Saturday, November 20, 2004

Oh, those EVIL translators

In the course of a discussion in a poetry forum I've been posting at recently, a few people were spouting the tired creed that goes something like "translations of poetry rarely, if ever, capture the "music" of the original; really good translations are almost impossible." To which I replied:

[testy defensive soapbox mode] Honestly, I wonder what the translators of the world (I'm one of them) ever did to deserve the wrath of so many. Do we revile Ravel because he had the audacity to arrange Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" for orchestra? Of course not. Many music lovers prefer Ravel's orchestral version to the original. In fact, I would wager that not only have most people never heard the original version, they don't even realize the piece was written for piano. So much for the "originality" of art.

Why is literary translation so sneered at? Maybe because there have been a lot of mediocre efforts. Maybe also because some "erudite" readers will  disagree with a translator's version, failing to realize that it is but one person's interpretation. No translation is ever more than an interpretation, a performance, if you will. But that doesn't mean that a translation is ipso facto worse than the almighty original. The fact is, great poetry transcends language and in the hands of a skilled translator, a translation can be just as good as the original. Not quite the same, of course. but worse? Hardly, and maybe even (gasp!) better.

So lay off the translators, people, please! You're doing a great disservice to a technique that has brought a lot of poetry to people whom it would be inaccessible to otherwise.  [/testy defensive soapbox mode]


paula said...

Strange, isn't it, how easily they forget that without translation they'd knew one hundredth ( thousandth lof the wonderful poetry there is around the world. Defend translators, please:-)

Aisha said...

Well said, Peter!

Another translator :)