Archive for the ‘literature’ Category
In a book called A History of Kanarese Literature, by Edward Rice (1921), he makes the following comment (p. 106):
The other is that a Kanarese poem defies anything like literal translation into another language. To give any idea of the spirit of the original it would be necessary to paraphrase freely, to expand the terse and frequent metaphors into similes, and to give a double rendering of many stanzas. An example will make this clear. The opening stanza of the Jaimini Bharata is given in Sanderson’s translation as follows:
May the moon-face of Vishnu, of Devapura, always suffused with moonlight smile, full of delightful favour-ambrosial rays—at which the chakora-eye of Lakshmi is enraptured, the lotus-bud heart of the devout expands, and the sea of the world’s pure happiness rises and overflows its bounds—give us joy.
The following is an attempt, by means of a freer rendering, to retain something of the spirit of the original:
When the full moon through heaven rides,
Broad Ocean swells with all its tides ;
The lotus blossom on the stream
Opens to drink the silv’ry beam ;
And far aloft with tranced gaze
The chakor bird feeds on the rays.
So, when great Vishnu’s face is seen,—
Whom men adore at Devapore—
Like to the sea, the devotee
Thrills with a tide of joy ;
Like to the flower, that blissful hour
The heart of the devout expands ;
And Lakshmi Queen, with rapture keen,
Watches with ever-radiant face
For her great Consort’s heavenly grace.
O may that grace be ours !
I’m wondering about this change. Apart from the versification—you know, being an actual poem instead of stilted prose—when it comes to just the idea, is it better? Why? How? Is it more readable? More understandable? Most importantly, does this change better “retain the spirit of the original”?
[Aside: just to be mischievous, we can with the wonders of technology do the following:
|Vishnu's face||smile||his grace||Lakshmi's eye||heart of the devout||world's happiness|
to ruin the poem.]
For one thing, he has changed the metaphor (rūpaka) of the original into simile (upamā).
Probably the reason is that the compressed quality of the original, a prominent characteristic of Sanskrit and other classical Indian literature, is unsuitable for English, whose readers are typically unprepared for it. Is there more to it? Is this a general difference between the two literary cultures?
I’m wondering all this because Daniel Ingalls says something along similar lines in his honestly-written general introduction “Sanskrit poetry and Sanskrit Poetics” (from his translation of the Subhāṣita-ratna-kośa anthology):
As a result, Sanskrit is lacking in what is perhaps the chief force of English poetry: its kinesthetic effect. What I mean can be shown by an old ballad:
Martinmas wind, when wilt thou blow
and shake the green leaves off the tree…
One can feel the leaves shaking, and one shivers in the next line to the “Frost that freezes fell / and blowing snow’s inclemency.” One can find verses that produce this muscular effect in Bengali, and although I cannot speak at first hand of other modern Indian literatures, I imagine that one can find the effect in them as well. But it is only rarely that one finds it in Sanskrit. The powers of Sanskrit are of a different order.
[The following verse] is by Yogeśvara, an excellent poet who is capable of better things. In it he uses a strikingly elaborate metaphor:
Now the great cloud-cat,
darting out his lightning tongue,
licks the creamy moon
from the saucepan of the sky.
The effect here is gained by intellectual, entirely rational means. The metaphor is complete in every detail: cat, tongue, cream, and saucepan—cloud, moon, lightning, and sky. It is almost like an exercise from a manual of logic under the chapter “Analogy.” Compare the verse with a well-known passage of T. S. Eliot which uses several similar ideas, but uses them very differently:
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains, …
This from one who is often called an intellectual poet. And yet Eliot gets his effect in every line from the irrational, the strong but imprecise memory we have of fog and cats, the childhood associations of certain words and idioms. Consider the line: “Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening.” It brings to sudden flower certain homely and completely natural phrases: “licks his tongue around the bowl,” or “licks his tongue into the corner of the dish.” The idiom is suddenly transfigured by bringing it into juxtaposition with the last three words, “of the evening.” This transfiguration of language becomes impossible without a natural-language basis.
Is there a general point here that English poetry uses vague, fuzzy, but “kinesthetic” effects where Sanskrit (or classical Indian) poetry uses compressed metaphors that paint a precise and detailed picture? I think there is some merit to the idea that, by and large, Sanskrit poetry is “static”, not “dynamic”. It is not a stream in motion; it hasn’t any “flow”. It is more a pearl in itself, that dazzles as you read. If poetry is imagination and the evocation of something other-worldly, it seems to me that Sanskrit poetry in general / at its best, conjures a world that one can calmly dwell in for a while, not an evocative fleeting idea that escapes as you try to grasp it, one which has appeal more in the chasing. Consider the importance accorded ultimately to stability / sthāyī-bhāva in all Indian arts, from poetry to theatre to dance.
