Source text in German :
Kennst du das Land,
wo die Zitronenḅlühn?
Target replicas in English:
you know the country where the lemon trees bloom?
you know the land of the lemon-trees in bloom?
thou the land where the lemons bloom?
you the land of lemon blooms?
The first two versions tell us in plain English
what the source text says – incidentally the source text also says
it in plain German. These
two are decoding translations. The
other two versions, being re-encoding translations, seek to provide
us with poetic equivalents of the original ; (iii) does it more closely
in terms of the rhythm and the word frame ; both choose land though
land is not the commonest choice in English in this sense (country
is a nearer gloss) because it preserves the rhythm and the tone.
Just as (iv) is more distant than (iii), (ii) is more distant
than (i). Note that while
thou for you and question by simple inversion without
a supporting do are specifically archaic and poetic in English,
the corresponding choices in German do not carry any such qualifications.
To this extent (iii) and (iv) deviate from the goal of stylistic
equivalence, but thereby gain through the retention of the rhythm
and the tone.
all the four modalities can thus be attested, the fact remains that
the closer translation lends itself better to decoding and the more
distant translation to re-encoding.
This is presumably because differences of Form (on which the
close/distant distinction hinges) and differences of Meaning (as handled
by a decoding/re-encoding replica) are more closely intermeshed than
a simpler notion of Meaning (seen in (2) above) would lead us to believe
to be the case. If we were
to set a parallel scheme of distinguishing between four modalities
for intra-language reformulation (e.g. paraphrase), it might
turn out to be rather difficult to differentiate distant decoding
from distant re-encoding and close re-encoding from close decoding
in applying the classification to paraphrases and the like.
celebrated distinction (1680) between the three heads of translation
can be better understood in the terms proposed here.
Dryden, it will be recalled, speaks of :
(i) the “metaphrase, or
turning an author word by word, and line by line, from one language
into another” ; (ii) the middle way, the “paraphrase, or translation
with latitude, where the author is kept in view by the translator,
so as never to be lost, but his words are not so strictly followed
as his sense ; and that too is admitted to be amplified, but not altered”
; (iii) the limitation, where the translator (if now he has not lost
his name) assumes the liberty not only to vary from the words and
sense, but to forsake them both as he sees occasion ; and taking only
some general hints from the original, to run division on the groundwork,
as he pleases.”
In our words, Dryden’s recommendation in favour
of the paraphrase is recommendation for the via media of close re-encoding
between close decoding (his metaphrase) and distant re-encoding (his
imitation). The Nineteenth Century historicist scruples
came to favour closeness to distantness, while the Romantic conception
of the relation between poetry and language came to favour re-encoding
modality we select in translating a literary work of art, the full
spectrum of meaning needs to be attended to.
Assessing the meaning or value of an expression is not merely
a question of assessing (a) the range of application (thus, both Hindi
icchā-patr and Marathi mruttyu-patrare coterminous
with will and testament in English) and (b) the defining, the diagnostic,
and the associated features (thus, Zitrone and lemon are both to be defined as tree names as well
as fruit names ; Hindi iccha-patr and English will both
single out the same feature ‘wish’ for attention, while Marathi
mrutyu-patr associates the document with ‘death’ ; while it is
perfectly in order to speak of ‘a male nurse’, the mention of ‘a nurse’
without qualification leads us to expect a female by virtue of association).
Meaning is something more: it is also a question of assessing
(c) the associated expressions in the language and (d) the habitual
situational contexts. To illustrate
(c), English head and heart alliterate as well as oppose
each other; the collocations of German Land sometimes match
with those of country in English.
und Land / town and country
/ foreign country
südlichen Länder / the southern countries
And sometimes match with those of lang in
Land / land of promise
der Träume / land of dream
(The example is from Forster 1958.) Turning to (d), we may notice that, where German
will speak of Schlaflosigkeit and French of insomnie,
English will tend to reserve insomnia for medical contexts
and use sleeplessness as an everyday term.
The first is a complaint, the second a condition or state.
To sum up :
The Meaning of a Form comprises :
(a) the range of application (Reference),
(b) the defining, the diagnostic, and the associated features (Sense),
the range of associated expressions (Linguistic Context), and
the range of habitual situational contexts (Pragmatic Context)
One need not assume that
a literary text always calls for a re-encoding translation or that
a close decoding translation is merely a scholar’s tool for grappling
with an obscure or unfamiliar text.
