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.

27 March 2013

The Drunken Consciousness

Arthur Symons (1865-1945), "The Absinthe Drinker," from Songs of the Vine with a Medley for Maltworms, selected and edited by William G. Hutchison (London: A.H. Bullen, 1904), p. 240:
Gently I wave the visible world away.
  Far off, I hear a roar, afar yet near.
  Far off and strange, a voice is in my ear,
And is the voice my own? The words I say
Fall strangely, like a dream, across the day:
  And the dim sunshine is a dream. How clear,
  New as the world to lover's eyes, appear
The men and women passing on their way!

The world is very fair. The hours are all
  Linked in a dance of mere forgetfulness.
    I am at peace with God and man. O glide,
Sands of the hour-glass that I count not, fall
  Serenely: scarce I feel your soft caress,
    Rocked on this dreamy and indifferent tide.

William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Longmans, Green & Co, 1902), p. 378:
The sway of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to earth by the cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober hour. Sobriety diminishes, discriminates, and says no; drunkenness expands, unites, and says yes. It is in fact the great exciter of the Yes function in man. It brings its votary from the chill periphery of things to the radiant core. It makes him for the moment one with truth. Not through mere perversity do men run after it. To the poor and the unlettered it stands in the place of symphony concerts and of literature; and it is part of the deeper mystery and tragedy of life that whiffs and gleams of something that we immediately recognize as excellent should be vouchsafed to so many of us only in the fleeting earlier phases of what in its totality is so degrading a poisoning. The drunken consciousness is one bit of the mystic consciousness, and our total opinion of it must find its place in our opinion of that larger whole.

26 March 2013


With the imminent demise of the Google Reader service, I take it that most people are fleeing to Feedly, and a few others to places like NewsBlur and The Old Reader. For my part, I've decided to install RSSOwl and use it to keep up with the various blogs I read.

On the off chance that any of my few Google Reader subscribers are looking for a replacement, I can tell you that RSSOwl is working nicely on my eight-year-old laptop (which is running Bodhi Linux 2.1.0).

RSSOwl is also available for Windows and Mac OS. It is free, and open source.

Raoul Dufy, "Le Hibou,"
from Guillaume Apollinaire's Le Bestiaire
(Paris: Deplanche, Éditeur d'Art, 1911)

25 March 2013

A Freak of Nature

Erich Fromm, The Revolution of Hope (New York: Lantern Books, 2011), p. 69:
Man is born as a freak of nature, being within nature and yet transcending it. He has to find principles of action and decision making which replace the principles of instincts. He has to have a frame of orientation which permits him to organize a consistent picture of the world as a condition for consistent actions. He has to fight not only against the dangers of dying, starving, and being hurt, but also against another danger which is specifically human: that of becoming insane. In other words, he has to protect himself not only against the danger of losing his life but also against the danger of losing his mind.

22 March 2013

To Forget the Idle or Venomous Chatter

George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft  (London: Archibald Constable, 1912), p. 132:
Not long ago, I awoke one morning and suddenly thought of the Correspondence between Goethe and Schiller; and so impatient did I become to open the book that I got up an hour earlier than usual. A book worth rising for; much better worth than old Burton, who pulled Johnson out of bed. A book which helps one to forget the idle or venomous chatter going on everywhere about us, and bids us cherish hope for a world “which has such people in’t.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe died on this day in 1832.

The Briefwechsel zwischen Schiller und Goethe (published by the Union Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft) is available on Archive.org:
Volume 1
Volume 2

L. Dora Schmitz's translation, Correspondence Between Schiller and Goethe (published by George Bell & Sons), is available on Google Books:
Volume 1
Volume 2

20 March 2013

The Wisdom of the Wise

Ernest Dowson, "Wisdom," from The Poems of Ernest Dowson (London: John Lane, 1909), p. 164:
Love wine and beauty and the spring,
  While wine is red and spring is here,
And through the almond blossoms ring
  The dove-like voices of thy Dear.

Love wine and spring and beauty while
  The wine hath flavour and spring masks
Her treachery in so soft a smile
  That none may think of toil and tasks.

