Translating Conceived as Sketching

I wonder if a translation of a poem can be compared to a sketch of a painting? The sketcher recreates aspects of an original art work in a different medium, say pencil. Words are the translator’s medium. She uses those of one language to depict an object made with those of a different language. Both sketcher and translator do something akin to copying. The outcome may do a certain justice to the original, or not, but won’t be confused with it. We’re not talking about forgery or plagiarism.

What’s the point of sketching another art work? Take your answer to that question, I’ll take mine, and let’s see if they apply to translation: What’s the point of it?

Suppose the sketches were made from a painting that has disappeared? Whatever inspired it, say the rape of the Sabine women, is known to us only via the exertions of a sketcher. Pursuing the analogy, a poem may as well not exist for the reader who doesn’t know the language it’s written in. When a translator says, It looks somewhat like this, the reader gains a modicum of access to it, an awareness of it.

Scrupulous fidelity isn’t in the cards in either case. Both actions, sketching and translating, are drenched in subjectivity, contingent on the eye, the tastes, the skill of the renderer. Each is a form of imitation; an homage, perhaps; or an exercise; or an exploration; even an idle amusement. Secondary and derivative, yes, but each possessing a life of its own.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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