This requires more thought and elaboration, but one may as well quote the final lines of Ingalls’s introduction (emphasis mine):
One may argue today, as the Sanskrit critics argued in the past, the relative importance of the various factors of Sanskrit verse which I have discussed. Vocabulary, grammar, meter: these are all necessary. Figures of speech, both verbal and intellectual, furnish delight. Mood is what is sought, though the grand successes of Sanskrit I would say go beyond mood to a sort of universal revelation, to what James Joyce, drawing on the vocabulary of religion, called an epiphany. To achieve this success impersonality is a prerequisite and suggestion is the chief instrument. If I were to single out for admiration one factor above the others in this complex it would be suggestion, not because it is unknown in other languages but because the Sanskrit poets use it with such brilliance and because it seems to me the most intimately connected of all the factors with the excitement, the sudden rushing of the mind into a delightful, calm expansion, that one occasionally derives from Sanskrit poetry and that brings one who has once known it constantly back for further draughts.
The story of the ascetic Ṛṣyaśṛṅga (ऋष्य-शृंग, “deer-horned”) occurs in the Puranic literature. His father brought him up in an atmosphere of innocence, and he had never seen a woman. (Later, in the Rāmāyaṇa, he officiates at Daśaratha’s sacrifice for children, and it is thus through his grace that Rāma is born.) Pollock:
The Ṛśyaśṛṅga episode appears also [i.e, besides the Ramayana] at MBh 3.110-13, PadmP, Bengali recension, Pātālakhaṇḍa, 13 (reprinted in Lüders 1897), Bhāratamañjarī 3.758-95, Bhadrakalpāvadāna 33, Avadānakalpalatā 65, Alambusā and Naḷanikā Jātakas, etc. The episode is clearly of great importance to traditional India…
Here is the story from the Vana Parva in the Mahabharata (taken from GRETIL), accompanied by a pleasant translation in simple rhyming verse, by Arthur W. Ryder. (Scroll horizontally to read the English text and/or compare. Or to read just the English text, click here.)
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“Is my team ploughing,
That I was used to drive
And hear the harness jingle
When I was man alive?”
Ay, the horses trample,
The harness jingles now;
No change though you lie under
The land you used to plough.
“Is football playing
Along the river shore,
With lads to chase the leather,
Now I stand up no more?”
Ay, the ball is flying,
The lads play heart and soul;
The goal stands up, the keeper
Stands up to keep the goal.
“Is my girl happy,
That I thought hard to leave,
And has she tired of weeping
As she lies down at eve?”
Ay, she lies down lightly,
She lies not down to weep:
Your girl is well contented.
Be still, my lad, and sleep.
“Is my friend hearty,
Now I am thin and pine,
And has he found to sleep in
A better bed than mine?”
Yes, lad, I lie easy,
I lie as lads would choose;
I cheer a dead man’s sweetheart,
Never ask me whose.
यूयं वयं वयं यूयम् इत्यासीन्मतिरावयोः । किञ्जातमधुना येन यूयं यूयं वयं वयम् ॥
yūyaṃ vayaṃ vayaṃ yūyam
ity āsīt matir āvayoḥ |
kiṃ jātam adhunā yena
yūyaṃ yūyaṃ vayaṃ vayam ||
Translated by John Brough (1977):
In former days we’d both agree
That you were me, and I was you.
What has now happened to us two,
That you are you, and I am me?
A simple poem, simply translated, and I was struck both by its simplicity and how popular it seems despite (because of?) it. Here’s the place to mention something trite, like “even the simplest poems can be beautiful”. It’s also an example where word order does matter in Sankrit; rearranging the words wouldn’t give the same meaning.
The poem is attributed to Bhartrhari, which, given the nature of such attributions, may mean we don’t know exactly who wrote it. (It doesn’t appear in all recensions.)
[Ryder, probably translating from the variant reading that has “kiṃ jātam adhunā mitra” (so it’s addressed to a friend specifically), does:
Yes, you were I, and I was you,
So fond the love that linked us two;
Alas, my friend, for friendship’s end!
Now I am I, and you are you.
Unrelated: Regina Spektor, Us
Sonnet by Keats, On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer. Keats was familiar with other translations of Homer, such as the one by Pope, but reading Chapman’s work was a different experience altogether:
Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
Besides the Mahabharata’s translation into Old Javanese (and other Southeast Asian languages) in the 10th/11th century, the first translation into a non-Indian language was into Persian, commissioned by Akbar in 1591.
