Monday, August 06, 2007

Noble Translation

Some of you may be familiar with the Earl of Roscommon’s poem on translation. Wentworth Dillon (1633-85) was the fourth Earl of Roscommon and he was a poet and translator. Here is his poem:

‘Tis True, Composing is the nobler Part,
But good Translation is no Easie Art,
For the materials have long since been found,
Yet both your Fancy and your Hands are bound,
And by improving what was writ before,
Invention labours less, but Judgement more.

Each poet with a different talent writes,
One praises, one instructions, another bites.
Horace did ne’er aspire to Epick Bays,
Nor lofty Maro stoop to Lyrick Lays.
Examine how your Humour is inclin’d,
And which the Ruling Passion of your Mind;

Then seek a Poet who your ways does bend,
And choose an Author as you choose a Friend;
United by this sympathetick Bond,
Your grow familiar, intimate and fond.
Your Thoughts, your Words, your Stiles, your Souls agree,
Nor longer his Interpreter, but He.

As with many other translation theorists and critics, he thinks writing is the more original and noble art, which implies that translation is reductive. However, the Earl differs from other critics in that he does seem to believe in the need for the translator to have a certain bond with his or her author in order to do the best job possible, which implies that he recognizes and respects the translator’s role in making a successful translation and the limitations the translator faces. Still, both translation and writing are “no Easie” arts and they are both noble.

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