Blog

Translating Style

There are many ways to approach rendering text in a different language. From my perspective, there are three basic approaches: mechanical (computer), translation, and interpretive. 

The first is now most often done by running the text through a computer program. The results of such mechanical translations have improved significantly since I first used one in the late ’60s. In many cases, a mechanical rendering is good enough to get the author’s intent across. That is particularly true for factual text such as technical writing.

The second approach to rendering text, translation, is most often done by humans, sometimes with assistance from mechanical translation programs. This style of rendering tends to be fairly close to the original text in terms of the words used. Sometimes when rendering poetry there is a similarity of rhythm and rhyme. However, often there is a better correspondence between the author’s intent and that expressed by the translator since a good translator will attempt to use words that express the translator’s understanding of the author’s intent. That is, there is some interpretive work done.

The third approach in rendering text, interpretive, provides a result that is furthest from the original text as rendered by mechanical translation. Here the translator attempts to understand the author’s intent and to render that understanding in original form. Here the translator’s intuition comes strongly into play and two translators working in this approach will often result in very different translations. On the other hand, if the interpreters/translators have a good grasp of the original author’s style and usage as well as a sense of poetry, a truly poetic and in a certain sense original piece will result.

My approach is generally speaking the latter, that is, interpretive. I do not judge the work of others, especially if I have not discussed a rendition with the translator. In my opinion, it comes down to a matter of taste on the part of the reader.

The renderings below are examples of a poem by Alejandra Pizarnik, original text in Spanish:

The cage

Outside there is sun.
It’s just a sun
but men look at it
and then they sing.

I do not know about the sun.
I know the melody of the angel
and the hot sermon
of the last wind.
I can scream until dawn
When death comes to rest naked
in my shadow

I cry under my name.
I wave handkerchiefs at night
and ships thirsty for reality
dance with me
I hide nails
to mock my sick dreams.

Outside there is sun.
I dress in ashes.

Google Translate

Outside there’s sun.
It’s nothing more than a sun
but the men watch it
and then they sing.

I don’t know about the sun.
I know about the angel’s melody
and the hot sermon
of the last wind
I cry until dawn
when death settles naked
in my shadow.

I cry beneath my name.
I wave handkerchiefs at night
and thirsty boats
dance with me.
I hide nails
to mock my sick dreams.

Outside there’s sun.
I was dressed in ashes.

Translation:Jason Stumpf

The cage

Outside sun,
nothing more than a sun,
but, men look
then sing.

I know nothing of the sun,
only an angel’s melody
and the fiery exhortation
of the final breath.
I shout ’til dawn
when death settles, nude,
in my shadow

I weep beneath my name
I toss kerchiefs at the night
as ships thirsting for reality
dance with me.
I conceal nails
to mock my suffering dreams.

Outside sun,
I, ashen.

Translation:Original Bob
20 February 2018

La jaula

Afuera hay sol.
No es más que un sol
pero los hombres lo miran
y después cantan.

Yo no sé del sol.
Yo sé la melodía del ángel
y el sermón caliente
del último viento.
Sé gritar hasta el alba
cuando la muerte se posa desnuda
en mi sombra.

Yo lloro debajo de mi nombre.
Yo agito pañuelos en la noche
y barcos sedientos de realidad
bailan conmigo.
Yo oculto clavos
para escarnecer a mis sueños enfermos.

Afuera hay sol.
Yo me visto de cenizas.