Literary Translation – Part II

Published 2nd November 2011
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Literary Translation – Part II

I stumbled upon a collection of quotes about literary translation…some of which really stood out to me so I’m going to share them with you!

‘A great age of literature is perhaps always a great age of translation.’ – Ezra Pound
‘Any translation which intends to perform a transmitting function cannot transmit anything but information – hence, something inessential. This is the hallmark of bad translations.’ – Walter Benjamin
‘Humor[sic] is the first gift to perish in a foreign language.’ – Virginia Woolf (see the blog below written by Estrella called Translating Humour)
‘I do not hesitate to read all good books in translations. What is really best in any book is translatable – any real insight or broad human sentiment.’ – Ralph Waldo Shelley
‘The best thing on translation was said by Cervantes: translation is the other side of the tapestry.’ – Leonardo Sciascia
‘There are few efforts more conducive to humility than that of the translator trying to communicate an incommunicable beauty. Yet unless we do try, something unique and never surpassed will cease to exist except the libraries of a few inquisitive book lovers.’ – Edith Hamilton
‘Woe to the makers of literal translations, who by rendering every word weaken the meaning! It is indeed by doing so that we can say the letter kills and the spirit gives life.’ – Voltaire

…and my favourite so far…

‘Translation is entirely mysterious. Increasingly I have felt that the art of writing is itself translating, or more like translating than it is like anything else. What is the other text, the original? I have no answer. I suppose it is the source, the deep sea where ideas swim, and one catches them in nets of words and swings them shining into the boat… where in this metaphor they die and get canned and eaten in sandwiches.’ – Ursula K. Le Guin

And on a less positive note…!

‘As far as modern writing is concerned, it is rarely rewarding to translate it, although it might be easy. Translation is very much like copying paintings.’ – Boris Pasternak

Do you agree with him?

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