Thursday, January 28, 2010

OK, What is he saying now?

I am fascinated with translation tonight. I've borrowed from the library two books of poems in translation -- same author, different translators, 10 years apart. There are about a dozen poems in common between the books and the differences between them are remarkable. There are some word choice differences, but there are two key differences between the works:

In one, there seems to have been a conscious choice to simplify, opting for simpler words in most cases, maintaining a shorter line, leaving out images that appear in the other. Not coincidentally, these translators also decided to employ a regular line rhythm, and an English rhyme.

Now, I do occasionally sacrifice a word for an aural effect in my writing, but when I hold up a translation that exhibits an end-rhyme in the target language, I admit I'm suspect of it. I'm not multilingual by any means, but across the Spanish and few bits of German in my head alongside my native American English, I'm not aware of any word pairs that rhyme in all three tongues.

Of further interest, I've been experimenting this year with the paraphrase, taking well-known bits of English literature and restating them in my own language. Translating them, if you will, from their original form into the language I speak, whatever you might call that. Not only a writing exercise, this is also a reminder that there are multiple ways to say everything, that every communication choice we make is a reflection of our own style. And every communication choice is a chance to lay our own style on top of whatever bit of information we transmit.

So thinking back to that author who I've been reading in translation (and no, I'm not going to say who it is for a while - part of a future project), I wonder what style decisions he made in his own words and which translator is truer to it. And which is imposing his own style on someone else's words.

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