“Reading a poem in translation,” wrote Bialek, “is like kissing a woman through a veil”. Translation is a kind of transubstantiation; one poem becomes another. You 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, Fugitive Pieces
I read the novel Fugitive Pieces this weekend and it was full of such lovely, lovely words. it was an enook borrowed from the library, but I need to buy my own paper copy. So many beautifully written passages there.
In the passage above, the author speaks of something I often think about: what’s lost (and sometimes found) in translation.
Many of my favorite poems and novels weren’t originally written in English. It’s interesting to read different translations by different translators. Sometimes the outcome can vary so much.
Today on NPR there was a story about a new book of Pablo Neruda’s “lost” poems. Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda is presented with the Spanish text, full-color reproductions of handwritten poems, and dynamic English translations.
Crossing the sky I near
the red ray of your hair.
Of earth and wheat I am and as I close-in
your fire kindles itself
inside me and the rocks
and flour ignite.
That’s why my heart
expands and rises
into bread for your mouth to devour,
and my blood is wine poured for you.
You and I are the land with its fruit.
Bread, fire, blood and wine
make up the earthly love that sears.