Thursday, 18 November 2010

Lost in translation..

This is fascinating stuff (& a really lovely bit of smut at the beginning - I'm clearly not the only person who appreciates the infelicities, and worse, that computer translation can inflict on us). It reminds me vividly of the occasion when I found a really cheap edition of "War and Peace" in one of those "£1-Classics" series that appeared in the early 'nineties. I very nearly bought it; but a single brief flip-through the pages was enough to make me drop it hastily. The translator had called Pierre "Peter" and Prince Andrei "Prince Andrew".

Peter is a good name; I used to imagine that if I had a son I'd like to call him Peter, in fact. But to reduce Prince Andrei Bolkonsky and Count Pierre Bezukhov, two of my greatest literary crushes, to mere Peter and (eeech!) Prince Andrew; it's horrible, it's shudder-worthy, it's yuk, yuk, yuk!

Mind you, although I agree with a lot of the points in that article (I can't agree with everything because I've never read "Madame Bovary"), I have to say that the best translations of poetry have to be relatively inaccurate. The very correct Princeton University Press translation of George Seferis isn't a patch on Rex Warner's stunning 1950s translation published by the Bodley Head.

Long before I ever went there, I knew Greece, her beauty, her history, her tangled present, through these poems, in Mr Warner's beautiful translations. I initially quoted a chunk of one of them here, from memory, but have just been reading an article (on "How publishing really works") on copyright, and realised with a dull sick feeling that I'd probably broken copyright in so doing. I was under the impression that one was allowed to quote other writers in small excerpts so long as it was attributed (which it was) - but it sounds from what I've just read as though I had this totally wrong. Ouch.

I was trying to pay tribute to a piece of writing I loved, and maybe even steer other poetry lovers and/or Philhellenes towards Mr Warner's great translation of Seferis. Boy, do I feel a fool now. I've taken it off, since I can't think of anything else to do, so now you'll have to go and look it up if you're interested. If you can track that edition down second hand (I'm pretty sure it's OoP), buy it - it's beautiful.

No comments: