On+Translating+a+Tamil+Poem

On+Translating+a+Tamil+Poem - IV I h” ;-=a . - 46 SUZANNE...

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Unformatted text preview: IV I h” ;-=a . - 46 SUZANNE IILL LEVINE “H.011: F0"! E3808. tr. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquisthed. Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), 348. ' 14._Alicia;Borinsky, "Castration: Artifices: Notes on the Writing of 1'; Puig,” Georgia Review 2.9, no. 1 (spring 1975): 106. 15. Iudith Weiss, "Dynamic Correlations in Heartbreak Tango,” Latin . American Literary Review (fall-winter 1974), 139. - " 16. H: Rebora, ed., Granada/Tango. (Granada: La Termlia, r982], 74. I7. "Fanny" is my translation of the character’s original nickname, La Raba, literally "chicken tail," identifying an "outstanding" part of her I anatomy. - 18. Brian T. Pitch, "The Status of Self-Translation,” Texte 4 (Toronto, I ' 1985):}18. ‘ :9. See "The Translation of Japanese Culture, " Landscapes 3) Portraits: Appreciations of Japanese Culture (Tokyo 3. Palo Alto: Kodansha Interna- tional Ltd, 1971), 331—29. ' _From: Rosanna Warren, ed., The Art Of Translation: Voices From The Field Boston: Norteastern UP, 1989 . ' On flanslating a Tamil I'Ploem $9 A. K. RAMANUIAN' I HOW DOES ONE TRANSLATE a poem from another time, another culture, another language? The poems I translate from Tamil were written two thousand years ago in a corner of South India, in a Dravidian language relatively untouched by the other classical language of India, Sanskrit. Of the literatures of the world I at that time, Sanskrit in India, Greek and Latin in Europe, Hebrew _ in the Middle East, and Chinese in the Far East were Tamil's contem- poraries. Over two thousand Tamil poems of different lengths, by over four hundred poets, arranged in nine anthologies, have survived the vagaries of politics and wars,- changes of itaste and religion; the- crurnbling of palm leaves; the errors and poverty of scribes; the ravages of insects, heat, cold, water, and fire. ' ' The subject of this paper is not the fascinating external history of this literature, but translation, the transpdrt of poems from clas- sical Tamil to modern English; the hazards, the damages in transit,- the secret paths, and the lucky bypasses. ' The chief difficulty of translation is its irripossibility. Frost once“ even identified poetry as that which is lost in translation. Once we accept that as a premise of this art, we can "proceed to practice it, or learn (endlessly) to do so. As often as not, this love, like other loves, seems to be begotten by Despair upon impossibility, in Mar- —--—---—-———-———....__._._.___..,__._._________ This paper uses examples and materials from my other; work, especially from The ' Interior Landscape (Indiana University Press, 1967) and Poems of Lave and War (Columbia University Press, 1985). For further details and a body of translations from ' classical Tamil poetry. the reader is referred to these bhoks and the afterwords in these books. .47 ""3-‘3 “48 'A. K. RAMANUIAN Ivell’s phrase. Let me try to define this "impossibility" a little more ' precisely. . . _ Here is a poem from an early Tamil anthology, Amkugugugu 203, in modern Tamil script.l . 81:61ng aimlemafix Lineman}: uuflmués Bga‘nmuuhg tracing: IdlainuJ mmhgm‘. Guiana; shelf!) £9 magic?! GLésaflui sang“ Eco. ' Transcribed in a phonemic Roman script, it looks like this: an_n.iy vilivéa titanium patappait - tézarmwuflm Dalian miaiya mamas ' .‘ swalaik kfivat kiln - migun teficiya niré How shall we divide up and translate this poem? What are the units of translation? We may begin with the sounds. We find at once that the sound system of Tamil is very different from English. For - instance, Old Tamil has six nasal consonants: a labial, a dental, an alveolar, a retroflex, a palatal, and a velar—m, n, r_1, n, n, n—three . of which are not distinctive in English. How shall we translate a ‘ j six-way system into a three~way English system (rn, n, a)! Tamil has long. and short vowels, but English (or most English dialects) ‘ . have diphthongs and glides. Tamil has double consonants that occur -. in English only across phrases