The needs may also differ from one literary text to another.
Just as a dramatist sometimes leaves some response on the part
of the character without any verbal expression so that the stage actor
has full scope for his own interpretation, some texts give full play
to the reader’s sensibility. A
case in point will be a poem with strong visual imagery.
Such texts lend themselves to a close decoding translation,
so that the reader of the translation may enjoy same freedom as the
reader of the original. Such texts will often come through even in
a pedestrian or a casual translation.
Take care of the images and the poetic reverberations will
take care of themselves.
If the source text has
an ambiguous or a condensed expression, a close translation will seek
to match it with ambiguity or condensation rather than impose a resolution
on the reader of the replica text.
After all didn’t the reader of the source text enjoy the freedom
of either retaining or resolving the ambiguity and of either maintaining
or elaborating the condensation? True, the target language may not always permit
a choice to the translator in this matter. French familier de and English familiar with are both
ambiguous between the sense ‘sustaining informal relations as within
a family’ and the sense ‘closely acquainted as with a member of one’s
own family’, but German forces us to choose between vertrautlich
mit and wohlbekannt mit (the cognate familiär being
much less commonly used). Again, Frech une robe de soie, English
a silk dress, German ein seiden Kleid are about equally
elaborate in not using a single word or equally condensed in not explicitly
saying that the dress is made out of silk (cf. a silkworm),
but French un doigt de la main and un doigt du pied are
certainly more elaborate than the English finger and toe
If the original presents
an image as a symbol with an open-ended meaning or a detail full of
associations in that culture, one can argue that a straight decoding
translation is better even if it does not customarily arouse the associations
in the target language and the associated culture.
The very effort that the reader will have to make in order
to meet the alien culture half way will be a reward.
Certainly the effort to make things acceptable and familiar
to the target language reader may be carried too far, and thus defeat
the whole point of making an alien literature accessible through translation
– namely, a sharpening and broadening of sensibility, a gaining of
the capacity to get more out of what one reads, and to get along with
a greater variety of reading natter3.
TRANSLATION OF NON-LITERARY DISCOURSE: AN ASIDE
discourse stands at the opposite pole from literature in that it does
not call for faithfulness to the form of the source text, but only
to its message. A distant decoding should be enough. Translating English nitrogen (generated
from nitre) as azote (not capable of sustaining life) in French
makes no difference at all; in either case the reference is to the
element with the atomic number 7.
For other utilitarian prose such as advertisement, propaganda,
practical instructions, tourist information, and the like effectiveness
in the target language setting is all important.
A distant re-encoding will serve best.
discourse lies halfway between literature and technical discourse. Cases in point are history (when it is not
mere chronicle), philosophy (when it is not mere logic), the human
sciences (when they are not mere natural history of Homo sapiens),
literary criticism (when it is not mere factual literary scholarship). Translations in these areas will tend to waver
between close decoding and close re-encoding. Translating the classics in these areas will favour the former;
translating works on live issues will favour the latter. (As for mere chronicle, mere logic, mere natural
history of man, and mere literary scholarship, a distant decoding
should be enough for translating such material.)
A CASE STUDY : BAUDELAIRE’S CORRESPONDANCES IN
us look at some available English renderings of a celebrated French
poem, Baudelaire’s Correspondances (1857).
The original French text and the texts of five renderings are
reproduced in the Annexe for convenience.
They will be referred to by the symbols O, A, B, C, D, and
E. The renderings are respectively by
Henry Peyre (1960)
Kate Flores (1958)
George Dillon (1936)
Jacques Leclerq (1958)
C.F. MacIntyre (1947)
Charles Baudelaire is
of course the nineteenth-century (1821-1867) poet, critic, and moralist
from France, who anticipated the Symbolist poets in technique and
a good deal of modern poetry in spirit and his poem is a sonnet (the
14 lines rhyming abba, cddc, efe, fgg) in what is the staple form
of traditional French verse (12 syllables, not counting the final
mute syllable of a feminine rhyme, rhymes b, c, f happening to be
Version A is by a French-born
American critic and teacher of literature.
