29 March 2009


In the studies I intend to do, one topic is Translation Studies: the theory and practice of translation through the ages. For me, the interest is partly in how much strangeness remains in the translation, even at the expense of difficulty. The simple example I quote is of a book translated from Spanish. One character said to another: my car is a hundred yards down the road. Obviously, in the original it would have been 100 metres. Why substitute yards for metres? The story is very clearly set in Spain - Madrid, as I recall - so you surely ought to expect some foreign references. Then, there was the example of Ian Gibson's biography of Lorca. None of the plays was ever referred to by its Spanish name and even street names were anglicised - so Calle Iglesia would be referred to as Church Street. This seems much worse. Surely no-one would be reading a biography of Lorca who couldn't handle a few foreign words and names?

All this by way of introduction to the first part of this canto, which is apparently a translation of a canzone by Cavalcanti. I say translation: there may need to be a new word for what this is:
A lady asks me
I speak in season
She seeks reason for an affect, wild often
That is so proud he hath Love for a name
Wherefore I speak to the present knowers
Having no hope that low-hearted
Can bring sight to such reason
Be there not natural demonstration
I have no will to try proof-bringing
Or say where it hath birth
What is its virtu and power
Its being and every moving
Or delight whereby 'tis called "to love"
Or if man can show it to sight.
I haven't been able to find the original online, so can't concern myself with the semantic accuracy of this 'translation'. I would hope the original was more transparent in its meaning. It took several readings of this passage, and the following two pages to realise that the Lady has asked the poet to explain and describe Love. This first stanza outlines the scope of the task.

Fine, but then thinking about a wider sense of translation: does this version capture the language of the original - I mean the melody and rhythm? Clearly, I can't say, but I doubt it. The use of the word "demonstration" stands out as distinctly modern, while the "haths" and "'tis's" talk about old English, which doesn't suggest Provencal. The word "virtu" is perhaps untranslated; it's one of the words that are often described as untranslateable, which begs another question.

The second stanza starts like this:
Where memory liveth,
it takes its state
Formed like a diafan from light on shade
Which shadow cometh of Mars and remaineth
Created, having a name sensate,
Custom of the soul,
will from the heart;
So, there's a similarity in the rhythm of the first two lines, but the rhymes are differently placed (season/reason/reason v state/sensate). One aspect of translation is capturing the form, particularly of verse. There's an attempt to do that, I think, but incomplete. (The typography of this blog doesn't entirely match that of the printed page, which also suggests some formal emulation of the original.)

Three more stanzas and an envoi in this style follow, and we get very close to biblical language. Love is personalised as he/him and:
He himself moveth not, drawing all to his stillness,
Neither turneth about to seek his delight
Nor yet to seek out proving
Be it so great or so small.
This is similar to the passage so often quoted in weddings from 1 Corinthians:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
The envoi is:
Go, song, surely thou mayest
Whither it please thee
For so art thou ornate that thy reasons
Shall be praised from thy understanders,
With others hast thou no will to make company.
We can contrast the archaisms "art" and "hast" with the made-up obscurity of "understanders". Actually, "understanders" is perfectly understandable, but looks (like "virtu") like a flag that a word in the original has no direct english equivalent. Well durr, we knew that.

The Canto ends with a passage I don't understand, which appears to be about the reception of poets and thinkers by society.

Apart from that, I enjoyed this Canto. I think I read that it is sometimes seen as a heaven canto, comparing with the hell earlier. Maybe, and there could be a reference to the Dante conception of the love that moves the sun and the other stars.

In terms of translation theory, it's inconclusive. I don't think it works on any coherent model, but like so much of the Cantos it doesn't really matter that it's not the finished article.


Brian said...

I've found not the original but a translation, here The translation is uncredited, unsurprisingly. Here's an example (the second stanza):

"In memory’s locus taketh he his state
Formed there in manner as a mist of light
Upon a dusk that is come from Mars and stays.
Love is created, hath a sensate name,
His modus takes from soul, from heart his will;"

Interesting that the word "sensate" turns up, suggesting either that Ez was using this translation or that the original is "sensata" or something, and both translators took the easy option.

But what a difference between the two translations!

Brian said...

And another one, which is abbreviated but really good. It really communicates the sense of engagement with current scientific thinking, and is modern in its language, which must be appropriate. It confirms the similarity I had thought I saw between this poet and the English metaphysicals.

Brian said...

And finally, I hope, this discussion of the canzone etc, which makes it clear that the alternative translation is by Pound himself. Also includes a fair sized bit of the original, which turns out to be in Italian. doh. A lot of interesting background discussion too, badly written though, and possibly the last ever use of the spelling "shewn".