What Gets Lost

20 Mar
Kiefer typewriter

Typewriter, Anselm Kiefer

 

Few more irritating quotations are cited more frequently than Robert Frost’s famous old saw about poetry being ‘what is lost in translation.’ For the unconverted, and in honour of a recent re-reading of Reid’s poem in Edith Grossman’s excellent Why Translation Matters, here is Alastair Reid’s poem on the subject.

Incidentally, as if the ghost of Alastair were intentionally confounding the matter, there are two versions of this poem about the translation process: one can found in Grossman’s book (and which I reproduce below); the other, in the otherwise excellent Inside Out, edited by Douglas Dunn, contains variations in the English and typos in the Spanish. I am therefore going with the other. Both versions, needless to say, can be found online.

 

What Gets Lost

I keep translating traduzco continuamente

entre palabras words que no son las mías

into other words which are mine de palabras a mis palabras.

Y, finalmente, de quién es el texto? Who has written it?

Del escritor o del traductor writer, translator

o de los idiomas or language itself?

Somos fantasmas, nosotros traductores, que viven

entre aquel mundo y el nuestro

between that world and our own.

Pero poco a poco me ocurre

que el problema the problem no es cuestión

de lo que se pierde en traducción

is not a question

of what gets lost in translation

sino but rather lo que se pierde

what gets lost

entre la ocurrencia – sea de amor o de desesperación

between love or desperation –

y el hecho de que llega

a existir en palabras

and its coming into words.

 

Para nosotros todos, amantes, habladores

as lovers or users of words

el problema es éste this is the difficulty.

Lo que se pierde what gets lost

no es lo que se pierde en traducción sino

is not what gets lost in translation, but rather

what gets lost in language itself lo que se pierde

en el hecho, en la lengua,

en la palabra misma.

 

Alastair Reid (1926-2014)

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: