Traps and Treasures of Translation: 1

In the world of translation accuracy rates very high, especially in diplomatic contexts. In literary translation we care even more about it. That is, we are fussy about it. But as so many good translators and readers of translations have often pointed out (for example the stream “why do you read translations” on, we revel in approximations because the world is full of them. Douglas Hofstadter discusses this at length in a wonderful book, Godel, Escher, and Bach (1997) when he talks about  Zeno’s paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise. Achilles, it seems, can never catch the tortoise because even if he is nine or ten time faster (I am deliberating blurring the mathematics here), every time Achilles reaches the place that the tortoise has travelled to, the tortoise will have crept forward a fraction more. We translators not only know that we can only approximate the original text we revel in that. Rather than feel that we failed the race, we create a spectacularly win-win achievement worthy of the best global wisdom in the new century.

This includes, in my case, mistranslations. Hence a glimpse of the not formal, but excited, semiophile2010 appears before you in the next couple of pieces.

In my sincere effort to blog about Narsinh Mehta’s poems and encourage a wide readership to appreciate this world-class author from fifteenth century Gujarat, India, I have been posting his poems in sequential order from a single selection, in the original Gujarati, in transliteration into roman letters, and then in my own English translation. After each one, the plan is to offer discussion about the content that hopefully carries value even if the translation needs more rework (because it always will).

Though I’ve actually translated nearly fifty, I’ve posted only two so far, and missed my own deadline for a discussion of the second piece. This orderly system got disrupted by my adventure in translating the 41st poem and sprouted this column about traps and treasures. (Next: “gold or false gold?” in which you will find basic outline of the 41st poem in prose, the term which led me down strange research and analysis paths and . . )

[as a 2010 member of ALTA, I reiterate that I represent no one’s views but mine, and misrepresent only in error].  And in a reversal of my policy so far, I’ll post the poem, transliteration, and translation after all that.

About meenapoetartisan

word lover, meaning maniac, bilingual with metalingual interests, sometimes potter, poet, playwright, writer, mover to music, always a pontificator.
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