04 July 2007

A. K. Ramanujan

[from A. K. Ramanujan's essay "On Translating a Tamil Poem" in The Art of Translation: voices from the field, edited by Rosanna Warren, 1985]

The translation must not only re-present, but represent, the original. One walks a tightrope between the To-language and the From-language, in a double loyalty. A translator is an "artist on oath." Sometimes one may succeed only in re-presenting a poem, not in closely representing it. At such times one draws consolation from parables like the following: A Chinese emperor ordered a tunnel to be bored through a great mountain. The engineers decided that the best and quickest way to do it would be to begin work on both sides of the mountain, after precise measurements. If the measurements are precise enough, the two tunnels will meet in the middle, making a single one. "But, what happens if they don't meet?" asked the emperor. The counselors, in their wisdom, answered, "If they don't meet, we will have two tunnels instead of one." So, too, if the representation in another language is not close enough, but still succeeds in "carrying" the other poem in some sense, we will have two poems instead of one.

The Art of Translation: Voices from the Field

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