Page 83 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 34

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STEINBACH / ON THE ART OF TRANSLATION
73
he must translate not only what the author has
w ritten ,
but also
what the author
is,
in terms of the above criteria.
I recall reading two aphorisms that attest to the imperative
need to establish such an identifiable nexus between an author
and his translator. The first was written by Goethe:
Willst du der Dichter verstehn
(“If the poet you would know
Miisst du in sein Land gehen
To his land you must go”)
I t is quite obvious that the word “Land” is here a generic term
for the totality of the criteria enumerated above.
The second aphorism is likewise revealing:
“Back of the canvas that throbs
The painter is hinted and hidden,
Back of the statue that breathes
The soul of the sculptor is bidden.”
Since words, and the phrases they form when woven together,
constitute the translator’s quintessential medium, he must scru­
tinize them on two levels of meaning: (a) the simple denotative
meaning and (b) the nuanced connotative meaning. Many words
evoke not only a specific image, but also cast a shadow that en­
hances it. Let us, for example, consider Elie Wiesel’s use of the
word Auschwitz in his poignant novel,
N ight.
Its denotative
meaning is a locale where the Nazis incinerated thousands of
Jews. Its connotative meaning limns a sad picture of the chim­
neys belching smoke above the crematory. Or mention the word
Hiroshima to a Japanese who can remember back to 1945 when
the atomic bomb exploded its fireball among his people.
The juxtaposition of both meanings is effectively demon­
strated in the following Hebrew poem “Words” by Meir Wiesel-
tier, a young Israeli poet.
Two years before the Destruction
They didn’t call destruction Destruction.
Two years before the Holocaust
It didn’t have a name.
What was the word destruction
Two years before the Destruction?
A word to describe an unpleasant thing
That, hopefully, would not come.