Re: Interpreting dead people's creative works (was: Riddles ...)

Date: Fri Jan 05 2001 - 11:28:21 MST said:
> Poetry can be alot more complicated to translate and interpret. It
> seems to me that it is tied much deeper to the language and to the
> culture and other social contexts than music. Form, rhythm, rhyme, and
> embedded meanings within meanings would need to be translated.

This is why Hofstadter's book of translations is so interesting. (I should
admit that I haven't read the book. My understanding is based on a talk he
gave at PARC at which he displayed several of his own translations into
English as well as his own and other people's translations into a variety
of other languages.) Hofstadter's constant struggle as he wrote many very
different translations of the poem was to capture the tone, style, rhythm,
and meaning of the original. For a long time, he said, he stuck to the
original syllable counts, since it was a particular french style with short
(4-syllable?) lines. One thing he tried was changing that restriction,
since English seemed to need more syllables to say the same things as
French. He also varied vocabulary, strictness of rhyme, how closely he
stuck to the original metaphors, and quite a bit more. His translations
explored many dimensions of what it might mean to capture the intent of the
original. If anyone is qualified to consider what it would mean to
translate a poem, I think it would have to be Hofstadter.

And thanks for the poetry selections to start out a cold winter Friday.

Another good example of translated poetry is in the work of Stanislaw Lem,
translated from Polish to English. The Cyberiad has two robots engaging in
a poetry duel. One is challenged to write "a poem about a haircut! But
lofty, nobel, tragic, timeless, full of love, treachery, retribution, quiet
heroism in the face of certain doom! Six lines, cleverly rhymed, and every
word beginning with the letter "s"!" Of course he succeeds and it's quite
a good poem, but when you've read it and thought about it, you end up
wondering about the translation and the original text. The Translator may
have had good material to work with but he still did a brilliant job of
communicating the sense of it.


             C. J. Cherryh, "Invader", on why we visit very old buildings:
                         "A sense of age, of profound truths.  Respect for 
Chris Hibbert        something hands made, that's stood through storms and   wars and time.  It persuades us that things we do may
                                                         last and matter."

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