Michael Wasserman - Interpreter - ESSAYS


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Density

I think Vyacheslav Ivanov mentions in an article the importance of image distribution in a poetic line. I believe this can be made the basis of conveying the sensibility of a poet in another language. To make counting of images in a line easy one can think of each image as requiring a separate camera position or angle had we been making a film based on the poem. Let us use this analysis to compare a Pushkin quatrain with one from a Ukrainian song whose comical effect relies mostly on density of images.

The song

Ty kazala na krovati 2
Ne kazala v yakoi hati 2
Ya priyshov tobi nema 2
Pidmanula ty menia. 1

Pushkin

Vse hlopayut. Onegin vhodit, 2
Idiet mezh kresel po nogam 2 or 3
Dvoinoy lornet skosias navodit 2
Na lozhi neznakomyh dam. 3

7 for the song, 10 or 11 for Pushkin, depending how you count. Why Pushkin does not seem dense at 1,5 times the number of images may be a subject for a separate essay. For now all we want to observe is how distinct the pattern of image distribution from line to line is. I found that when the translator of poetry retains this pattern of image density distribution by keeping the images of the first line in the first line of the translation, the second in the second, etc., even at the cost of having to change the number of feet in a line and turning four foot iambic into three to five foot iambic, then the resulting translation to some extent keeps the flavor of the original. Conversely, if lengths of lines are preserved meticulously, but images leach from one line to another, little is left of the original flavor, which fact manifests itself in bilingual readers not recognizing in the translation the author they know in the original.

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