28 March 2013

How Little Knows the Translator

Erik Schwimmer, "Causerie On Translation," in the The Spike (The Victoria University College Review), Vol. XLIII, No. 72 (1944), p. 13:
[Translation] is a curious activity, as it seems rather like changing something, a living phenomenon, into the complete nothingness that is one's own being. The French or Latin or Greek is a burning reality, the translation — some piece of that void — our self — and just as trivial. We started with the uncompromising desire to say just what our model had said in his own tongue and ended with a dead fragment of self. 
Or is there perhaps something eternal that stuck in our translation? Has our urge and our ingenuity resulted in something that quite miraculously succeeded in reflecting the beauty perceived? How little knows the translator, when he fights the inassailable brilliance of the original, line after line with his little skill, anxious to let neither the breath nor the lovely vestment be lost. 
If one studies translations of verse one watches the scene of countless adventures searching to catch and preserve something of the eternal which is their model. They use all the postures which adventurers use in real life. Some are only Pharisees, some are like Pilate, but others are like Icarus. A few even like Perseus bring the head of their Medusa safely home.