Thursday, March 29, 2018


A Supreme Difficulty

T.G. Tucker (1859-1946), Sappho (Melbourne: Thomas C. Lothian, 1914), pp. 74-76:
And here we are confronted with a supreme difficulty. While mere fact is readily translatable, and thought is approximately translatable, the literary quality, which is warm with the pressure and pulsation of a writer's mood and rhythmic with his emotional state, is hopelessly untranslatable. It can be suggested, but it cannot be reproduced. The translation is too often like the bare, cold photograph of a scene of which the emotional effect is largely due to colour and atmosphere. The simpler and more direct the words of the original, the more impossible is translation. In the original the words, though simple and direct, are poetical, beautiful in quality and association. They contain in their own nature hints of pathos, sparks of fire, which any so-called synonym would lack. They are musical in themselves and musical in their combinations. They flow: easily, sweetly, touchingly through the ear into the heart. The translator may seek high and low in his own language for words and combinations of the same timbre, the same ethical or emotional influence, the same gracious and touching music. He will generally seek in vain. In his own language there may exist words approximately answering in meaning, but, even if they are fairly simple and direct, they are often commonplace, sullied with "ignoble use," harsh in sound, without distinction or charm. He may require a whole phrase to convey the same tone and effect; he becomes diffuse, where terseness is a special virtue of his original.

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