Friday, May 30, 2014

"we readily translate everything, and all the time"

I went looking for a maple, to go with the poem below. Thanks to the magic of the data now stored with digital photos, I saw that the one I chose, was taken on October 11, 2001 one month after the day the world changed forever. The tree and its leaves were innocent of all that.

The New Yorker magazine came today (forwarded, so a little later than many folks get it) and I checked out the poems right away and found this short one:


Wind shuttles leaves across a parking lot,
each one a different weight, each weight
absorbed into the rustling like surfers
overwhelmed by waves. Father, my maple,
Mother, honey locust. I am nothing
but what your lives have made me.

Matt Sumpter in The New Yorker, May 26, 2014, page 39.

So I looked up Matt Sumpter and he is an MFA candidate at Ohio State, and two poems of his that are similar to this in substance and tone appear in The Drunken Boat. So he is young; does this help? Maybe just a little. I feel I almost understand this poem and admire the opening metaphor, but . . .? In the magazine, the poem is embedded into a very satisfactory 4-page essay, "Word Magic" on translation by Adam Gopnik. The paragraph I have chosen to share below is on the same page, 39.

"In a fine 2011 study of translation, "Is that a fish in your ear?" David Bellos points out that, despite the endless insistence that the real thing is always lost in translation, we readily translate everything, and all the time. "Think of a great poet, and you've almost certainly thought of a translator, too," he writes. For all the supposed incommensurability 0f languages, we guide poems from one to another every day. Even if one accepts that these are only partial victories, is there another kind? Perhaps the truth is that poetry isn't as exclusively "poetic" as we often like to pretend, just as the "poetic" part of philosophy is bigger than philosophers sometimes want to think. (When we read Hume, the patient humor is inseparable from the moral point, that skepticism has no need to be hysterical.) Poetry contains as much wisdom as it does word magic: Szymborska in English may be nothing like Szymborska in Polish, but we read her for the good counsel as much as for the choices among words."

Do you have any experience in translating? I am pretty much monolingual with vocabularies. What do you think about the utility of translation? Of translation of poetry? Many of the poems I share on this blog have been translated, and my mental life would be much diminished without them.

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