Monday, 25 October 2010

English translations of Ivo Andric's Travnicka Hronika

Criticism of English translations of Ivo Andric's Travnicka hronika is confined to a small number of reviews and occasional comments in periodicals praising the first two translations for their fidelity to the original.1 Kenneth Johnstone's The Bosnian Story (1958), as the first English version of Andric's masterpiece was titled, had generally been regarded superior to John Hitrec's later Bosnian Chronicle (1963). Yet some American critics, notably professional Slavists, preferred Hitrec's translation for having masterfully captured the 'cadenced flow of the original' and for preserving 'a marvelous tapestry of Turkish Bosnia.'2 The novel's latest translation, The Days of the Consuls (1992), done by Celia Hawkesworth, likewise failed to generate extensive translation criticism. The few reviews published in Great Britain and abroad are said to have extolled Hawkesworth's translation as the most accomplished English version of Travnicka hronika today.3
The above criticism is based on random comparisons of translations against their original, and, as such, lacks credibility. This article endeavors, therefore, to collate all the texts-the three translations and the Andric original-examining each of the four books cover to cover and drawing conclusions on the basis of linguistically-based analysis. Of the four most commonly-used methods in translation criticism, the linguistic method I have adhered to in this article has proven the most efficacious for the study of literary translation.4 Such a method does not give the critic and the reader a one sided picture of the quality of a translation, but rather evaluates all of the multifarious layers of the texts, both the original and the translations. The method offers, first and foremost, a much-- needed "insight into the style and meaning of both original and the translation."5 In a word, such comparisons are bound to reveal "patterns, tendencies, trends, habits, strengths, and failings"6-all of which will help a translation critic to classify the study within linguistic categories which most accurately and comprehensively register the style and meaning, building a firm foundation from which to assess the true quality of the translations examined here.
The language of Travnicka hronika is indeed complex. Even the novel's very first paragraph includes Turkisms-one of the novel's most prominent language stratums. Although all three English translations7 of Andric's novel have conveyed the essence of the word "balija," for example, the word's defamatory connotation of a Bosnian Moslem's supposed backwardness remains undetected: "Nikad, ni posljedni balija ispod Vilenice."8-"No one, not even the humblest true-believer in the backstreets" (Johnstone, p. 17); "no one, not even the last Moslem bumpkin from the mountain hinterland" (Hitrec, p. 7); and "No one, not even the lowliest Muslim peasant from the slopes of Vilenca" (Hawkensworth, p. 5). The English speaking reader cannot glean from these renderings the important detail that the word "balija" is another word for the Moslem nationality. Similar stumbling blocks occur with many other Turkisms, particularly if they are used as doublets, such as "peksinluk" and "prljavstina"-both meaning "filth," "dirt" or "squalor," with the former used by Moslems only: "'I blato i peksinluk bosje davanje"' (p. 117)"`dust and dirt were also God's gifts"' (Johnstone, p. 115); "Mud and filth `come from God"' (Hitrec, p. 103); and "Mud and dirt were also gifts of God" (Hawkesworth, p. 91). The translations of a Moslem character's speech laden with linguistic peculiarities,-the ethical dative ("`sta mi se"'), words predominantly used in Bosnian Moslem's speech ("kantar"')9 and rhymed prose ("mjera je vjera">do not faithfully reflect the original either: "`sta mi se unosis i kasljet u kantar? Mjera je vjera; i dah joj moze nauditi"' (p. 77)-"`Do you want to shove yourself forward and cough into the scales? True measure's a treasure; and a breath can spoil it"' (Johnstone, p. 78); "`Stop pushing and coughing into the scale! True measure's the same as faith, a breath can spoil it"' (Hitrec, p. 64); and "Don't you go shoving your nose into the scales and coughing all over them! `Right measure is real treasure' and the merest breath could upset it" (Hawkesworth, p. 58). Though Hawkesworth's rendition con-veys the sense of the original, two arbitrary additions in one sentence alone ("right" and "real") place her translation below Johnstone's and Hitrec's. ...
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Monday, 4 October 2010

