discrepancies of translation

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When I selected this particular poem, Asher Reich‘s “The History of My Heart”, I had only read the translation by Tsipi Keller but when doing a bit of background research found another translation by Vivian Eden. As always, I was struck by how different the meaning can be depending on the interpretation of the translator. I have included both translations here (but cannot find the original Hebrew, and I would not be able to read the original anyway, so I don’t know which translation best reflects the closest literal meaning versus which best reflects intent/figurative meaning).

A good example here of what I mean is that in the Keller translation, it’s a line is translated: “dark ages of humiliating defeats” while the Eden translation cites “dark ages of shameful defeats”. Personally I feel that there is a vast difference between the meaning and nuance of these two word choices: humiliating versus shameful. Shame seems so much stronger, imbued with a much deeper sense of self-blame and guilt, while humiliating does not make me feel the same sense of ongoing ‘defeat’, i.e. humiliation will embarrass you in the moment but shame will stick with you and even alter the course of your actions, possibly even your life? What do you think? I prefer Keller’s version (shown below first), but I like both.

The History of My Heart
-Asher Reich
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A second opinion:

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Photo by gn dim on Unsplash

robotic clasp

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This Evening
Shin Shifra
If things were tailored
tonight to fit my size
I’d put on a frock
of crimson
weaved of raw lust
like the scent of unruly chrysanthemum
harboring a promise
of rain.
Whomever I meet this evening
on my way
will be small for my size
and when I return I’ll be an old hag
and lust will turn
to longing

Every day the sun like a groom
toward me
and until night
I waited for you clad in white —
who is it tottering up the stairs
the voice of my love
your arms closed on me
in a robotic clasp

Complete

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With love, for J

As Agreed
Natan Zach

Look, as we promised each other,
we changed nothing and the world
is as wonderful as it was, the rain
tarries this year, but it will come:
it will come as long as we’re still here.

Look, as we agreed,
I am in one place, you in another.
We didn’t become one, which is also natural,
and in your weakness and in mine
there looms a promise, too:
after memory forgetfulness is all.

And if the road already may incline downward
in the famed sloping print of life’s curve,
it does, in some sense, aspire upward,
and aspiration is a great thing in life,
on this, too, we agreed, you surely remember.

And if now I’m alone and aching and ailing more than ever,
this, too, was a choice,
if not always conscious. And if you too are alone,
it makes my loneliness less just
and this should sustain you as well.

How fortunate that we’ve agreed on so little:
on parting, on loneliness and fear, the basic certainties,
and there’s always something to return to,
you will see how young we will be in the end,
and the end, when it comes, will be almost just.
And everything, you will see, will be almost welcome.

intolerable

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Another example of a poem that could be translated so very differently.

The Shapelessness
Ágnes Nemes Nagy
The shapelessness, the endlessness.
I almost fall before I cut away
My statement from the timelessness.
With sand I wall a bucketful of sea
Against a waste of nothingness.
Perpetual indifference should be
Intolerable to consciousness.

Original

A formátlan, a véghetetlen.
Belepusztulok, míg mondatomat
a végtelenből elrekesztem._
Homokkal egy vödörnyi óceánt
kerítek el a semmi ellen.
Ez a viszonylagos öröklét
ép ésszel elviselhetetlen.

Losing a language

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I have sometimes considered the people who move to other countries and go so “native” that they begin to lose touch with the intricacies of their own native language, often without really becoming native in the adopted language. What is this linguistic limbo, then? I have, sometimes to my detriment, clung fiercely to the native language. Sometimes it is not about locating oneself or one’s identity in another language, place or culture but, like this poem highlights, asserting an identity (almost generationally) – one’s own way of saying things, even though perfectly adequate words and expressions exist for the concepts one wants to express. (Sure, this is not always the case, as when we discuss things like Tinder, Siri, Amazon, Google… linguistic shortcuts that eventually represent a whole category of activities or things.)

Losing a Language
WS Merwin
A breath leaves the sentences and does not come back
yet the old still remember something that they could say

but they know now that such things are no longer believed
and the young have fewer words

many of the things the words were about
no longer exist

the noun for standing in mist by a haunted tree
the verb for I

the children will not repeat
the phrases their parents speak

somebody has persuaded them
that it is better to say everything differently

so that they can be admired somewhere
farther and farther away

where nothing that is here is known
we have little to say to each other

we are wrong and dark
in the eyes of the new owners

the radio is incomprehensible
the day is glass

when there is a voice at the door it is foreign
everywhere instead of a name there is a lie

nobody has seen it happening
nobody remembers

this is what the words were made
to prophesy

here are the extinct feathers
here is the rain we saw

carissima

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Time Passing, Beloved
Donald Davie 
Time passing, and the memories of love
Coming back to me, carissima, no more mockingly
Than ever before; time passing, unslackening,
Unhastening, steadily; and no more
Bitterly, beloved, the memories of love
Coming into the shore.

How will it end? Time passing and our passages of love
As ever, beloved, blind
As ever before; time binding, unbinding
About us; and yet to remember
Never less chastening, nor the flame of love
Less like an amber.

What will become of us? Time
Passing, beloved, and we in a sealed
Assurance unassailed
By memory. How can it end,
This siege of a shore that no misgivings have steeled,
No doubts defend?