The problems of translation

Discussion in 'Language Notes' started by abu Hasan, Jun 28, 2006.

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  1. abu Hasan

    abu Hasan Administrator

    i believe that translations should be close to the meaning as much as possible; the attention towards form is only secondary and must not pose a hindrance for our primary objective of conveying the meaning.

    when we translate someone’s work, we are their agents, the intermediaries. hence we must avoid replacing the original ideas with our own. an envoy is sent to convey the message; if he embellishes it in such a way that the original message is lost or distorted, the envoy is an incompetent one – it doesn’t matter if he is articulate or eloquent.

    a translator is faced with a daunting task – particularly when translating poetry and especially between different language families. it is far easy to translate verse and rhyme from latin to english – than from arabic/persian to english.

    for example take the translations of virgil’s aeneid.
    virgil’s aeneid in latin:

    dryden’s translation in english:

    williams’ translation in english:
    where williams tries to convey the meaning and hence is closer to the original, dryden stylizes the translation. in my view, it is a separate creative work by dryden BASED on virgil’s aeneid. that is the ideas of virgil are presented in dryden’s tongue.

    or take the celebrated song of the reed from farsi:

    i suppose the closest to the original is nicholson’s unrhymed translation.

    as always, this question must be asked prior to everything else – why do we need the translation in the first place?

    if it is just for entertainment, like making a piece of art (poetry in our case) accessible to a wider audience, the translator has a lot of freedom. i mean nobody will bat an eyelid if homer or virgil are ‘modified.’ but it makes a great difference when religious matters are translated – poetic licence is not just curtailed, it is revoked.

    alaHazrat’s poetry – inspite of being artistic – is essentially religious. and one ought to be careful in what is being attributed to the imam. if a translator is gifted and a talented poet himself, he can match the rhyme which enhances the beauty – but never should he sacrifice the meaning for mere form. this is true even for someone who creates an original; shaykh sa’adi is said to have sacrificed the meter rather than the meaning in certain places – inspite of his being a master of both art (poetry) and science (language).

    alaHazrat, the gifted artist comments on the issue thus:
    jo kahey sheyr o paas e shar’a donoN ka Husn kyuNkar aay
    laa usey pesh e jalwah e zamzamah e razaa ke yuN

    if one asks, how it is possible to have beautiful verse, and be strictly within bounds of shariah –
    bring him to bask in the brilliant and glorious verse of Raza and tell him: ‘it is, in this manner.’

    certainly, a man with talents like alaHazrat can say that; yet the gnostic in alaHazrat and the scholar says:
    sana e sarkar hai wazifah qubul e sarkar hai tamanna
    na shayari ki hawas na parwah, rawi thi kya kayse qafiye the

    praising the master is my pray’r; his acceptance is what i aspire-
    i hanker not for poesy, nor care; nor rhyme or meter am i aware.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2008
    Aqdas likes this.
  2. :s1:

    Those of you who have tried your hand at translating from one language to another will have found that the translator is faced with a lot of problems and these problems are magnified when one is translating poetry. Issues such as whether to do a literal, word by word, translation or to only translate the meaning of the poem; whether to keep the same meter and scansion structure of the original or not; whether to make the translation rhyme or not etc. All these are difficult choices and no translation can ever be perfect.

    That is why someone said that all translators are, in effect, traitors!
    But a good translation can bring new levels of meaning to the original too.

    That is why the translator must have a fluent command of both the language of the original and, especially, the language of translation and be familiar with poetry and poesy and the idioms of both languages.

    The various online and published translations of Urdu (and Farsi) masterpieces bear testimony to the difficulty of the task.

    Perhaps we can illustrate this with examples from the poetry of Ala Hadrat :ra:

    To take a difficult couplet:

    jinaaN mein chaman, chaman mein saman, saman mein phaban, phaban mein dulHan/Sazaa-ye-muhaN pe aisay minan, yeh amn o amaaN tumhaare liye


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