The translator, Badāyūnī or Badāōnī, relates how it came to be:
The following considerations disposed the emperor to the work. When he had heard the Shāhnāmah, and the story of Āmīr Ḥamzah, in seventeen volumes transcribed in fifteen years, and had spent much gold illuminating it, he also heard the story of Abu Muslim, and the Jāmi’-ul-hikāyat repeated, and it suddenly came into his mind that most of these books were nothing but poetry and fiction; but that, since they were first related in a lucky hour, and when their star was in the act of passing over the sky, they obtained great fame. But now he ordered those Hindu books, which holy and staid sages had written, and which were all clear and convincing proofs and the pivot on which all their religion, and faith, and holiness turned, to be translated from the Indian into the Persian language, and thought to himself, “Why should I not have them done in my name? For they are by no means trite, but quite fresh, and they will produce all kinds of fruits of felicity both temporal and spiritual, and will be the cause of circumstance and pomp, and will ensure an abundance of children and wealth as is written in the preface of these books.”
So apparently, Akbar thought they (Hindu books) were more than mere poetry and fiction, and yet fresh, and he even believed (essentially) the phalashruti told in the books.
But the translator Badāōnī himself, an orthodox Mullā, doesn’t seem to have agreed with his emperor, or liked the job:
The Emperor sent for me and desired me to translate The Mahābhārata, in conjunction with Nāqib Khān. [...] The consequence was that in three or four months I translated two out of eighteen sections, at the puerile absurdities of which the eighteen thousand creations may well be amazed.
<!–(The sections are parvas. The “18000 creations” is a Muslim belief, and unconnected with the recurrence of the number 18 in the Mahābhārata.)–>
Besides finding sections full of “puerile absurdities”, he also found sections objectionable and disturbing to his Muslim sentiments. It led him to complain:
But such is my fate, to be employed on such works. Nevertheless, I console myself with the reflection that what is predestined must come to pass.
Akbar seems to have been merely amused by this reaction:
We thought that [Badāōnī] was an unworldly individual of Ṣūfī tendencies, but he seems to be such a bigoted lawyer that no sword can sever the jugular vein of his bigotry.
The rest of the translation had to be completed by others.
Some random cute or frivolous verses, dumped here so I can close those tabs. (Though inevitably I ended up opening more tabs…)
एकवस्तु द्विधा कर्तुम् बहवः सन्ति धन्विनः । धन्वी स मार एवैको द्वयोः ऐक्यः करोति यः ॥
eka-vastu dvidhā kartum
bahavaḥ santi dhanvinaḥ —
dhanvī sa māra evaiko
dvayoḥ aikyaḥ karoti yaḥ
If you’re too lazy to click, here’s a rough translation that loses the one-two-many-one-two-one play on words:
To split a single thing in two
There’s many an archer under the sun—
But Love’s the only bowman who
Can start with two and make them one.
There’s no “under the sun” in the original; I just couldn’t think of a better rhyme. :P
कमले कमला शेते हरः शेते हिमालये । क्षीराब्धौ च हरिः शेते मन्ये मत्कुणशङ्कया ॥
kamale kamalā śete, haraḥ śete himālaye,
kṣīrābdhau ca hariḥ śete — manye matkuṇa-śaṅkayā !
kamalā = Lakṣmī (I think, though one source gave it as Brahmā), śete = sleeps, manye = I guess, śaṅkayā = out of suspicion/fear, of matkuṇa = bedbugs :D
Originally saw here,[dead link] so see here or here.
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But to remember her my heart is sad, To see her is to know Bewildered thoughts, and touching driveth mad — How is she dear that worketh only woe? (P.E. More, 1899) The thought of her is saddening, The sight of her is fear, The touch of her is maddening— Can she be really dear? (Ryder, 1910)
These are both translations of Sanskrit poems, and quite obviously of the same one.1 The difference in style is not entirely due to the 10 years between them. :-)
Following the previous post, which egregiously violated “Show, don’t tell” — with a whole lot of telling and nothing to show for it — here are a couple more random examples of short verses that I feel are successful in translation. [As I started gathering examples, this post started turning into a tribute to Ryder, so I’ve cut that off for another time. What I like is obviously subjective, and I’m easily delighted by a simple rhyme. :-) Of course, most good poems can be translated into prose or free verse and still remain beautiful; the below are merely examples of translations being cleverly coerced into the verse forms of English.] I avoided commentary on the poems — for attempting it would be futile — and only touch on the translation.
