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photography and film – facts, ideas, values

Autumn leaves

It’s winter now. As I write out a description of leaves being picked up by a blackbird looking for worm and insects, somewhere in the back of my mind is an ancient Chinese poem about leaves. In looking, there is Rilke’s

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

…wake, read, write letters long to friends
And will the alleys up and down
Walk restlessly, when falling leaves dance.

Check out the five versions in the links in the Rilke post to see how hard it is to translate ‘walking’, alleys’, ‘ leaves’.

December 23, 2007 Posted by | Poetry, Rilke, translation | Leave a comment

Rainer Maria Rilke – five translations of Herbsttag

Four translations of Rilke’s poem, Herbsttag, which I popped in my pocket on a trip to the land of serendip. And another for good luck from elsewhere by Guntram Deichsel.

If you have read Le Ton Beau de Marot by Douglas Hofstadter, you will appreciate these.

In checking around to see what people thought of the Hofstadter, here are a few ifs, buts, and whyfors:

(1) Wiki: Le Ton Beau de Marot

(2) review by Alan Jacobs

(3) Three entries in Everything2

Ma Mignonne is not Rilke, sure. But that wasn’t Hofstadter’s point. In any case it was a poem linked to his wife, Carol. The third commenter in the Everything2 entry, “Teleny”, describes Le Ton Beau de Marot as having ‘ more than a whiff of the infirmary about it. But what is therapeutic to write is not always easy or pleasant to read, especially when the stench is that of the asylum. ‘, concluding: ‘ warm bright spots in a muddy catacomb.’ But she gets it, too, because she writes finally:

The main issue seems to be, having discarded the traditional views of religion and philosophy in favor of hard skepticism, he’s now faced with the age-old paradox of love continuing even after the object of this love has become a collection of decaying organic material. Since he cannot rely on the comfort of an afterlife, or even (as Dante himself seemed to indicate) of her qualities reflecting a greater good, and cannot bear to think of himself having so human an emotion as grief, he’s fallen back on reinventing the wheel of superstition. If only he could convey….in just the right words…remember her…in just the right circumstances, just the right moment… if he could translate this poem, her favorite, with just the right shades of meaning.. then, perhaps (his madly grieving mind seems to be saying)… she might…live again?

December 23, 2007 Posted by | Douglas Hofstadter, Rilke, translation | , , | Leave a comment

War and Peace study

Movable Types: How War and Peace works

by Michael Woods

New Yorker, November 26, 2007

deals with the novel but also the new translation, and so ‘lost in translation’.

December 7, 2007 Posted by | Tolstoy, translation, Writing | Leave a comment

Lost in translation

Love the movie, Lost in Translation.


Roger Shattuck


“In its truest role translation does not consist solely in reducing all foreign works to the limitations of, say, English, but equally in reshaping and enlarging English to reach meanings which it has not yet had to grapple with”



Vladimir Nabokov, “The Art of Translation


Three grades of evil can be discerned in the queer world of verbal transmigration…The first, and lesser one, comprises obvious errors due to ignorance or misguided knowledge. This is mere human frailty and thus excusable.


The next step to Hell is taken by the translator who intentionally skips words or passages that he does not bother to understand or that might seem obscure or obscene to vaguely imagined readers; he accepts the blank look that his dictionary gives him without any qualms; or subject scholarship to primness: he is as ready to know less than the author as he is to think he knows better.


“The third, and worst, degree of turpitude is reached when a masterpiece is planished and patted into such a shape, vilely beautified in such fashion as to conform to the notions and prejudices of a given public. This is a crime to be punished by the stocks as plagiarists were in the shoebuckle days.”




Nabokov’s did a ‘literal’ translation into English of Pushkin’s, Eugene Onegin. (1964).


The current debate on translation is gathered around the new War and Peace by

Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (October 16, 2007)



Tolstoy’s Real Hero Olando Figes New York Review of Books


The Art of Translation

Sam Tanenhaus Sunday Book Review, New York Times, 17 November 2007




A searchable War and Peace from The Literature Network

{trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude }

November 17, 2007 Posted by | film [its techniques], Novel, translation | 1 Comment