Thursday, 8 September 2011

Poems about translation 10: Miroslav Holub, 'Wings'

This isn't really a poem about translation but it's a poem which resonates strongly for me in relation to translation. Miroslav Holub's 'Wings' was translated from Czech by George Theiner (also available here):
We have   
a map of the universe
for microbes,
we have
a map of a microbe
for the universe.

we have
a Grand Master of chess
made of electronic circuits.

But above all
we have
the ability
to sort peas,
to cup water in our hands,
to seek
the right screw
under the sofa
for hours

gives us
For me there is something there that's very close to the distinction between a piece of machine translation software and a human translator. We need the electronic circuits (and we have to learn to get along with them) but there are also screws to be sought under the sofa, and peas to be sorted (funny how in Holub's poem these activities sound much more artistic!) and we need human translators to sought them, sort them, etc..

I came across the poem in a 1967 essay on Holub by Al Alvarez. Another remark by Holub quoted in the same essay really appealed to me:
There is no deep difference between the scientific mind and the artistic mind: both include the maximal creativity with the maximal freedom. Science is both theoretic and experimental. Art is only experimental.
If for 'art' we read 'translation', this is a beautifully succinct expression of the truth that no matter how much theory, what critical frameworks, what models one applies to the production of a translation, in the end the only question worth asking is 'does the translation work'? It's only through experimentation, the trying-on and jettisoning of possible solutions, that a translation can achieve excellence.

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