This is from Amaru:
SHE ONLY LOOKED She did not redden nor deny My entrance to her room; She did not speak an angry word; She did not fret and fume; She did not frown upon poor me, Her lover now as then; She only looked at me the way She looks at other men.
The core of the poem, its sting, is in the last two lines, and it may owe more to the inherent rhythms of the English language than to the skill of the translator that the natural way of expression fits so neatly into metre, but few other translators would have exploited it so well.
Also from Amaru:
WHEN MY LOVE DRAWS NIGH When my love draws nigh, When his voice I hear, Why am I all eye? Why am I all ear?
How simple! As is the next one:
SIMPLE JUSTICE If, maiden of the lotus eye, Your anger hurts you so, 'Tis right you should not let it die, You hardly could, you know. But once I gave you an embrace, To keep it would be pain; And once I kissed your willing face, Give me that kiss again.
Translating Sanskrit poetry into English presents unique difficulties. To be sure, translation is always tricky. Passing to a different language invariably loses some nuances and overtones. What can be naturally expressed in one language may require more effort in another.
With Sanskrit, though, even essential features are often untranslatable to a native English audience.
[Disclaimer: Before going further, I must point out that I am an amateur. Everything below is probably wrong, they are banal and pointless observations, anyway, and I amaze myself by my ability to take something interesting and make it boring. I thought I had something to say, but it took writing it out to realise I didn't.]
(Yes, this post is written just for the title. More details would be received gratefully.)
Over a period of 17 years from 1770 to 1787, Edward Gibbon wrote The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It was, among other things, a mammoth history (6 volumes, 71 chapters) of the last days of Rome, which for Gibbon apparently meant several centuries. (The book covers over thirteen centuries of history; here’s an outline.)
The work received instant praise. Adam Smith’s letter to Gibbon is typical:
“I cannot express to you the pleasure it gives me to find that by the universal consent of every man of taste and learning whom I either know or correspond with, it sets you at the very head of the whole literary tribe at present existing in Europe.”
The Decline and Fall became the model for all historians that followed — including its pessimism (history as “little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind”), its overarching narrative, and its indictment of religion.
It became a literary monument of the 18th century, and one of the works that every educated man was expected to have read, a part of every bookshelf. Churchill (“I devoured Gibbon. [...] I rode triumphantly through it from end to end and enjoyed it all”), Carlyle (“how gorgeously does it swing across the gloomy and tumultuous chasm of these barbarous centuries”), Virginia Woolf (“not merely a master of the pageant and the story; he is also the critic and the historian of the mind [...] We seem as we read him raised above the tumult and the chaos into a clear and rational air”)… everyone read The Decline and Fall and spoke of it in the highest terms. (Gandhi read it in jail, and considered it an inferior version of the Mahabharata.) It was read by doctors, politicians, lawyers, novelists, even Sanskrit professors.
But then times began to change. Education stopped being the reading of “classics“, and became the learning of “subjects”. Today, no one I know has read The Decline And Fall, nor considers it worth the time.
Frederik Pohl is one of the important writers and editors from the “Golden Age” of science fiction. He began writing in 1937, and over the last seventy years has written, edited, agented, and done several other things besides. I read his somewhat-obscure story Shaffery Among the Immortals when I was 12 (my own Golden Age), and I have long considered it the funniest story about a scientist ever written. (Disagreements most welcome.) Of course, at that time, I imagined all scientists to be heroic characters, every one a genius—so the story was indeed all fiction. It seems less funny when I reread it as a struggling graduate student myself. :-) [Despite dropping out of school at the age of 14, Pohl has an excellent knowledge of science, and, even more amazingly, about science: he seems to write with the familiarity of an insider about the life of scientists, how science gets done, what goes on at conferences, the way papers are written... he is a bit cynical occasionally, but that's his job.]
In his introduction to the collection Day Million, Pohl offers the following pleasant description of science fiction. Writing in December 1969, he notes:
I put “science fiction” in quotes because I’m not always sure what that is, either. “Science fiction” is a poor name for a field of writing. It would be an uninspired one even if it were exact, and of course it is far from exact: there is a great deal of “science fiction” that doesn’t contain any science at all. (You will find some specimens herein.) But it is not entirely a misnomer, because just as “science” is a state of mind and a systems approach to inquiry rather than test tubes and facts, so “science fiction” is a way of writing stories. Harlow Shapley, talking of something else, once described this perspective as “the view from a distant star”. It is a look at the human race and all its affairs from outside.
