Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Tagore on Translation

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), letter to Joan Mascaró (December 22, 1938), in Correspondència de Joan Mascaró (1930-1986), ed. Gregori Mir, Vol. II (Mallorca: Editorial Moll, 1998), pp. 318-319:
I have too often seen Upanishads rendered into English by scholars who are philologists and who miss the delight of the immediate realisation of truth expresssed in the original texts. On the other hand, in our own country there appeared in the later sophisticated age interpreters who in their scholarly insensibility had no compunction in torturing the utterances of our ancient poet-prophets into a conformity to the metaphysical models of their own logic. They robbed the living words of their voice, the luminous visions of their light. Our rishis' minds were simple, childlike in the sublimity of their wisdom, but those who trapped their thoughts into a cage and clipped from them all natural self-contradictions that bore testimony to their living worth, were grown old,— the delicacy of their spiritual touch hardened into traditional callosities.

And these are the reasons why I feel grateful to you for your translation which fortunately is not strictly literal and therefore nearer to truth, and which is done in a right spirit and in a sensitive language that has caught from those great words the inner voice that goes beyond the boundaries of words.

What greatly pleases me in your book is the way that you have dealt with those parts of the text which are non-rational and dreamlike, the babbling of an infant prodigy, mingled with the most amazing heights of spiritual intuition ever reached by human mind. They give the appearance of an upheaval of the original geology of the earth through which has emerged a great group of islands from the depth of a primitive sea. What you have omitted to translate also shows your discrimination, for there are large tracts of writings, specially in great Upanishads like Chandogya which are symbolical and which would yield their mystic meaning only when read in context with the contemporary life and usages. But as that is not possible today they should be left aside with a sigh.
"Your book" is Himalayas of the Soul: Translations from the Sanskrit of the Principal Upanishads (London: John Murray, 1938).

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

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