Friday, 13 December 2013

Translation Fast and Slow

That Cavafy poem I gave you in the original yesterday. Here is my English translation:


In the Dives…

In the dives                                                                             and bordellos
of Beirut I wallow.                                                     I didn’t want to stay
in Alexandria; not I.                                                   Tamides has left me:
he’s gone with the mayor’s son                                            just to get
a Nile villa                                                                  and a house in town.
It wouldn’t do to stay                                                in Alexandria —
In the dives                                                                 and bordellos
of Beirut I wallow.                                                     In cheap debauch
I squander my life.                                                    All that saves me
like a lasting beauty,                                                 like a lingering scent
that stays on my flesh,                                              is for two years I had
Tamides my own,                                                      that magnificent boy,
and not for a house                                                    or a villa on the Nile.


It took me about half an hour to translate that from Greek into English. Recently I had to translate three pages of English into Greek. That took about a month, with lots of help from Greek friends. It just goes to show. What it goes to show I’m not sure, except that just because one can translate a poem (the most untranslatable of all things) from language A into language B, one shouldn’t assume translating mere prose from language B into language A will be easy.

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