like "hot tin" and "sit tight.” Such '- features, are well illustrated by the above poem in Tamil. has I no consonant clusters, but English abounds in them: "school, "scratch, splash, strike," etc. English words may end in stops as in -~ '- "cut, cup, tuck/“etc; Tamil words do not. When we add up these ' myriad systemic differences, we cannot escape the fact that phonologies are systems unto themselves (even as grammatical, syn- tactic, lexical, semktie systems too are, as we shall see). Any unit we pick is defined by its relations to other units. So it is impossible to translate the phonology of one language into that of another—even in a related, culturally neighboring, language. We can map one sys- tem on to another, but never reproduce it. A poem is identical only with itself—if that. If we try and even partially succeed in the sounds, we may lose everything else, the syntax, the meanings, the poem itself, as in this delightful example of a French phonological translation of an English nursery rhyme: On Translating a Tamil Poem 49 - Humpty Dumpty ' Un pctit d’un pctit - Sat on a wall 'S’étonne aux Halles - Humpty Dumpty . Un petitgd'un petit Had a great fall - Ah! degrés te fallent And all the king’s horses Indolent :qui me sort ccsse And all the king’s men Indolent qui ne se méne Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty Qu’importe un petit d’un pet-it Together again. Tout Gai de Reguennes. Sometimes it is said that we should translate metrical systems. ____ Meter is a second-order organization of the Sound system of a lan~ - guage, and partakes of all the above problems and some more. At readings someone in the audience always asks, "Did you translate the meter?” as if it is possible to do so. Tamil meter depends on the presence of long vowels and double consonants, and on closed and open syllables defined by such vowels and consonants. For instance, in the first word of the above poem, an_na'y, the first syllable is heavy because it is closed (an-), the second is heavy because it has a long vowel (gay). There is nothing comparable in English to this way of ' counting feet and combinations (marked in the text above by spaces). Even if we take familiar devices like rhyme, they do not have the same values in different languages. English a long tradition of end-rhymes—but Tamil has a long tradition df second syllable con-. - ' sonant-rhymes. In the above poem the first, second, and fourth lines- have n as the second consonant in the line-initial words (randy, :55 and ma‘g. End~rhymes in Tamil are a modern innovation, just as '- second syllable rhymes in English would be considered quite experi-‘ mental. The tradition'of one poetry would be the innovation of .- another. Let us look at the grammar briefly. If separate and display the meaningful units of the above poem, we see the following. 811.135? viii véstlu) aged“! mm patappai-t- tén - mayanku - pal - igum igiya‘l (vlavar nits t(u) uvalai-k-kfival - kila mag ~ untlu) - er'iciya kali_l_i nirécl _ I The translation,z piece by piece, would be: mother,_may [you]~ live, desire [to listen], mother,” our garden - honey - mixed - with — milk - than sweetlerl”! [is] his land’s, [in-I leaf - holes - low,- animals - having -.drunk ~ [and-l leftover, muddied watercl \ 50 A. K. RAMANUIAN' in my English rendering it becomes the following: What She Said to bar girl friend. when she returned from the hills Bless you, friend. Listen. Sweeter than milk mixed with honey from our gardens _ is the leftover water in his land, ' low in the waterholes . covered with leaves and muddied by animals. Kapilar. Ainkuzuafitu 203 " ' f One can see right away that Tamil has no copula verbs for equa- '- tional sentences in the present tense, as in English, e.g., "Tom is a ' \teacher"; no degrees of comparison in adjectives as in English, e.g., "sweet, sweeter, sweetest"; no articles like "a, an, the”; and so on. Tamil expresses the semantic equivalents of these grammatical de- _- vices by various other means. Grammars constrain what can be said 5- .i. directly and what can be left unsaid. An English friend of mine with 7- .