One of the most popular sports at science-fiction gatherings is defining science fiction: it is that kind of story which deals with events that may happen, but as far as we know haven’t happened; it is that kind of story which takes some real event or trend and extrapolates it to its logical conclusions; it is that kind of story which would not exist if it were not for some central supposition which is based on scientific theory. Et cetera. I play this game as little as possible, because I am an inclusivist and try to avoid setting up barriers which might make me refrain from buying a story for a magazine or anthology I may be editing, or refrain from writing a story of my own, because it could be excluded by one of those barriers. But I do have a suggestion toward a definition, which seems to me attractive if only because it employs that favorite writer’s trick of standing a question on its head. It goes like this:
A science fiction story is that story which might really occur anywhere in space and time, except that stories of our own real world are a special and less imaginative kind of science fiction.
In those terms, Hamlet and War and Peace and Little Women are examples only of a subclass within the general framework of sf. For reasons of vanity as a science fiction writer, it gives me some pleasure to think that this is so. But vanity is not the only reason. Our world is but one of a very large number of planets—no one on Earth knows exactly how many there are, but a reasonably good guess puts it at 60 million or so—in our own galaxy, which in turn is but one of some hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe. The events that Shakespeare and Tolstoi and Louisa May Alcott wrote about pertain to the history and customs of a certain kind of vertebrate, mammalian, carbon-based, two-sexed, air-breathing creature. We know a great deal about this species, and we can see how complex its societal and ecological systems are; but since they are the systems we move in, it is hard for us to see that they are the product of chance. Science fiction gives us the perspective that makes the job a little easier. Not always perfectly, in fact not always even very well, it does give us a look at our churches, politicians, addictions, morals, family relationships, vices and pleasures from the point of view of a frame of reference that takes none of them for granted.
When you think of how many millions of human beings have shot, stabbed, gassed, clubbed and burned other human beings because they thought their way of life was the uniquely best and proper one, it appears that this point of view could have saved us all a lot of heartburn over the centuries. It could save us some right now.
As I write, we are in the last days of the year in which human beings first walked on the surface of another world. It’s only the Moon. It’s really just our own back yard. There’s not much there to want, and little enough of even that worth the cost of hauling back to Earth.
But it’s a doorstep to the universe, and out there are many very wonderful things indeed, and to reach and master them we shall probably need all the wisdom and objectivity and freedom from parochial prejudice we can come by. We need them badly enough here on Earth, heaven knows, and if science fiction can help us attain these goals, it will have done more than a good many Messiahs.
Dickens and the Victorian Serial Novel and Great Expectations as a Victorian Serial Novel: By students of English 434: Nineteenth-Century English Novel at The University of Michigan-Dearborn. Includes a helpful How To Read a Victorian Novel :)
The nineteenth-century Victorian serial novel was a way for readers and writers to make a novel last years and be talked about endlessly like the daily soap opera of this century.
No time to be idle: the serial novel and popular imagination: Shawn Crawford. An authoritative essay, cited by the above.
In January 1841, passengers arriving in New York from Europe would be greeted by anxious people on the docks. They all had the same question: “Is Little Nell dead?”
[...] the conditions of Victorian England made serialization the primary mode of novel publication for fifty years. Everyone published serially, including George Eliot, who hated it, and Henry James, whose work hardly seems suitable [...]
Of the 192 novels published serially in the Victorian Era (1836–1889) [..]
Dickens and Serial Publication: Joel J. Brattin.
Most of Dickens’ novels were serialized in 20 monthly installments [...] always included precisely 32 pages of text, two engraved illustrations, and, usually, 16 pages of advertisements.
The death of Mary Hogarth, Dickens’ beloved sister-in-law, in May 1837 led him to miss the only professional writing deadline of his career.
(I presume that means it was the only one he missed!)
Dickens and His Readers: E. D. H. Johnson. On “Dickens’ dependence on public approbation”
All of Dickens’ novels made their first appearance in serial form. Nine came out in monthly installments: Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby, Martin Chuzzlewit, Dombey and Son, David Copperfield, Bleak House, Little Dorrit, Our Mutual Friend, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Five were composed for weekly serialization: The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge in Master Humphrey’s Clock; Hard Times in Household Words; and A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations in All the Year Round.
Dickens and the Classic Serial: Robert Giddings, presenting long paper on classic serials on BBC.
All Dickens’s novels had been translated into Russian by the time of Dostoevsky’s death in 1881. He was virtually an honorary Russian and to this day many Russian homes boast a complete set of his novels. Readers queued up for the latest serial instalment of them in Moscow just as they did in London and New York.
- Linda K. Hughes and Michael Lund, The Victorian Serial, University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1991.
- Graham Law, Serializing fiction in the Victorian press, Palgrave Macmillan, 2000