Translation and Revision

I’m so glad I read that essay/chapter on revisions with regards to translations. After my last workshop and since recovering from the mental exhaustion of writing a Japanese haiku, I want to take the English portion up a level (or a few). Currently, its as literal a translation as I could think of, but as we’ve talked about a lot in this class, a translation does not have to be direct or word for word. Sometimes, the better translations are not direct but manage to encompass the ideas of the piece in its first language better anyway. Susan Bernofsky talks about her experience translating “Letter to Edith” by Robert Walser, particularly a line involving the declaration of war. Ultimately, Bernofsky decides that the effect of the phrase in German is more in the sound/reading than the literal meaning. The line rhymes in German emulating a drunken sensation. Bernofsky decides that the idea of war is not what is essential to the translation so much as how it reads. She ultimately decides to remove the declaration of war from her translation to create a smoother, drunker rhyme in English. For Bernofsky, this is a more accurate translation of Walser’s writing as well as a better English piece on its own. She stresses the importance of translations standing on their own. A good translator creates a powerful piece in a new language. More than a summary for people who could not read the other text, the translation should function as its own exciting piece.

Overall, Bernofsky’s views on less direct translations are something I want to keep in mind as I edit my haiku. Maybe the readers want to know exactly what I said in Japanese, but more than that, they want a meaningful poem. Especially since its my own poem, I shouldn’t hesitate to deviate from the Japanese version. Since I wrote it, I’d like to think any version I write should be working towards a certain vision and I just need to find the version that expresses my thoughts best.

Of course, I don’t want to stray too far from the form of the Japanese (after all, this originated as a attempt at an untried form), but I shouldn’t let it limit me so much either.

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