Wednesday, April 12, 2006


"Reading a poem in translation," wrote Bialek, "is like kissing a woman through a veil"; and reading Greek poems, with a mixture of katharevousa and the demotic, is like kissing two women.

Translation is a kind of transubstantiation; one poem becomes another. You can choose your philosophy of translation just as you choose how to live: the free adaptation that sacrifices detail to meaning, the strict crib that sacrifices meaning to exactitude.

The poet moves from life to language, the translator moves from language to life; both, like the immigrant, try to identify the invisible, what's between the lines, the mysterious implications.

Anne Michaels
from, Fugitive Pieces


wandering-woman said...

OOh, I do so love how she writes, just as you said I would. I love "translation as transubstantiation." I do think one of the greatest gifts learning Spanish gave me was the miracle of being able to absorb Garcia Marquez and Delibes and Lorca and Neruda and Gala and countless others - in their own words. When I learn a third, should it come to that, I think I may choose it by literature---my second language was an outstanding literary choice, maybe the Polish poets should be my next adventure...

I have a friend who receives poems through the email of her blog from a young Mexican student, who writes incredibly. I translate and transubstantiate for her as best as I can.), but I always find myself adding translator's notes to try to tell her what she's missed, what nuance I had to sacrifice. And I usually end by just asking to read it to her aloud in Spanish....because so much of poetry is the SOUND, no? the alliteration, the feel of the words, the way they roll off the tongue. Even if you don't speak the language!

Ok now I'm rambling. This post got me thinking, can you tell? Love the saga of Gert's desk, too by the way.

woman wandering said...

Gert does translations of German, French and Dutch poems for me ... and I get the feeling he does it well.

One of my favourite books in translation is Mourid Barghouti's 'I Saw Ramallah' ... he's a poet writing prose, and the translator (Ahdaf Soueif) has retained a beauty that stuns me.

Arabic is a language I would like to learn for literature ...sigh, but the road is long and my mouth is unco-operative. The Arabic speakers in my Nederlands classes used to almost die laughing when I tried some of the more difficult sounds ... they thought surgery was my only hope.

wandering-woman said...

LOL, Well, surgery's always an option. And a small price to pay to read Arab literaure directly?