There is no attempt at verse; the translation is line-bound,
however; the units of translating are the word and the phrase. Like the other versions, B, C, E, it appears in a collection presenting
the original texts as well. Version
A is embedded in a commentary on the original.
Version B is by an American. It is in free verse, 14 lines averaging 4 beats;
the translation is line-bound; the units of translation are the phrase
and the clause.
Version C is by an American
lyric poet. It is a sonnet,
14 lines of 12 syllables and 6 beats each, rhyming abba, cddc, efg,
efg. (The English staple line is of course one of
10 syllables, 5 beats, rising rhythm.)
The translation is bound by the ‘stanza’ (the two quatrains
and the two tercets); the units of translation are the phrase and
the line. (The line of the original is not always respected
– consider mingling in line 5, springs in line 9, As
prairies in line 11.) Edna
St. Vincent Millay’s “Introduction” to the collection (section II,
end) clearly warns “the reader – who does not know much French, and
who wishes to brush up on his French by
comparing the original with the translation” that he “will
possibly find himself after the study of a few phrases puzzled if
not definitely embarrassed”.
Version D appears in a
collection composed exclusively of English translations.
It is metrical: a sonnet, 14 lines of 10 syllables and 5 beats
each, in rising rhythm. The
rhyme scheme is abba, cddc, efefgg.
The translation is line-bound ; the units of translation are
the phrase and the clause.
Version E is in free verse,
14 lines averaging 5 beats, the rhymes, which pattern as abba, cdcd,
eef, gfg, are loose. The translation
is bound by the ‘stanza’; the units of translation are the phrase
and the line (with the exception of familiar in line 3).
If we now apply the parameter
of close/distant, versions A, D, B, E, C are, broadly speaking, in
a descending order of closeness. While A is a frankly decoding translation,
versions B, C, and E seem to claim some standing in their own right
– as re-encodings. Version D is again a decoding translation.
The translator’s remarks in the “Foreword” confirm this:
Over the years Baudelaire
has enjoyed the honors of translation by poets who often produced
exquisite lyrics in their own right.
Yet it seems to me, not unwisely I hope, that there is a place
for renderings closer to the original meaning, and, especially, to
the original syntax, vocabulary and versification.
It will be seen that in a way all the four modalities
we set up are exemplified here – the decodings range from very close
(A) to not so close (D) ; the re-encodings range from fairly close
(B) to rather distant (C, E).
O 1-8 have a majestic movement with deep pauses (in 1 after temple,
in 4 after observant), heavy syllables (tonic long vowel or
tonic vowel followed by consonant cluster), rounded vowels in tonic
positions (vowels with what phoneticians call a grave quality).
Lines O 9-14 on the other hand have a lighter movement with
shallow pauses (enumerative pauses in 11, 13).
B 5-8 and 9, 10, 12 succeed in capturing this.
C has a verse line that is (for English) longer than usual;
C 6-7 and 12 capture the effect.
D and E are adequate, but not especially close to the original
in verse movement.
O 1-2 have a peculiar French construction: columns allow words to
escape (compare A 1-2). Versions
B, E handle this by shifting the nouns around: voices or words emerge
from the columns; C introduces seem – “pillars seem … to babble …
words”; D lets the pillars speak words.
The alternative adopted by C is possibly better in that it
maintains the ‘animateness’ of vivants piliers without overshooting
the limit set by laissent sortir (as D does). The pillars are ‘animated’ but not ‘personified’.
is a grammatical problem in O 6 une ténébreuse et profonde unité
with its striking “(for French) placement of two heavy adjectives
before the crucial noun resulting in its suspense-building end-placement. A 6 has it word by word – a shadowy and
profound unity. B 6 has
harmonies darksome and profound with ‘Noun (Adj and Adj)’ which
is striking for English though superficially different from the French
(Adj and Adj) Noun. E 6 proceeds on similar re-encoding lines except
that it retains unite unlike B 6. C 6 is even better – in one profound and cryptic whole unite
deviates from the normal order, namely, ‘Verb in one (Adj and
Adj) N’, but retains unite and its end position.
