Page 93 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

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7 9
P
atter son
— A
rt
o f
t h e
T
ran slator
his two extraordinarily difficult sonnet cycles. The first, “To the
Sun,” translated by Shalom J. Kahn, appeared in the third vol-
ume of
Israel Argosy
in 1954, while the second, “On the Blood,”
translated by L. Bernard, was published in the second volume
of
Sifrut
in 1956. Both versions show great dexterity in over-
coming the formidable technical problems involved although
neither attains the quality of Maurice Samuel’s version of
Tchernichovski’s magnificent historical poem, “Baruch of May-
ence.”
The third great Hebrew poet, Shneur, is also represented by a
number of forceful translations, mainly by L. V. Snowman and
L. Bernard. But perhaps the most successful single line occurs in
a version of “Dawn,” a poem by Rachel, translated by Maurice
Samuel. Rachel’s poetry, by virtue of its very simplicity, is
amongst the most difficult to translate; but the last line of the
following stanza comes nearer to the ultimate goal, perhaps, than
any Hebrew poetry as yet translated:
“Upon my right the green hills fling
Protecting arms; before me—the wide fields!
And in my heart my twenty Aprils sing . . .”
That line, at least, has captured something of the magic and
rhythm of the English language.
The Need for Translations
No treatment of the art of translating modern Hebrew litera-
ture into English can be complete without reference to what is,
perhaps, the finest and best sustained achievement in the whole
field—namely, the three volumes of selected essays by Ahad Ha’am,
translated by Sir Leon Simon. Those very qualities of clarity,
precision and architectural balance which distinguish the orig-
inal have been admirably captured by the translation. Like the
Hebrew, the English version is characterized by a cold, compelling
logic, mellowed every now and then by a charming literary turn
of phrase, a ripple of humor or an illuminating metaphor. The
flow of language, the natural continuity of phrase, the easy
rhythm of the style all denote that intuitive identification which
constitutes the very essence of successful translation.
The art of translating modern Hebrew literature into English
is only in its infancy, as even a brief examination of the process
in reverse shows only too well. The standard of Hebrew transla-
tions of English classics, where the difficulties are equally for-
midable, is far higher; and no English translators have as yet
appeared who may be compared with such exponents of the art as
Shlonsky, Alterman, Halkin or Leah Goldberg. The explanation,
perhaps, lies in the fact that the importance of translating Eng-
lish into Hebrew is immediately obvious, while the need for
English versions of Hebrew works may seem less urgent. Yet any
strengthening of ties between Israel and the Jewries of the