Friday, January 18, 2008

Quibbles in translation

Today I came across an interesting little piece by Peter Dale Scott in the Words Without Borders forum. Scott, who, along with Czesław Miłosz, translated Zbigniew Herbert's "Pebble". Scott discusses the elegant simplicity of the poem--its suitability for translation--but also how two translators--both good poets in their own right--can vehemently disagree on an aspect of a given translation. Scott writes:

"Straightforward though the poem may be, it was one of the very few Herbert poems which, precisely because of its tight austerity, gave rise to two irresoluble disagreements between Miłosz and myself as to how to translate it. I failed forty years ago to persuade Miłosz to accept these two changes. At the time I was filled with awe and gratitude for the exciting and educational experience of translating with him, so I deferred. Nevertheless my two suggested alternatives have since continued to haunt me. How important these nuanced differences are, the reader can judge."

Scott provides both his version and that of Miłosz with accompanying explanations of what choices each translator made and why. Still, Scott does not capitulate to the great Polish writer, declaring: "To this day my admiration of Miłosz is one which still generates in me the desire to dispute with him. As to which is the better version of “Pebble,” I will let the reader decide." So, reader, decide. I encourage you to leave a comment stating which version you prefer and why.

In other translation news, The Center for the Art of Translation announces its Spring 2008 reading series. The Center has reeled in some big names, including Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong'o and poet W.S. Merwin.