The reversal of the two adjectives in C 6 (profound before
cryptic) is a concession to the rhythm (see earlier comment
on C 6-7). C 6 In unity, in a deep darksome way is
the weakest rendering as it dissipates the energy through the repetition
of in and the divisive comma after unity.
words in the original present interesting problems – parfums (in O 8 and again in O 9), chairs d’enfants
(O 9) and triomphants (O 11).
In the first case A and E simply use perfumes (which
in English is much narrower in range – bottled liquids – rather than
the French parfums). Version B uses scents (8) where it is
coupled with colors and sounds in general terms, but
switches on to fragrances (9) to indicate one kind of scents
also achieving the consonantal effect (fr …fr …fr).
Version C retains perfumes in both slots (8, 9), but
throws in fragrances as a recapitulative noun later (10).
Oddly enough, D reverses the choice – perfumes in 8
and scents in 9. French
chairs and English flesh (A 9, B 9, D 9, E 9) exemplify
here the sense seen in collocations like I saw him in the flesh,
flesh-coloured stockings. C uses children’s bodies (9) without
losing the sense and the plural number, and also without bringing
in unwanted images (flesh and blood, flesh or fowl). French triumphant, like English triumphant (A 11,
D 11, E 11), can mean either decisively victorious or exulting as
in a decisive victory. Versions
B (overpowering, 11) and C (proud. 11) have pinned down
the first and the second of these senses respectively.
The context (O 11) in the original has room for both of these
senses – including the slightly vicious air associated with exulting
over a fallen enemy.
to the success of a literary recreation is success in recreating images. Lines O 3-4 strikingly contrast the unobservant
man with the observant, beckoning objects surrounding him with an
uncanny reversal of rôles; the phrase regards familiers conveys
intimacy, unabashedness, and usualness.
(Recall the earlier comments on familier and familiar.) The eeriness of the situation is underlined
by the choice of eyes in
B 4, C 4, D 4, E 4 for the less concrete regards (cf. glances
in A $). But C goes further by adding peep and
gleam (C 4) to the eyes and aware to the man (aware
of eyes, 4). This is certainly
not faithful to the text and points to a much bolder interpretation
than the one suggested by the cautious seem at B 4 (compare
the seem of C 1 commented on earlier).
O 13 recalls a series of redolent organic substances – amber, musk,
benzoin, and frankincense (A 13, Hindi ambar, mushk,
lobānjāvī, and lobān; the myrrh
added by B 13 being hīrābol). B drops musk and adds myrrh, while C describes
benzoin and frankincense as burning spice or resin (13), a
partial elaboration. This
last illustrates the device of building the annotation into the replica
text rather than awkwardly consigning it to the footnote.
the five English versions, which illustrate all the four modalities,
one can see their differing goals and successes.
Version A is very modest in its aim and quite willing to serve
the reader who would “brush up on his French”: it is no more than
an extended running annotation in English (it even provides occasional
alternatives in parentheses) to accompany the original French text. At the other extreme versions E and C are frankly poems in English,
differing only in the liberties taken with the formal aspect of the
original. Versions D and B
strike a middle path in their different ways, D less successfully
the five versions reflect the basic predicament haunting the would-be
translator of poetry – to translate or not to translate.
The Sources of the Texts:
Charles (1857): les Fleurs du mal, Paris.
A Peyre, Henri (1964). In : Burnshaw, Stanley (Ed., Introd.), The
Poem Itself, [Collection of French,
German, etc. poems, translations, and comments theron.] New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Also rptd., paperback, Pelican Book, Harmondsworth
Middlesex, England, Penguin.
B Kate, Flores (1958). In:
Flores, Angel (Ed.): An Anthology of French Poetry from Nerval
to Valéry in English Translation, Anchor Books, Garden City, N.Y.,
C Dillon, George (1936). In
: Baudelaire, Charles : Flowers of Evil. Translated by Dillon, George ; Millay, Edna
St. Vincent. Introduced by
Millay, Edna St. Vincent. New York.
D Leclerq, Jacques (1958). In:
Baudelaire, Charles: Flowers of Evil. Translated by Leclerq, Jacques and illustrated
by Hill, Jeff. Mount Vernon,
N.Y., Peter Pauper Press.
E MacIntyre, C.F. (1947). In: Baudelaire, Charles: One Hundred Poems
from les Fleurs du mal. Translated
by MacIntyre, C.F., Berkeley, Los Angeles, University of California
Press (The titles are left untranslated.)
Original Text by Charles Baudelaire (1857)
nature est un temple oú de vivants piliers
parfois sortir de confuses paroles;
y passé á travers des forêts de symbols
l’observent avec des regards familiers.
de longs échos qui de loin se confondent
une ténébreuse et profonde unité,
parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent.
est des parfums frais comme des chairs d’enfants,
comme les hautbois, vertsw comme les prairies,
chantent les transports de l’esprit et des sens
l’expansion des choses infinies
Comme l’ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l’encents,
Qui chantent les transports de l’esprit
et des sens
is a temple where living columns
murmur indirect words (allow confused words to escape);
There man passes through
forests of symbols
watch him with familiar glances.
prolonged echoes that mingle in the distance,
a shadowy and profound unity,
as night and as the light of day,
colors, and sounds respond to (answer to) one another
are perfumes, fresh as the flesh of children,
as oboe music, green as meadows,
-- Others [are] corrupt,
rich, and triumphant,
the expansion of things infinite,
amber, musk, benzoin, and frenkincense,
sing the raptures of spirit and of sense.
is a temple from whose living columns
voices emerge at times;
man wanders through forests of symbols
seem to observe him with familiar eyes
long-drawn echoes afar converging
harmonies darksome and profound
as the night and vast as light,
scents and sounds correspond.
are fragrances fresh as the flesh of children,
as the oboe, green as the prairie,
And other overpowering, rich and corrupt.
the pervasiveness of everlasting things,
Benjamin, frankincense, amber, myrrh,
the raptures of the senses and the spirit sing.
nature is a temple whose living pillars seem
times to babble confused words, half understood,
journey there through an obscure symbolic wood,
of eyes that peep with a familiar gleam.
endless echoes that from somewhere far beyond,
in one profound and cryptic whole unite,
as the twin immensities at night and light,
do all colors, sounds, and perfumes correspond.
there are as fresh as children’s bodies, springs
fragrance sweet as oboes, green and full of peace
prairies. And there are others,
proud, corrupt, intense,
the all-pervasiveness of infinite things,
burning spice or resin, musk or ambergris,
sing the raptures of the spirit and the sense.
Nature’s temple, living pillars rise,
sometimes in words of abstruse sense ;
walks through woods of symbols, dark and dense,
gaze at him with fond familiar eyes.
distant echoes blent in the beyond
unity, in a deep darksome way,
as black night and vast as splendent day,
and sounds and colors correspond.
scents are cool as children’s flesh is cool,
as are oboes, green as meadowlands,
others rich, corrupt, triumphant, full,
as infinity expands:
or musk or amber that incenses,
the ecstasy of soul and senses.
is a temple of living pillars
often words emerge, confused and dim ;
and man goes through this forest, with familiar
of symbols always watching him.
prolonged echoes mingling far away
a unity tenebrous and profound,
as the night and as the limpid day,
sounds, and colors correspond.
are perfumes as cool as children’s flesh,
as oboes, as meadows green and fresh ;
others, triumphant and corrupt and rich.
power to fill the infinite expanses,
amber, incense, musk, and benzoin, which
the transports of the soul and senses.
1. See Prawer, 1973. 74-75 for a historical
discussion and the two quotations.
Prawer in turn refers us to Huyssen 1969: 18, 51, 188. For a more recent restatement of the same dichotomy,
see Raffel (1971: 9), who is also a practicing translator:
like Ahce, his [the literalist’s]
translation is intended to take one through the looking glass back
into the original poem – or as close to the original as may be possible,
given linguistic, cultural, and personal differences. The “free” translator assumes that his job is to take the poem out
through the mirror, bring it from its original environment into the
world of those who read whatever language he is translating into.
For Raffel, “Both parties
believe that” “the translator’s task is to recreate…a pre-existing
poetic experience” – the first emphasizing “the idioms and constructions,
the sounds and the rhythms” of the source language, the latter those
of the target language. But these “differences are not matters of theory”.
It may be argued that having two dichotomies rather than one
permits us to speak more clearly of the things that Goethe, Schleiermacher,
and Raffel are talking about. When Raffel credits both the parties with an
attempt to recreate a pre-existing experience, he is crediting them
with graduating from the naïve schema (1) to the more sophisticated
schemata (2) and (3).