- a French wife, with whom he spoke French at home, used to complain half-jokingly that he could never tell his wife, "I went out with a ' friend for a drink last night,” without having to specify the gender '- of the friend. The constraints of French require you to choose a gender for every noun, but English does not. The lies and ambiguities of one language are not those of another. _ _ Evans-Pritchard, the anthropologist, used to say: If you translate all the European arguments for atheism into Azande, they would come out as arguments for-God in Azande. Such observations cer- tainly disabuse us of the commonly held notion of "literal" transla- .tion. We know now that no translation can be "literal," or "word for word." That is‘where the impossibility lies. The only possible translation is a "free" one. When we attend to syntax, we see that Tamil syntax is mostly left-branching. English syntax is, by and large, rightward. Even a date like "the 19th of Iune, 1988," when translated into Tamil, would look like "1988, June, 19.” A phrase like A B C D E The man who came from Michigan would be "Michigan—from come—past tense-who man”: On Translating a Tamil Poem ‘5: n. ‘ E D C B A micigan-ilirundu Vand-a manidan. The Tamil sentence is the mirror image of the English one: what is A s c D E in the one would be (by and large) a n c n A in Tamil. This, - would also be true of many other Indian languages. Postpositions instead of prepositions, adjectival clauses before nominal phrases, verbs at the end rather than in the middle of sentences—these characs' terize Tamil, and not only Tamil. (Turkish, )apanese, and Welsh are' also left-branching languages). The American English style of Hma- .__ magazine, affected by German, Yiddish, or whatever affects Time; leans toward the left-branching—in Alexander Woollcott's parody, "Backward run the sentences till boggles the: mind.” ' Not that English does not have left-branching possibilities, but they are a bit abnormal, as Woollcott suggests. There are writers who prefer to use them for special effects.- Hopkins and Dylan Thomas used those possibilities stunningly: Never until the mankin' d makm' g, Bird beast and flower Fathering and all humbling darkness Tells with silence the last light breaking And the still hour Is come of the sea tumbling in harness Shall I let pray the shadow of a sound Dylan Thomas, "A Refusal to Moum the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London" Remember, both were Welshmen, and Weish is a left-branching language. But, in Hopkins’s and Thomas’s poetry the leftward syntax is employed for special poetic effects—it alternates with other, more "normal," types of English sentences. In Tamil poetry the leftward syntax is not eccentric, literary, or offbeat, but part of everyday "natur ” speech; One could not use Dylan e to translate Tamil, even though many of the above phrases from _ human can be trans; ' ‘ lated comfortably with the same word order in‘Tamil. What is every- day in one language must be translated by what is everyday in the "target" language also, and what is eccentric must find equally eccen~ _ . tric equivalents. ‘- - If poetry is made out of, among other thi " , "the best words in the best order," and the best orders of the taro languages are the . mirror images of each other, what is a translator to do? Many of my devices (e.g., indentation, spacing) and compromises are made in- $3 K. RAMANUIAN order to mimic closely the syntactic suspense of the original, with- I -out, lhope, estranging the English. Frequently the poems unify their rich and diverse patterns by using a single, long, marvelously man- ' - aged sentence. I try to make my translation'imitate a similar man- " agement, even in the relatively simple examples cited here. ' _ The most obvious parts of language cited frequently for their utter untranslatability are the lexicon and the semantics of words. . For lexicons are culture-specific. Terms for fauna, flora, caste distinc- ' ' tions, kinship systems, body parts, even the words that denote num- 3'1 hers, are culturally loaded. Words are enmeshed in other words—in _'-_ collocations, in what can go with what (“a blue moon, a red letter ? ' day, a white elephant, purple prose”). Words participate in sets, in ?-. contrasts, in mutual recallings. "Red" is part of a paradigm of colors - like green, yellow, etc., with which it contrasts. It is also part of a ' paradigm of near-terms or hyponyms, "scarlet, crimsori, pink, rosy, ” etc. These collocations and paradigms make for metonymies and ‘ metaphors, multiple contextual meanings, clusters special to each language, quite untranslatable into another language like Tamil. ' Even when the elements of a system may be similar in two languages, like father, mother, brother, mother-in-law, etc., in kinship, the sys- tem of relations (say, who can be a mother-in-Iaw, who can by law or custom marry whom) and the feelings traditionally encouraged : about each relative (e.g., through mother-in-law jokes, stepmother " tales, incest taboos) are all culturally sensitive and therefore part of the expressive repertoire of poets and novelists. Add to this the entire poetic tradition, its rhetoric, the ordering - of different genres with different functions in the culture, which, by its system of differences, distinguishes this particular poem, "What She Said,” from all others. Tamil classical poetry would call the poem an "interior," or akam poem, a poem about love and its differ- ent phases. Contrasted to it are “exterior” or pugam poems, which are usually public poems about war, society, the poverty of poets, the death of heroesfland‘so on. Here is an example:‘ A Young Warrior 0 heart sorrowing for this lad onc'e scared of a stick lifted in mock anger when he refused a drink of milk, "'- On Translating a Tamil Poem 53 now not content with killing .war elephants with spotted trunks, this son of the strong man whofell yesterday seems unaware of the arrow in his wound, his head of hair is plumed . like a horse's, he has fallen on his shield, his beard stillsoft. Poamufiyir. misfit“ 310 Now, the classical Tamil poetic tradition uses an entire taxonomy, a classification of reality, as part of its stock-in-trade. The five landscapes of the Tamil ama, characterized by hills, seashpres, agricultural areas, wastelands, and: pastoral fields, each with its forms of life, both natural and cultural, trees, animals, tribes, customs, arts and instruments—all these becOme part of the sym- bolic code for the poetry. Every landscape, with all its contents, is associated with a mood or phase of love or War. The landscapes . provide the signifiers. The five real landscapes of Tamil poetry be- come, through this system, the interior'landsc'apes of Tamil poetry. And each landscape or mood is also associated with a time of day and a season. Each landscape, along with its mood and the genre of poetry built around it, is usually named after a; tree or flower of that region. For instance, the first poem we cited is a kugifici poem- kuy‘fici is a plant that grows six thousand to eight thousand feet above sea level—representing the mountains, 'the night, the season of dew, the mood of first love, and the lovers’ first secret sexual union. In the war poems the same landscape is the scene for another kind of clandestine action: a night attack on a fort set in the hills. The love poems and war poems are somewhat similarly classified (though the war poems use the landscape differently and less strictly). So when we move from one to the other we are struck by the associ- ations across them, forming a web not only Eof akam and puram . genres, but also of the five landscapes with all their contents signify- , _ ing moods, and the themes and motifs of love and war. The following chartss summarize the taxonomy. . . . . . _ .. fiatfio.§u§ua&3§mfiui§.§l .§f§.€owuagafiuh.ufigda>fieuaoauflShafinguqu-ufiuafiflo—oufluofiuaagofiwfifiauaaé llll'l'llnllllllnlllllll On 'Ihmslatingn Tamil Poem 55 "" . 38:35.3» . £3.83 £3 was... JE «0533 2.83 . BQ§~§u3 . magnum—um .2530 1.863 5533a .33.» fawn—:4 . 353m..qu . .833 yuan .93 .503 30132» 303 ion .32.. 3:3 855 . .83. 9.593 It _ I. «8?? .02— .? E6355. .fiflafiaan . .33». Egg .5: Hagan“. unsung Ea: _ =3 . .30 303.8 aha—u figuBAuoa 683.33g 6:32 dam jun aqua—mu? 353$ 3—8098 033... Bow .30 £9306 93153373 _ nun . Sumo 6.66 :33.“ 3.8a $.83 035: fig “2.3m 533m 3m BEBE 32vng 9533553383 30.33% 383321 “883.33.— uoaaoa .333 ~08 38am _ 3.23 an»? 3:53 was: 2.: 39a «an. .5333 .. 33% 323 3331530 Saigon—3.3383 98:38 .5“ 62qu 23% cg 33:38 hang—33 . . .930» 280m 33 comma.— .uogué‘nouns .. «sausage .83 5923“... S: 2.3. 3.3.. 33.53 waging anti 035.836 3§§m~o ~92: Est 33332.. 335035 bmouuufiov no.3: Egon nous—335nm 6>o~nwbu§ .53.. 63:3 .fiflmuk 36.65 .33 .unufiumofi .fimuxn: ahead guacamg gum 2: \0 853mm munch .n 350 wou3§3\ 25.— 333 3?: \\.\..So .3333 53:: \ . \ saunas .3353 333.— EMS. \ $53.3? 25an I one.» “was: no «3.3m p332» _ . a a 25m _ 8532.3 . — 81cm _ . a 3 «53330 saw an 83.3 . 3833 a 33.33 3.5.2 Sara—.80 at. . .25 :36 3:5 own: a / / \a ‘ / \ 58: . a. 53 1383.53. / a 32 ix van—“Mm: 8.: :33: 08F . L ‘ l \aa :Uhauz: _ .. :5... :80 8:5 . . _ _ :32”... 3 ‘s \\ 53 53.58 13.3: 333 wanna— . 8533: among: .3388“. Ea .333 a mag ' 54 A. K. RAMANUIAN .t. ..3.25%seamen—“80..~ #55. .u «MENU 56 A. K. RAMANUIAN Love and war become metaphors for one another, enmesh one another, in poems“ like "A Young Warrior” (pages 53—5 3) and the fol- lowing: - - What Her Mother Said If a calving cow chewed up her purslane creeper growing near the house, _She’d throw the ball to the ground, push away the doll, and beat herself an her pretty tummy, my little girl, who knows now how to do things. With a look tender as a doe’s, she’d refuse the milk ' mixed with honey her foster-mother and I would bring she'd sob and cry. ' Yet today, trusting the lies of a blackbeard man she’s gone through the wilderness, laughing, they say, showing her white teeth like new buds on a palm tree. Anon, Nagigai r79 _ _ - In the following poem,’ the same evergreen tree, noccr', entwines - _ 3 the two themes of love and war in an ironic juxtaposition. A wreath _ of noccr' is worn by warriors in war poems; a nocci leafth is given by a lover to his woman in love poems. A Leaf in Lavaged War The chaste trees, dark-clustered, blend with the land that knows no dryness; the colors on the leaves mob the eyes. We've seen those leaves on jeweled women, on their mounds of love. ' “gr”: any: ‘1 -,-n Uh“: " .s 'zfiW'fiJ-f'TI-w‘r‘ 1:53" on Translating a Tamil Poem ' 57 Now the chaste wreath lies slashed on the ground, so changed, so mixed with blood, the vulture snatches it with its beak, - thinking it raw meat. We see this too inst because a young man in love with war' wore it for glory. Vesipitiva Kimkkanniyir. Puzmfiafiru 371 Thus a language within a language becomes the second language I of Tamil poetry. Not only Tamil, but the landscapes and all their contents, the system of genres, themes, and allusions, become the language of this poetry. Like ordinary language, this art-language too makes possible (in Wilhelm Humboldt's phrase) "an infinite use Tamil, its phonology, grammar, and semantics, but this entire inter- textual web, this intricate yet lucid second language of landscapes which holds together natural forms with cultural ones in a code, a grammar, a rhetoric, and a poetics. ‘. 11 I would now like to a closer look at the original of "What She Said,” and my translation. (See pages 49—50.]! The word an_ndy (in spoken Tamil, ammri), literally "mother/C - is a familiar term of address for any woman, here a "girl friend." So I have translated it as "friend," to make clear that the poem is not addressed to amother (as some other poems are) but to a girl friend. ' Note the long, crucial, left-branching phrase in Tamil: ". . . his land's/(i114 leaf-hOIes Iow/animalshavingdnmk-(andl-Ieftovar, mud- died water" (in a piece-by-piece translation), In my English, it be- comes ”the leftover water in his land,/low in the waterholes/ covered with leaves/and muddied by animals." I have omitted their “drinking,” as it is suggested by "waterhole" in English. I had to expand "the leaf (covered) holes” in Tamil to "waterholes covered with leaves," making emplicit what is under- stood in the original. My phrase order in English tries to preserve the order and syntax ‘ of themes, not of single words: (I) his land's water, followed by (a) ..o-—..