But when spring goes on hurrying feet,
  Look not thy sorrow in the eyes,
And bless thy freedom from thy sweet:
  This is the wisdom of the wise.

19 March 2013

Cretinism and Bad Drains

H. M. Tomlinson (1873-1958), "The Marne," from Waiting for Daylight (London: Cassell, 1922), p. 54:
I can give, as a rule, but a slack attention to military history, and my interest in war itself is, fundamentally, the same as for cretinism and bad drains. I merely wonder why it is, and wish it were not.

18 March 2013

Common Newspaper Style

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from the entry for April 21, 1832 in The Table Talk and Omniana of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, (London: Oxford University Press, 1917), p. 176:
Common phrases are, as it were, so stereotyped now by conventional use, that it is really much easier to write on the ordinary politics of the day in the common newspaper style, than it is to make a good pair of shoes. An apprentice has as much to learn now to be a shoemaker as ever he had; but an ignorant coxcomb, with a competent want of honesty, may very effectively wield a pen in a newspaper office, with infinitely less pains and preparation than were necessary formerly.

15 March 2013

The Mutability of Things

George Moore, Memoirs of My Dead Life (London: Heinemann, 1906), pp. 321-322:
As soon as we reach the age of reflection the thought of death is never long out of our minds. It is a subject on which we are always thinking. We go to bed thinking that another day has gone, that we are another day nearer our graves. Any incident suffices to remind us of death. That very morning I had seen two old blue-bottles huddled together in the corner of a pane, and at once remembered that a term of life is set out for all things — a few months for the blue-bottle, a few years for me. One forgets how one thought twenty years ago, but I am prone to think that even the young meditate very often upon death; it must be so, for all their books contain verses on the mutability of things, and as we advance in years it would seem that we think more and more on this one subject, for what is all modern literature but a reek of regret that we are but bubbles on a stream?

13 March 2013

Palm Trees in Whitechapel

H. M. Tomlinson (1873-1958), "Magazines," from Waiting for Daylight (London: Cassell, 1922), pp. 49-50:
With several exceptions, the mass of English magazines and reviews may be dismissed in a few seconds. The exceptions usually are not out yet, or one has seen them. It used not to be so, and that is what makes me think it is the producers, and not the readers, who require skilled attention. It is startling to turn to the magazines of twenty or thirty years ago, and to compare them with what is thought good enough for us. I was looking through such a magazine recently, and found a poem by Swinburne, a prose-romance by William Morris, and much more work of a quality you would no more expect to find in a current magazine than you would palm trees in Whitechapel.

12 March 2013

Pain Is a Great Angel

A. C. Benson, "Epilogue," At Large (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1908), p. 338:
Pain is a great angel, but we must wrestle with him, until he bless us! and the blessings he can bring us are first a wholesome shame at our old selfish ingratitude in the untroubled days, when we took care and pleasure greedily; and next, if we meet him faithfully, he can make our heart go out to all our brothers and sisters who suffer in this brief and troubled life of ours. For we are here to learn something, if we can but spell it out; and thus it is morbid to indulge regrets and remorse too much over our failures and mistakes; for it is through them that we learn. We must be as brave as we can, and dare to grudge no pang that brings us nearer to the reality of things.
 Alexander Louis Leloir, Lutte de Jacob avec l'ange (1865)

11 March 2013

Indignities of All Kinds

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, tr. Anthony Ludovici (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1910), p. 333:
The type of my disciples. — To such men as concern me in any way I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities of all kinds. I wish them to be acquainted with profound self-contempt, with the martyrdom of self-distrust, with the misery of the defeated: I have no pity for them; because I wish them to have the only thing which to-day proves whether a man has any value or not, namely, the capacity of sticking to his guns.

