Page 83 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

Basic HTML Version

6 9
P
atterson
— A
rt
o f
t h e
T
ran slator
other. Here the criterion of success or failure is no longer meas-
ured in terms of literalness or lack of ambiguity, but the
transference of literary values from the original into a foreign
medium. And here the translator must face the challenge of
those two most baffling and elusive qualities—the style and spirit
of the original. It is not merely a question of pouring wine from
one cask into another, but of preserving the richness and the
flavor into the bargain.
Two elements conspire to form the difficulties inherent in
literary translation. The first comprises the very nature of indi-
vidual words, while the second lurks in the compounding of
words to create that overall effect called style. Both elements are
clearly, inextricably related, but each is fraught with its own
specific problems. The significant words in any language are
almost impossible to pinpoint, because they frequently comprise
not one single, strictly limited connotation, but rather encompass
an area of meaning. That area may expand, contract or suffer
other changes according to context, association, or some particu-
lar tradition. Not only human beings have their histories. Words,
too, are subject to the vicissitudes of time, in the course of which
they acquire all kinds of subtle nuances and fine additional shades
of sense. In consequence, the values, character, experience and
civilization of any particular people are often reflected in the
words they use. As a result, many words in various languages
which at first sight appear equivalent, may well be found on
closer examination to straddle differing areas of meaning. Thus
it frequently occurs that a single word in one language may re‘-
quire several words or even sentences to translate it into an-
other. There are, indeed, many instances of words which defy any
attempt at satisfactory translation—a theme that will recur. Cer-
tainly the fact that words have
overtones
presents the translator
with one of the most obstinate of problems.
This fluidity of meaning inherent in the very nature of indi-
vidual words finds its counterpart in the equally elusive quality
of words in composition. There is an element of magic in lan-
guage, but the potency of its spell depends upon the skill and
subtlety with which the individual fragments are bound together.
The very sequence of words, the order in which they appear, is
all-important for the power and efficacy of the magic spell. Every
language contains its own natural rhythms and its own specific
charms; every language speaks in its own particular music. In-
deed, the secret of great literature, and especially of great poetry,
lies in the tapping of those hidden springs and in the harnessing
of their natural powers. The greatest writers, in fact, are those
who succeed in weaving words together—and frequently the
simplest of words—so as to invest them with a fresh significance
which inflames the imagination, quickens the mind or strikes a
chord in the emotions. Not individual words, but words in
composition, denote the essence of an author’s style, a quality