Apologia for Translations

By Brendan O'Kane, published

A while back, I came across a poem Vladimir Nabokov wrote, in Onegin stanzas, justifying his decision to render Eugene Onegin in blank verse. I don't necessarily agree with him that all translations must of necessity be inferior to the original works -- more on this, perhaps, in a future post on David Hawkes and John Minford's masterful translation of 红楼梦 -- but the poem does nicely state the dilemma faced by any translator:

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 blent:
Dove-droppings on your monument.


# 1.   

From Giles' "Gems of Chinese Literature". (I searched a line at a time in Google Books eg. http://books.google.com/books?q="And+twisted+to+the+uses+of+a+book"+giles&btnG=Search+Books )

Dear Land of Flowers, forgive me! - that I took These snatches from thy glittering wealth of song, And twisted to the uses of a book Strains that to alien harps can ne'er belong.

Thy gems shine purer in their native bed Concealed, beyond the pry of vulgar eyes; Until, through labyrinths of language led, The patient student grasps the glowing prize.

Yet many, in their race toward other goals, May joy to feel, albeit at second-hand, Some far faint heart-throb of poetic souls Whose breath makes incense in the Flowery Land.

Well remembered!

Stephen O, February 12, 2008, 10:21a.m.

# 2.   

D'oh! Should've thought of that. Thanks, Stephen!

Brendan, February 12, 2008, 12:10p.m.

# 3.   

Ha! I love "dove-droppings on your monument".

Nice to see you back on the beat, Brendan.

Froog, February 13, 2008, 1:54a.m.

# 4.   

wonderful 'Apologia for Translations' ... I wonder if anyone has rendered it into Chinese?

I finished this translation of William Stafford's 'Ritual to Read to Each Other' today. All thanks 'Apologia' for the good tiding, i surmise...

唱对台戏 The Ritual to Read to each other



如同马戏班里的象群一个接着另一个沉重的脚步而行单枪匹马在戏班中很难找到戏路我以为这有點惨不忍睹,亦或是所有悲剧的根源:/ 只知台词而对戲路不聞不问。

于是乎,我向天籁之音祈祷探求所有生灵的话外语虽然我们习惯于装腔作势诚叩在戏班外的人生舞台,你我无需暗中 假戏真作?/ 因为 明白的人 始终 应该做 明白的事否侧一言以毙之,只剩混世魔王之徒。所有以信为真的人 是与非 或是或非 务必 言从心镜:/ 世道的黑暗 何其甚乎

susan, June 9, 2016, 10:23p.m.

# 5.   

Comparative translations of Emily Dickinson's 'Dreams are well, waking's better...'

Two existing Chinese translations make no sense to me, so I had to come up with my own rendition. I hope I'm on the right track

... stay tuned!

susan, June 9, 2016, 10:47p.m.

# 6.   

had to copy over this translation:





Ut Melius

Ma Tsu-Jan

In youth I went to study Tao

at its living fountain-head,

And then lay tipsy half the day

upon a gilded bed.

“What oaf is this,” the Master cried,

“content with human lot?”

And bade me to the world get back

   and call myself a Sot.

But wherefore seek immortal life

   by means of wondrous pills?

Noise is not in the market-place,

   nor quiet on the hills.

The secret of perpetual youth

   is already known to me:

Accept with philosophic calm

   whatever fate may be.

(H. A. Giles

susan, June 10, 2016, 12:51p.m.

# 7.   

I'm not sure this is the right forum, but since it's Friday night and I'm too tired to care I too tried my hand at Dickinson in Chinese. Unfortunately, it turned out like this:



Anna GC, June 10, 2016, 10:44p.m.

# 8.   

Yeah, and the line breaks disappeared when I posted it, of course.

Anna GC, June 10, 2016, 10:49p.m.

# 9.   

Fixed :)

Eric Abrahamsen, June 11, 2016, 12:25p.m.

# 10.   


Anna GC, June 11, 2016, 2:05p.m.

# 11.   

Anna GC, I do like your rendering... very poetic!

My version tested more on Emily's metaphysical overtone... her reputed stinginess on selecting each word to fit all of the rest...is hard to surpass but never hurt to try a fresh understanding...

梦想,多好苏醒更好。/ 一如清晨的醒悟。/ 要是半夜醒来 - 何不再添/ 梦想 - 黎明的到来

更甜的,是不知情的知更鸟/ 从不为栖息的树吟歌取乐,/ 更不会因破晓 - 反唇相讥/ 至始至终。

susan, June 11, 2016, 4:21p.m.

# 12.   

Translating Derek Walcott Winding Up

susan, August 9, 2016, 5:32p.m.

# 13.   

晨悟醒好梦更好,夜悟不如梦晨阳。 多问雀之无欢树,甜于屹立无昼光。

Philomèle, August 10, 2016, 7:59a.m.

# 14.   

English Classic meets Chinese Classic

Philomèle, well done!

晨悟醒好梦更好,夜悟不如梦晨阳。 多问雀之无欢树,甜于屹立无昼光。

susan, August 10, 2016, 9:29p.m.

# 15.   

reminds me of childhood days, when one has to provide detailed steps in mathematical theorem proof...多问雀之无欢树,甜于屹立无昼光 -

hmm... 知更鸟 无欢树 which is more deserving as the Soprano or Tenor to reach the highest note in this new rendition?

susan, August 10, 2016, 9:45p.m.

# 16.   

I may have unintentionally dropped a bomb in Noam Chomsky's circle of generative linguistic classroom. Oops. my bad but this was such a spectacularly counter-argument at well funded MIT/Harvard under-current that gives rise to the current political correctness in general elections. I hope it is still not too late to make amendments in the art of disputability on conflicts in political arena.

Important scholar: Zellig Harris -> Bruce E. Nevin

http://zelligharris.org/05nev.pdf http://zelligharris.org/Minimalist.pdf

Susan, September 4, 2016, 5:57p.m.

# 17.   

林滿足《歲月的階梯》2016/8/26 http://www.haodoo.net/?M=marina&P=62


莫聽穿林打葉聲,何妨吟嘯且徐行。 竹杖芒鞋輕勝馬,誰怕一簑煙雨任平生。 料峭春寒吹酒醒,微冷,山頭斜照卻相迎。 回首向來蕭瑟處,歸去,也無風雨也無晴。


Susan, October 18, 2016, 2:18p.m.

# 18.   



宁稼雨. 风华绝代 (Kindle Locations 897-898). 壹嘉出版. Kindle Edition.

susan, October 3, 2017, 1:42p.m.

# 19.   

feel like being cheated of getting my copy for $7 while iBook only cost $4. hehe... then I am entitled to give away a few more copy of ?

check url for linky

susan, October 4, 2017, 2:15p.m.

# 21.   

failing to recall the exact wording of previous translation by Philamere, I came up with this rendition:

Entitled "Emily's erection"

sue, October 10, 2023, 10:51a.m.


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