2. The term “imitation” has now been revived
in more or less Dryden’s sense by the American poet Robert Lowell
(in introducing his 1961 collection of Imitations he says,
“I have tried…. to do what my authors might have done if they were
writing their poems now and in America”).
Cf. Raffel 1971: 12-13 fn. Dryden’s middle way satisfies both
historicist and Romanticist scruples.
3. Consider Pannwitz’s telling indictment
of contemporary translators from other languages to German (quoted
by Benjamin 1923 (1973 : 80-81) :
Our translators, even
the best ones, proceed from a wrong premise.
They want to turn Hindi, Greek, English. Our translators have a far greater reverence for the usage of their
own language than for the spirit of the foreign works. ….the translator
... must expand and deepen his language by means of the foreign language. It is not generally realized to what extent
this is possible,…how language differs from language almost the way
dialect differs from dialect ; however, this last is true only if
one takes language seriously enough [and] go back to the primal elements
of language itself and penetrate to the point where work, image and
The Indian penchant for
‘adapting’ or ‘imitating’ Western literary works in Indian languages
rather than ‘translating’ them appears to stem from a parallel “basic
As a contrast consider
the part played by translations and imitations from the classics by
Amyot, Ronsard and others in 16th century French literature
in enriching the French language, enlarging its dictional and metrical
possibilities. (Tate 1972: intervention by Serge Gavronsky,
BENJAMIN,Walter (1923) : “Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers”. [The task of the translator:
An Introduction to the
Translation of Baudelaire’s Tableaux parisiens.] Heidelberg.
[In German.] Rptd.
In his : Schriften, 2 v. Ed., Introd., Adorno, Theodor W., Frankfurt-am-Main : Suhrkampf
Verlag, 1955. E.-tr. in his
: Illuminations. Ed., introd., Aredt, Hannah.
Tr. Zohn, Harry, New York, Harcourt, Brace and World, 1968;
London, Cape. 1970; paperback. Fontana Books, London, Collins, 1973.
DRYDEN, John (1680): Preface to his: Translations
from Ovid’s Epistles.
FORSTER, L. (1958): Translation. In: Smith, A.H. (Ed.) : Aspects of Translation,
London, Secker and Warburg.
GOETHE, J.W. von (1819): Uebersetzungen.
In : Noteri und Abhandlungen zu bessern
Verständnis des west-östlichen
Divans, West-Östlicher Divan, Stuttgart.
HUYSSEN, A. (1969) : Die frühromantische Konzeption
von Übersetzung und
PANNWITZ, Rudolf : Die Krisis der europaïschen
PRAWER, S.S. (1973): Comparative Literary Studies : An Introduction. London,
Duckworth. (Ch. 5: Translation and Adaptation, pp. 74-98.)
RAFFEL, Burton (1971): The Forked Tongue: A Study of the Translation Process. The
RAY, Punya Sloka (1962a) : The formation of
prose, Word 18, pp. 313-325.
Rptd. in his
: Language Standardization.
The Hague. Mouton, 1963, pp. 138 ff.
RAY, Punya Sloka (1962b) : “A Philosophy of
Translation”, Babel 8, pp. 182-188.
SCHLEIERMACHER, Friedrich (1813) : “Über die verchiedenen
Übersetzens”, Rptd. in
: Ströig, Hans Joachin (Fd.) (1969), Das Problem des Übersetzens,
TATE, Allen (1972) : The Translation of Poetry,
Washington, D.C., The
Clarke Whittall Poetry
and Literature Fund for the Library of Congress.
Address (1-11), discussion (12-38), notes (38).
journal des tranducteurs
Canada : Les Presses del ‘Universite’ de Montreal 30: 3 September
1985 pp 211-23.
*This is a revised and much augmented version
of a seminar paper read at the Centre of French Studies, the School
of Languages. Jawaharlal Nehru
University. New Delhi, on
19 March 1977 during the tenure of a UGC National Fellowship.
unrevised version was published without authorization in Journal
of the Indian Scientific Translators Association 6: 3-4 : 1-12,
1977. The revised enlarged version was published
in Meta journal des traducteurs (Montréal, Canada) 30: 3: 211-23,
Sept. 1985 (in English).