Page 92 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

Basic HTML Version

e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
platform for a growing panel of translators. The selections pub-
lished are carefully chosen to give a broad cross-section of repre-
sentative Hebrew writing, and the quality of many of the
translations is commendable.
But here, again, the standard varies considerably, and much
remains to be learned in the broad field of technique. In the
discussion, for example, on the differences in syntax between
Hebrew and English, it was pointed out that not only does the
word order differ in both languages, but the sequence of clauses
is almost equally subject to re-arrangement. A disregard of this
one single facet is responsible for much of the unnaturalness so
frequently encountered in these translations. But even with such
reservations, the overall quality of translation to be found in
Israel Argosy
is sufficiently high to deserve a far, far wider circle
of readers than it enjoys at present.
Hebrew Poetry in English
Thus far the lion’s share of attention has been reserved for
the translation of Hebrew prose—and fiction at that. But the art
of translating Hebrew poetry into English is equally worthy of
consideration, brief though it be. For, in addition to the literary
abilities so essential for the translator of prose, the translator of
poetry must himself possess a highly developed poetic faculty.
Ideally, only a great poet can translate great poetry, for the
ultimate test is whether the version is accepted into the literary
heritage of its new medium. Few translations from any one lan-
guage into another win that distinction. In English literature,
Fitzgerald’s superb transmutation of the
Ruba iya t
of Omar
Khayyam stands as a lone monument. No translation of any
modern Hebrew poetry can rival that achievement; yet a con-
siderable number of Hebrew poems have been rendered so sue-
cessfully into English as to retain much of the spirit of the
original. Perhaps the very nature of poetry has forced the trans-
lators into a more complete transfusion of the elements of
Hebrew, thereby escaping the penalties of the slavish adherence
to phrase sequence which so frequently mars the prose. Again,
the fact that a number of poems have appeared in more than one
English version makes it possible, by a process of comparison, for
the English reader to attain a better appreciation of the originals.
In poetry, as in prose, Bialik has once again attracted the
finest talent, and his translators include some of the best expo-
nents of the art. Leonard Snowman, Jessie Sampter, H. H. Fein,
R. V. Feldman, A. M. Klein and particularly Maurice Samuel
and Helena Frank, have all produced excellent versions of his
poems which catch much of the depth and spirit of the originals,
no easy task considering the power of Bialik’s poetry.
Although not nearly so well represented, the poetry of Tcher-
nichovski, too, has inspired a number of fine versions. Most
interesting, perhaps, are the very brave attempts to translate