Monday, September 03, 2007

Literary Translation and Mountain Climbing

In "World World Vast World of Poetic Translation", published in Latin American Research Review, 1977, Jean R. Longland compares the challenge of literary translation to mountain climbing and puzzle-solving. Do translators get the same sense of exhilaration after completing a tough translation that mountain climbers or skydivers get?

Longland writes:

"They say it is impossible to re-create a poem in another language, and perhaps it is. It is also irresistible.
Translators may attempt the impossible because they want to share their enjoyment or because they need versions for teaching or because they like word games – translations is as much fun as Double-Crostics. My own reason is the challenge of the irresistible; I am like the mountain climber who says, “Because it’s there.” And in fact, mountain climbing and poetic translation have some points in common. The translator and the climber may find smooth stretches on their rough paths, and they both struggle upward, but at the goal the similarity disappears, for the climber may succeed absolutely. There are no absolute successes in translation, which John Cairdi calls the art of failure. On the other hand, the translator will never find himself in the anticlimactic position of having climbed Mount Everest. He always has more worlds to attempt to conquer, and his old worlds to improve."

For the full article: