Russian 265: Literary Translation
February 4, 2004
Having had the bias of looking at the uncle-tone styled Chapter I translations of the poem, French’s tone, which sets up a relationship of clandestine lovers between the poet and the interpelate (3-10), which given its detour from the rest, sounds heretic. He does not stop there. French has turned the mere “formal/informal” relationship between the first and second halves of the poem into that of an ambiguous switch from a dangerous call (9-12) into a paternal uncle. (24-26, the kind glimpsed in 5b) In his comment to French in 8a, Hofstadter laments that he was not able to guess this transition himself.
I believe French was justified on defending his excess of lines in terms that a three-syllabic rhyme was an artistic artifact that can be easily recognized by the reader, whereas the 28 lines did not pursue on any aesthetic value. (Except for the fact that, as French pointed out, that the poem was approximately 30 lines long)
French’s translation is a target-oriented one, but differs from prior translations of Hofstadter in that he settled for a specific approach to the source. In a sense, French’s translation is also a source-oriented one. His method resembles that described by Schleiermacher, which emphasizes the (inevitable) differences among national ethoses. (And at this point the difference so clearly laid out by Sunset and Eco between the two approaches seems to crumble down: what is a translation, as long as it deserves to be called a translation, if not a source-oriented one? Are not the differences between translations, so far explained in terms of the opposition between the two orientations of the translator, merely stemming from different readings of the source text?)
French intended and was successful at delivering an ethos assumedly inherent in a five-centuries old poem (I have no background as to what French literature from renaissance read like, but I will instead take Hofstadter’s comments), but at the same time his fault may lie in that he overdid such stylization. A virtue of any succinct poem also consists of allowing multiple readings, like the joyous one read by Hofstadter in 7b as well as French’s. An even better translation might have been one that had left the tone and mood of the text ambiguous enough as to allow both interpretations to happen.