February 21, 2008

Paul Eluard, Capital of Pain, trans. Mary Ann Caws, Patricia Terry & Nancy Kline (Black Widow, 2006).

It's always hard for me to read work in translation from languages that I also translate from, as it gets me reading the work much differently and asking why the translators made the decisions they made. This translation is quite good, but at places like the poem "Rubans/Ribbons" on pages 62-3 (facing page original/trans layout) I wonder why the end of Eluard's paragraph seems to introduce extra meaning not in the original:

Les sacrifies font un geste qui ne dit rien parmi la dentelle de tous les autres gestes, imaginaires, a cinq ou six, vers le lieu de repos ou il n'y a personne.

In the translation "vers le lieu de repos ou il n'y a personne" becomes "towards the resting place—which is empty." The translation introduces an em dash not in the original adding extra emphasis to the offset text. Eluard uses em dashes elsewhere, so it would seem if he wanted the extra emphasis he would have used it himself as it formed part of his stylistic toolkit. The English also morphs the image of a room where there is no one around to an empty room, which also carries other meanings. The French word for empty is "vide" & Eluard could have used that if he meant to draw attention to a heightened sense of emptiness rather than a lack of potential human contact.
I've spent days on this single poem, asking myself these questions.



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