___‘_ 'of finite means." When one translates, one is translating not only ' l ' n I -' 5s A.IK. RAMANUIAIN ' - leaf-covered‘waterholes, and by (3) muddied by animals. Istill chum not bring the word "sweeter" (igiya) into the middle of the poem as the original does. That word "i3iya" is the fulcrum (in the original) which balances the two phrases, the one about milk and honey, and the one about the muddied water. It weighs the speaker’s entire childhood's milk and honey against the sexual pleasure of_ the leaf- covered waterholes muddied by animals. The presence of nineteen nasals in the Tamil poem foregrounds the g in this central word igiya—quite untranslatably. Since it is such an important word for the poem’s themes, I put it at the head of the sentence in my trans- lation, preferring the inversion (which I usually avoid) to the weaker ' _ placing of "sweeter than” in the middle of the poem. The latter choice would have also forced-me to invert the order of themes in I' a . English: "the muddied water is sweeter than the milk and honey.” ‘ That would have forfeited the syntactic suspense, the drama of the ending: "muddied by animals." To enact this effect of balancing and weighing, I also arranged the lines and spaces symmetrically so that "is the leftover water in the lan "_ is the midmost line set off by - I _ spaces. - _ The poem is a kuy’rici piece, about the lovers’ first union, set in the hillside landscape. My title ("What she said to her girl friend, _'. when she returned from the hills") summarizes the whole context (speaker, listener, occasion) from the old colophon that accompanies ' the poem. The poem speaks of the innocent young woman’s discov- '- ery of Sex, in the hills, with her man. The leaf-covered waterholes _ that animals muddy with their eager thirst become a tangible way of talking about sex. The contrast between the safe, "cultured," - ‘ garden of milk and honey (with overwhes in English of the Song of Songs) and the wilder "natur ” hills with their animals guzzling at the waterholes is also a progression for the virginal speaker. It is a movement from'culmre to nature, also from innocence to experience, preferring the excited muddy water of adult eroticism to childhood's milk and honey. ' progression is lost if we do not preserve the Order of themes 3 turally carried by the left-branchingsyntax of ‘Tamil. ' More could be said about it from the point of view of the old commentaries. For instance, the commentaries summarize the mood (meyppzitu which, significantly, means, "bodily state”) and the pur- pose of the poem. The mood here, they say, is one o "great wonder" (pertimitam); the purpose is"!.’to speak of life’s goodness” (va'lkkar‘ nalam kfigutal). ' - Now, poem on lovers’ first union is part of a series of ten On Translating a Tamil Pasm‘ ' 59 ' with different speakers, moods, and purpoaes- I shall “he “I” the very next poem” in the series: What She Said. her Iovsr within earshot Tell me:) how is it' then that women gather like hill goddesses and stare at me wherever I go, ‘- and say "She’s good, she’s so good," and I, _, no good at all for my man from the country of the hills! The mood in this companion poem is "sadness" (alukar', "weep- ing”), the purposeis to "persuade the lover to marry her." So, the poem’s "mood," as here, may have ulterior ends, adding a twist to the texture. As'the title (summarized from the colophons) suggests, the‘ poem is often addressed to one person but meant for someone _ else within earshot, as in a joint family. sash poetry is "overheard" by us as well as by the personae that people the poems. Thus poem follows poem, with the same paradigm of personae, details of landscape (hillside, in these ten), ' ften the same phrases,- ' but playing a different tune on the same suEags, making a different figure, evoking a different mood within th- same theme. The ten poems together make for a complex, psychologically nuanced, pro- gressive enactment of a given conventional situation. Like Indian music, architecture, and much else in Indian culture, these poems develop a mood, a situation, a dwelling, a mode or raga, by. original - recombinations, placements, and repetitions. ofa given set of motifs. Furthermore, these ten