The original, from Nietzsches Gesammelte Werke, Vol. 19 (München, Musarion Verlag, 1920), p. 289:
Typus meiner Jünger. – Solchen Menschen, welche mich etwas angehn, wünsche ich Leiden, Verlassenheit, Krankheit, Mißhandlung, Entwürdigung – ich wünsche, daß ihnen die tiefe Selbstverachtung, die Marter des Mißtrauens gegen sich, das Elend des Überwundenen nicht unbekannt bleibt: ich habe kein Mitleid mit ihnen, weil ich ihnen das einzige wünsche, was heute beweisen kann, ob einer Werth hat oder nicht – daß er Stand hält.

8 March 2013

That Is Translation

Hilaire Belloc in the second part of his essay "On Translation," from The Bookman, October 1931, pp. 179-185:
Transmute boldly: render the sense by the corresponding sense without troubling over the verbal difficulties in your way. Where such rendering of sense by corresponding sense involves considerable amplification, do not hesitate to amplify for fear of being verbose. For instance, if you come across the French word "constater", which in point of fact you do in nearly all official documents with which you may have to deal, you must always replace it by a full English sentence, even so ample as, "We note without further comment", or "We note for purposes of future reference", or in another connection, "We desire to put on record". In the same way there are whole French phrases which should justly be put into a shorter form in English. Take such a sentence as this: "Il-y-avait dans cet homme je ne sais quoi de suffisance". The right translation of this would not be: "There was in this man I know not what of self-sufficiency"; the right translation is rather, more briefly, "There was a touch of complacency about him". Sometimes, even often, a whole passage must be thus transmuted, a whole paragraph thrown into a new form, if we would justly render the sense of the original; and the general rule should stand that, after having grasped as exactly as possible all that the original stands for, with the proportion between its various parts, the distinction between what is emphasized and what is left on a lower plane, we should say to ourselves, not "How shall I make this foreigner talk English?", but "What would an Englishman have said to express this same?" That is translation. That is the very essence of the art: the resurrection of an alien thing in a native body; not the dressing of it up in native clothes but the giving to it of native flesh and blood.
The first part of the essay can be found here.

6 March 2013

Get Off My Lawn

W. E. Henley, "Heine," in Views and Reviews, Vol. I (London: David Nutt, 1892), pp. 79-80:
We hate to see [the original work] tampered with; we are on thorns as the translator approaches, and we resent his operations as an individual hurt, a personal affront. What business has he to be trampling among our borders and crushing our flowers with his stupid hobnails? Why cannot he carry his zeal for topsy-turvy horticulture elsewhere? He comes and lays a brutal hand on our pet growths, snips off their graces, shapes them anew according to his own ridiculous ideal, paints and varnishes them with a villainous compound of his contrivance, and then bids us admire the effect and thank him for its production! Is any name too hard for such a creature? and could any vengeance be too deadly? If he walked into your garden and amused himself so with your cabbages, you could put him in prison. But into your poets he can stump his way at will, and upon them he can do his pleasure. And he does it. How many men have brutalised the elegance, the grace, the winning urbanity of Horace! By how many coarse and stupid fingers has Catullus been smudged and fumbled and mauled! To turn Faust into English (in the original metres) is a fashionable occupation; there are more perversions of the Commedia than one cares to recall; there is scarce a great or even a good work of the human mind but has been thus bedevilled and deformed.
The fact is, the translator too often forgets the difference between his subject and himself; he is too often a common graveyard mason that would play the sculptor. And it is not nearly enough for him to be a decent craftsman. To give an adequate idea of an artist’s work a man must be himself an artist of equal force and versatility with his original. The typical translator makes clever enough verses, but Heine’s accomplishment is remote from him as Heine’s genius. He perverts his author as rhyme and rhythm will. No charge of verbal inaccuracy need therefore be made, for we do not expect a literal fidelity in our workman. Let him convey the spirit of his original, and that, so far as meaning goes, is enough. But we do expect of him a something that shall recall his author’s form, his author’s personality, his author’s charm of diction and of style.
A related post: Like Dishes of Meat Twice Drest

