Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Challenges of Translation....

Top of the evening all...

Since finishing seminary too many years ago, I have become more and more reluctant to translate.  The reason is that translation is an art.  Let me give you my favourite example:

It was a dark and stormy night.
I was up late reading a bunch of old books.

That is the translation.  And now for the original:

Once upon a midnight dreary while I pondered weak and weary 
over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.

I deeply apologize to Edgar Allan Poe, the author of "The Raven."  In rendering this translation, I destroyed both the rhyme and the metre.  No reader will read on to find out about the noise, or the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.

The translation never left the original language of the poem, and is only separated from the original by only about 130 years.  Furthermore, we can all point to words that have changed meaning in our lifetimes.  A friend's daughter wanted to give a report about donkeys in the Torah not due to any interest in donkeys.  Rather, she wanted to say the word 'ass' in front of her teachers.  'Ass' is a word that has changed meaning in our lifetimes.

With that rather inglorious introduction, I was in Buffalo this week.  I had scheduled to go to see a friend.  It was snowing and nasty out, and I did not want to drive.  The commanding officer wanted to get everyone out a little early in order to avoid the worst of the weather.  I asked if he might also confine us to quarters.  He declined to do that, but said that I could happily use his name in vain if I did not want to go.  "Translate the Torah into Sailor-talk," he said to me.

I went to see my friend.  The driving was not so bad.  The company, as always, was quite good.  I also wrote a tongue-in-cheek translation of the opening verses of Genesis.

In the beginning of the creation of Heaven and earth, when the earth was on limited availability status, and God's spirit was haze gray and underway (fluttered over the water). And God said (conventional power) "light off"/(nuclear) "start the reactor," and thus was the boiler lit off/the reactor started. And God saw that the boiler was lit/the reactor was started, and that was good to go, and God separated between the lit off boiler/started reactor and the darkness. And God called the light 'underway' and the darkness 'in port;' and it was taps, and it was reveille reveille all hands heave out, Day 1 on the Julian calendar. 

This really was intended to be tongue in cheek.  Thinking about it though, even within this silly translation, there is phrasing that one group within a very defined subculture might have a clearer way to understand than another subculture within the same defined group. 

So much for tongue in cheek.  This silly translation brought up a significant issue.  In and of itself, the translation might have been funny.

I heard recently that explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog.  You understand exactly what is happening on the inside, but the frog is dead.

I might have done that here.

I really like "and it was Taps, and it was Reveille..."

Have a good evening.


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