As difficult as I've found translation to be, I've never quite thought of it as harshly as the Italian saying in the subject line suggests: after learning of Daniel Ladinsky's "translations" of Hafez's poetry, I now begin to understand the sentiment.
So, my cousin is getting married this weekend, and she asked me to help her find an English translation along with the original Persian of a relevant poem about love or marriage. At the wedding, my father would read the Persian, and I'd read the English. I agreed, and told her to email me with her choices, and I'd do my best to match translation to original or vice versa. Today, she emailed me with what she thought was a translation of a poem by Hafez, and asked if I could source the original for my dad to read. Here's the poem she found:
"The Gift" by Daniel Ladinsky
Our union could be like this:
You feel cold
So I reach for a blanked to cover our shivering feet.
A hunger comes into your body
So I run to my garden and start digging potatoes.
You ask for a few words of comfort and guidance
I quickly kneel at your side offering you a whole book as a gift
You ache with loneliness one night so much
you weep, and I say
here is a rope, tie it around me
Hafiz will be your companion for life.
It's a nice little poem, but there's a problem: Hafez never wrote a poem like this. This supposed translation doesn't correspond to any of Hafez's original works, and the "translator" neither speaks nor reads Persian. I guessed that it was a at best loose translation with the use of the word "potatoes": potatoes did not reach Europe or Asia until the 16th century C.E., and Hafez died in the 13th century. I could think of no good reason for a translator to change one vegetable for another while translating, and so the rest of the poem became suspect. I spent a fruitless half hour searching for ghazals by Hafez with the word "union" or "marriage" in the first line, hoping one of them would correspond to this one. No luck. Instead, when I dug a little bit deeper, I found these two articles on the specious nature of Ladinsky's "translations" of Hafez: A.Z. Foreman's gloriously scathing review of The Gift
, and Murat Nemet-Nejat's review of the same
. I'll let Foreman sum it up nicely:
( Read more... )
"Dan Ladinsky's The Gift: Poems from Hafiz the great Sufi Master is perhaps the most inexcusably excruciating book bearing the name "translation" I have ever had the displeasure read. For absurd reasons, it is still widely popular and seen as successful, despite a decade's worth of hindsight since its first printing in 1999. So let me do my part to call this book what it really is: an awfully-written, narcissistic, colossally unintelligent act of charlatanry which derives its success largely from exploiting (and grossly perpetuating) some of the most shameful traits of the American public: ignorance of Islam and Islamic languages, unbridled consumerism, poor literary sensibility, stereotypes of "The East" and reviewers' reticence to say anything negative."
Are there any other examples you can think of where translation becomes betrayal? How can we promote non-appropriative, faithful translations, and how can we even be certain that the translations we read are faithful and respectful to the traditions they originally come from?