5 March 2013

Night(soil) Thoughts

Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (New York: Free Press Paperbacks, 1973), p. 31:
Nature's values are bodily values, human values are mental values, and though they take the loftiest flights they are built upon excrement, impossible without it, always brought back to it. As Montaigne puts it, on the highest throne in the world man sits on his arse. Usually the epigram makes people laugh because it seems to reclaim the world from artificial pride and snobbery and to bring things back to egalitarian values. But if we push the observation even further and say men sit not only on their arse, but over a warm and fuming pile of their own excrement — the joke is no longer funny. The tragedy of man's dualism, his ludicrous situation, becomes too real. The anus and its incomprehensible, repulsive product represents not only physical determinism and boundness, but the fate as well of all that is physical: decay and death.
Ibid, pp. 33-34:
Excreting is the curse that threatens madness because it shows man his abject finitude, his physicalness, the likely unreality of his hopes and dreams. But even more immediately, it represents man's utter bafflement at the sheer non-sense of creation: to fashion the sublime miracle of the human face, the mysterium tremendum of radiant feminine beauty, the veritable goddesses that beautiful women are; to bring this all out of nothing, out of the void, and make it shine in noonday; to take such a miracle and put miracles again within it, deep in the mystery of eyes that peer out — the eye that gave even the dry Darwin a chill; to do all this, and to combine it with an anus that shits! It is too much. Nature mocks us, and poets live in torture.

4 March 2013

Holiday Reading

H. M. Tomlinson (1873-1958), "Holiday Reading," from Waiting for Daylight (London: Cassell, 1922), p. 63:
I make the same mistake whenever the chance of a holiday broadens and brightens. A small library, reduced by a process of natural selection, helps to make weighty the bag. But I do not at once close the bag; a doubt keeps it open; I take out the books again and consider them. When the problem of carrying those volumes about faces me, it is a relief to discover how many of them lose their vital importance. Yet a depraved sense of duty, perhaps the residue of what such writers as Marcus Aurelius have done for me, refuses to allow every volume to be jettisoned. It imposes, as a hair shirt, several new and serious books which there has been no time to examine. They are books that require a close focus, a long and steady concentration, a silent immobility hardly distinguishable from sleep. This year for instance I notice Jung’s Analytical Psychology confidently expecting to go for a holiday with me. I feel I ought to take some such stern reminder of mortality, and, in addition, out of a sentimental regard for the past, a few old books, for my faith is not dead that they may put a new light on the wonderful strangeness of these latter days. I take these, too.
A related post: A Travelling Library

1 March 2013

An Incentive to Debauchery

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903), "The Spirit Of Wine," in Songs of the Vine with a Medley for Maltworms, selected and edited by William G. Hutchison (London: A.H. Bullen, 1904), p. 257:
The Spirit of Wine
Sang in my glass, and I listened
With love to his odorous music,
His flushed and magnificent song.

— 'I am health, I am heart, I am life!
For I give for the asking
The fire of my father, the Sun,
And the strength of my mother, the Earth.
Inspiration in essence,
I am wisdom and wit to the wise,
His visible muse to the poet,
The soul of desire to the lover,
The genius of laughter to all.

'Come, lean on me, ye that are weary!
Rise, ye faint-hearted and doubting!
Haste, ye that lag by the way!
I am Pride, the consoler;
Valour and Hope are my henchmen;
I am the Angel of Rest.

'I am life, I am wealth, I am fame:
For I captain an army
Of shining and generous dreams;
And mine, too, all mine, are the keys
Of that secret spiritual shrine,
Where, his work-a-day soul put by,
Shut in with his saint of saints -
With his radiant and conquering self -
Man worships, and talks, and is glad.

'Come, sit with me, ye that are lovely,
Ye that are paid with disdain,
Ye that are chained and would soar!
I am beauty and love;
I am friendship, the comforter;
I am that which forgives and forgets.' —

The Spirit of Wine
Sang in my heart, and I triumphed
In the savour and scent of his music,
His magnetic and mastering song.
Henley's poem is based on Charles Baudelaire's L'Âme du vin, which came into renewed notoriety a few years ago when the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives prevented a French wine merchant from exporting to the country because he had included several lines from the poem on the label of his Château Haut Gay. The American authorities banned the product on the grounds that Baudelaire's verse was "an incentive to debauchery".