Page 89 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

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P
atterson
— A
rt
o f
t h e
T
ran slator
75
rather to emphasize the fact that the work is after all merely a
translation. The following example from Lask’s very fine trans-
lation of Bialik’s
Safiah,
one of the most sensitive and delightful
works in modern Hebrew literature, may illustrate the point:5
“I do not remember how often summer and winter went by from
the time I became aware of myself in my native village till we all left
for the suburb of the neighbouring town. I was still nothing more than
a child playing in the dirt, not yet five full years old, it would seem;
and what sense of time or sequence can an infant have? In my native
village, presumably, the course of Nature around me was not other
than normal; season came and season went at the appointed time, and
the world made its customary round. Yet that primal, archetypal
Universe which I brought out of the village with me, and which still
lies hid in some especial nook of my heart’s secret places—that strange,
wondrous, singular world can never, it would seem, have known
autumn or winter.”
The point at issue is the
pr ima l , archetypal Universe,
which
sticks out of the narrative like a sore thumb. The overall effect
might well have been greatly improved by using some simple,
less self-conscious translation such as “that first, early world.”
Similar examples occur frequently in translation from Hebrew
literature.
The sheer difficulty of translation is not, of course, of any
absolute nature, but varies with the style and language of the
original. Some works of literature naturally lend themselves
more easily to translation than others. Indeed, there are mo-
ments—unfortunately rare—when a passage almost seems to be
translating itself, so comfortably does it nestle in its new mould.
It might be stated as a very general principle that the closer a
piece of literature lies to the basic idiom of any language, and
the more it reflects the history, traditions and thought forms of
the people to which it belongs, the more awkward and obstinate
does it become for the purposes of translation. For this reason
such Hebrew writers as Agnon and Hazaz present the translator
with the most difficult type of problems.
To state categorically that certain kinds of writing defy any
attempt at adequate translation would be presumptuous, for
given sufficient talent quite extraordinary feats can be accom-
plished. Even so unlikely a poem as Lewis Carroll’s “Twas
brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe . . .”
has been translated quite delightfully into German in a version
that evokes an almost identical response. But there are times
when a piece of literature comprises many complex and sustained
difficulties, as the following passage from Halpern’s translation
of
Mor i Sa’id
by Hazaz may illustrate.6
5 H. N. Bialik,
Aftergrow th and Other Stories,
translated by I. M. Lask,
Philadelphia, 1939, p. 39.
6 H. Hazaz,
Mori Sa’id,
translated by B. Halpern, New York, 1956 (London
1957), p. 26 f.