poems in this anthology, Ainkugunfigw are part of a hundred on the theme of (lover’s union) by a single great poet, Kapilar. Indeed, even in other akam anthologies, he wrote about no other landscape. And he: is not the only poet to— have written about it. All the poems of a landscape share the same . set of images and themes, but use them to make truly individual designs and meanings. Now the five landscapes of akam ("interior” - love poems) define each other. All the akarn poems, in turn, contra'st with pugam ("exterior") poems, though they share the landscapes; The love poems get parodied, subverted, and played with in comic 6o_- A. K; RAMANUIAN . ‘ ‘ poems and poems about poems. In a few centuries, both the love poems and the war poems provide models and motifs for religious poems. Gods like Krishna are both lovers and warriors. Human love as well as human politics and conflict become metaphors for man’s relations. with the divine. The relations of lover and beloved, poet and patron, hard and hero, get transposed, or translated if you will, to poet-saint and god. Thus any single poem is part of a set, a family of sets, a landscape (one of five), a genre (akam, pugam, comic, or religious). The inter- textuality is concentric, a pattern of memberships as well as neigh- borhoods, of likenesses and unlikenesses. Somehow a translator has to translate each poem in ways that suggest these interests, dialogues, and networks. St. )ohn Perse, in his Birds, has an ambiguous story about a Mongolian conqueror who heard a strange bird in a foreign land and wanted to take that song home. In order to transport that song, he had to become . taker of a bird in its nest, and of the nest in its tree, who brought back with bird and nest and song the whole natal tree itself, torn from its place with its multitude of roots, its ball of earth and its border of soil, aremnant of home territory evoking a field, a province, a country, and anempire. . . .‘° - III If attempting a translation means attempting such an impossibly intricate task, foredoomed 'to failure, what makes it possible at all? At least four things, maybe even four articles of faith, help the trans- lator. n. ‘ r. Universals. If there were no'universals in which languages participate and of which all particular languages were selections and combinations, to language learning, translation, comparative studies, or cross-cultural understanding of even the most meager kind would be possible. If such universals did not exist, as Voltaire said of God, we would have had to invent them. They are at least the' basic explanatory fictions of both linguistics and the study of literature. Universals of structure, in both signifiers (e.g., sound sys- tems, grammar, semantics, rhetoric, and poetics) and the signifieds (e.g:,‘what poems are about, like love, war, and what they mean within and across cultures), are necessary fictions, the indispensable "as‘ifs" of our fallible enterprise. i. _ .. c 1 .- ,. , T ' “92'7"”: .-’."'.‘-".-.".""-"'i '-“ ' ‘ duties ‘Is— '0 a. .. “swarm-mm» . u I .u A is On Translating a Tamil Paem ' 61 " " 2. Interiorized contexts. However culture-specific the details of a poem are, poems like the ones I have been discussing interiorize the entire culture. Indeed, we know about the culture of the ancient Tamils only through a careful Study of these poems. Later colophons and commentaries explore and explicate knowledge carried by the poems, setting them in context, using them to make lexicons, and charting the fauna and flora of landscapes. The diagrams and charts given above are based on the earliest grammar of Tamil, T01- krippiyam, the oldest parts of which are perhaps as old as the third century AD. Such grammars draw on the poems themselves and; _ codify their dramatis personae, an alphabet of themes, a set of situ— ations that define'where who may say what to whom, a list of favored figures of thought and figures of speech, and so on. When one trans- lates a classical Tamil poem, one is translating also this kind of intertextual web, the meaning-making web of colophons and com- mentaries that surround and contextualize .the poem. Even when we