Poem of the week: What mystery pervades a well! by Emily Dickinson

Shamefaced confession: I've been renewing my library copy of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson for more than a year. It's the perfect dipping-book, utterly reliable for a moment's, or an hour's, refreshment. There's no poet who's so consistently disconcerting, fascinating, odd-angled. Like Stephen Hawking, Dickinson takes you to the edge of the cosmos – which may be billions of light years away or at your back door. And it's the cosmos in microcosm, of course – another advantage. Dickinson's brevity convinces you that poems were never meant to be long or ostensibly complicated.
So it's high time I faced my chronic indecision and made a choice of Dickinson Poem of the Week (and, yes, bought my own copy of the Complete Poems). From a possible 1,775, I've picked number 1,400, the one that begins "What mystery pervades a well!"
It's a strange poem, "floorless", in a sense, and perhaps not flawless. The well appears to be a real one, not a metaphysical source of spiritual refreshment, but Dickinson's first stroke in the poem is to defamiliarise it, transform it into a kind of black hole. There's no friendly face at the bottom as there is for Seamus Heaney, another poetic well-fancier. The startling personification of the water as "A neighbor from another world / Residing in a jar," may briefly conjure thoughts of the genii in the bottle – but only briefly. The "lid of glass" takes us down further into the unfathomable depths of the jar, bringing the realisation that only the surface of the water would be visible. There's a lot more beneath. In a jaunty tone, Dickinson offers us the "abyss".
The grass beside the well, buoyantly undisturbed, leads to an analogy with sedge which is growing near the sea on much shakier ground. "Floorless" is such a brilliantly unsettling word, it seems that Dickinson wants to stop us in our tracks with it. So she shortens that line, making it the end-word, and adds the leftover foot-and-a-bit of "and does no" to the next: "And does no timidity betray". Note that the grass and sedge are personified, like the water, and are also masculine. Nature remains traditionally feminine.
The repeated "e" rhymes in the third and fourth stanzas sound awkward. A run of four (he/me/be/sea), the last two unexpectedly consecutive, must be deliberate. Like the sedge as the waves break over it, the fourth stanza struggles for foothold, and seems designed to remain a little unfinished.
There's an earlier poem that begins, "Bring me the sunset in a cup, / Reckon the morning's flagons up / And say how many Dew, / Tell me how far the morning leaps - / Tell me what time the weaver sleeps, / Who spun these nets of blue!" Nature here is as immeasurable as in the "well" poem, but "she" is still resplendently present and active. Dickinson is a poet of vivid sight: her work records innumerable sunsets, flowers and bees in glowing, specific colour. The well, by contrast, is colourless; sinister and still.
The fact that the well is a man-made object doesn't deter Dickinson from identifying it with the natural world. But the images by which Nature is evoked – a haunted house, a ghost – are disturbing. The Nature that impinges on the human world, and interests the speaker, remains a stranger. Is it only a shadow, like the shadows in Plato's cave? Haunted houses are best avoided, of course. But "ghost" has a bigger theological meaning than mere spook. To "simplify" Nature's ghost might be to "know the mind of God."
Ultimately, the experience broached seems incomplete. The poem withdraws into a warning against arrogance: the arrogance of science, perhaps, and the arrogance of poetry. The narrator surely includes herself among those who know Nature, but whose knowledge turns out to be insufficient. The aphoristic last lines are a little lesson on humility.
The further the poem moves into abstraction, the deeper it seems to plunge into a well where words reflect no light. It admits defeat. And yet, by making deliberate imaginative "mistakes" – like seeing the water as a neighbour who lives in a jar – the speaker surely has presented us with a wonderful replica of her well. She is not Stephen Hawking, but a Martian, sending postcards to the future. Her bold comparisons and personifications may explain nothing, but they bring us thrillingly close to her sense of awe. And science has never yet shown us that awe at our surroundings is inappropriate.

What mystery pervades a well!
That water lives so far –
A neighbor from another world
Residing in a jar

Whose limit none has ever seen,
But just his lid of glass –
Like looking every time you please
In an abyss's face!

The grass does not appear afraid,
I often wonder he
Can stand so close and look so bold
At what is awe to me.

Related somehow they may be,
The sedge stands near the sea –
Where he is floorless
And does no timidity betray

But nature is a stranger yet:
The ones that cite her most
Have never passed her haunted house,
Nor simplified her ghost.

To pity those that know her not
Is helped by the regret
That those who know her, know her less
The nearer her they get.