Page 69 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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TARNOR / ON TRANSLATING HEBREW
61
been (albeit mistakenly) a ttr ibu ted to Bialik, a translation is like
kissing a woman th rough a veil, in ou r time we have lost even the
woman. Very often all tha t remains is the veil. Ultimately, even
tha t filmy rem a inder may become meaningless.
While Shmuel Yosef Agnon may be said to have attracted
in ternationa l attention because o f the exotic n a tu re o f much o f his
work, it is nevertheless due more to in te rp re ters and devotees tha t
he is apprecia ted ra th e r than to any literary genius o f his which
may shine th rough the translations currently available. Why is
this? Let us examine the first page of the first volume o f his
collected works in the 1952 edition. This first volume is devoted to
tha t magnificent opus o f early nine teen th cen tury East-European
Jewry,
The Bridal Canopy,
translated by one o f Hebrew litera tu re’s
more devoted translators, I.M. Lask, and published six years after
the Hebrew version app ea red .4 I remember Lask’s translation
with affection because, as a teen-ager, it in troduced me to Agnon
and made such an impression on me tha t I was driven by curiosity
to read the original the first o f several times.
Lask’s response to the problem o f a superabundance o f biblical
and talmudic material was not original: He chose to ignore them.
By way o f compensation, he decided to give the read e r “the scent
o f an English style o f a period corresponding in a way to tha t
which Agnon set ou t to portray .”
PROBLEM OF TRANSMISSION
Let us examine some o f the results o f tha t inability to cope with
biblical and talmudic phrases and ideas and , in some cases, post-
talmudic ones. At the same time, I shall try to highlight a few o f
the problems inhe ren t in a text so culturally removed from the
present-day reader. We should also bear in m ind tha t Lask p ru ­
dently furn ished the English reade r with a “sketch o f the world o f
a God-fearing Jew in Eastern Europe ,” circa 1820. Finally, tha t his
retention o f a “scent o f an English style” o f the period thrusts the
twentieth century reade r into a welter o f archaisms. T he novel
opens as follows:
4 S. Y. Agnon,
The Bridal Canopy,
trans. I. M. Lask (1937; reprinted, N.Y.:
Schocken, 1967).