disagree with them, they give us the terms in which we construct the argument against them. There is no illusion here of "the poem itself.” ' 3. Systematicity. The systematicity of such bodies of poetry, the ' way figures, genres, personae, etc., intermesh, in a master-code, is " a great help in entering this intricate yet lucid world of words. one ' ' translates not single poems but bodies of poetry that create and 3' contain their original world. Even if one chooses not to translate all - the poems, one chooses poems that cluster together, that illuminate ' one another, so that allusions, contrasts, and collective designs are ‘ suggested. One’s selection then becomes a metonymy for their world, ' re-presenting it. Here intertextuality is not: the problem, but the solution. One learns one’s lessons here not—only from the Tamil' arrangements but from Yeats, Blake, and Baudelaire, who all used arrangement as a poetic device. _ . 4. Structural mimicry. Yet, against all this background, the work of translating single poems in their particularity is the chief work. _ of the translator. In this task, I believe, the structures of individual poems, the unique figures they make out 013 all the given codes of their language, rhetoric, and poetics, become the points of entry. The poetry and the significance reside in these figures and structures as much as in the untranslatable verbal textures. So one attempts a " ' structural mimicry, to translate relations, hot items—not single -. words, but phrases, sequences, sentences; riot metrical units, but rhythms; not morphology, but syntactic patterns. ' To translate is to "metaphor," to "carry across.” Translations - . 63 A. K. RAMANUIAN are transpositions, reenactments, interpretations. Some elements of the original cannot be transposed at all. One can often convey a sense of the original rhythm, but not the language-bound meter; one can mimic levels of diction, but not the actual sound of the original words. Textures are harder (maybe impossible) to translate than ‘ ficult than larger patterns. Poetry is made at all these levels—and .12.- - z"; -. u .4 a‘ ,. so is translation. That is why nothing less than a poem can translate another. _ Yet "anything goes” will not do. The translation must not only re-present, but represent, the original. One walks a tightrope between the To-lang'uage and the From-language, in a double loyalty. A trans- lator is an "artist on oath.” sometimes one may suCceed only in re-presenting a poem, not in closely representing it. At such times one- draws consolation from parables like the following: A Chinese emperor ordered a tunnel to be bored through a great mountain. The engineers decided that the best and quickest way to do it would be to begin work on both sides of the mountain; after precise measure~ ments. If the measurements are precise enough, the two tunnels will meet in the middle, making a single one. "But, what happens if they don't meet?" asked the emperor. The counselors, in their wisdom, answered, "If they don’t meet, we will have two tunnels - instead of one." So too, if the representation in another language is not close enough, but still succeeds in "carrying" the poem in some sense, we will have two po'ems instead of one. a N OTBS . r. Ramanuian 1985, 203. 3. Ibid., :0. ‘ _ _ __* 3. Dylan Thomas, Collected Poems (New York: New Directions, 1939— 53), us. 4. Ramanuian 1985, 165. For further details of akamlpugam genres and their implica ,‘see ibid., afterword. ' 5. Ibid., 2.42.. ‘ 6. Ibid., 65, 165. 7. Ibid., 186. . 8. The words "waterholes" and "animals" could have been in the sin. gular. For, in Tamil, neuter words may omit the plural marker. The word forj’animal” here is min, which also means "a deer." The grammar of such 'Tamil words makes them both general and specific, not either the one or the other. In this case, I preferred the generality of the English plurals in my translation, losing the teeter-toner of the Tamil singular/plural. ’ - On Translating a Tamil Poem 9. Ibid., ro. ' 10. St. John Perse, Birds. tr. R. Fitzgerald (New York: Pantheon Books, I965). 40- - ...
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