Sunday, October 26, 2008


I've wanted to start blogging for a bit now, never quite mustering the inspiration necessary to do it. But finally, I've figured out that if I want to start I need to just start. So this is the purpose: literary translation. Hopefully not only a catch-all for interesting news and new books, but also to think out loud in a manner of speaking the processes of translation, of publishing, of research and the quest for a graduate program suited to the interests of literary translation.

And why was I not informed that underwater archeology was a career possibility? Really?

So why Beneath Sense? Other than the fact that sometimes I am. My husband asked me what was the process, the path so to speak, of literary translation. The first thing that occurred to me was that, in the translation of poetry in any case, we delve beneath sense - the surface meaning - to excavate the poetry.

Robert Frost famously quipped that poetry is what is lost in translation. I disagree, not with Frost but with how that statement is commonly interpreted. Perhaps he really did believe that poetry could not move between languages. But I'd like to think that he was poet enough to recognize the universal, transcendental qualities of poetry: those that make Dante relevant today, that make Du Fu important, that make Neruda necessary. I understand the statement to be merely that the translation of poetry requires a poet to reintroduce the poetry that is "lost" into the final work. Transliteration requires a good dictionary and a native speaker. But the subtle secondary meanings, insinuation, allusion, hyperbole, rhythm and syllabance--those require a poet to recreate in the target language. I've seen it argued that Frost refers to the 'essence' of poetry here, that which absolutely cannot be translated. Without beginning to consider if poetry has an essence, and if so what that could possibly be, it seems to me that poetry must be translatable, if only because it moves from the page to the voice. Translation of medium requires a mutable essence, one that can be formed and reformed. Perhaps, through translation, even improved as Neruda and Paz believed.

These things I will seek and fall beneath sense.

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