While translating John Donne's Selected Poems into Turkish about two years ago I was particularly struck by two aspects of his poetry: the intense personal tone and the unexpected familiarity of part of the style, imagery and figurative language. Of course, inherent in the process of translation is close analytical study of the text. But such study is not a requisite which is exclusive to translation work and I realize that what may have seemed to me a revelation afforded by the effort of translation could have merely been an indication of the inadequacy of my past studies of Donne. Nevertheless, especially his wit and humour seened so fresh and vividly familiar in Turkish at the time that I could not help thinking that this feeling was perhaps attributable to reading his poetry in my native language rather than to the painstaking study or the poems as recreated by the task. of translation.
Donne's compressed meanings, ingenious, complex and sustained conceits, his syntax and "stong lines" seemed to me, especially upon repeated reading of the poems in Turkish, not only less esoteric and more clearly recognizable than they were when I studied them as an undergraduate and later taught a cousse on them, but also more pointed and forceful. Furthermore, the way Donne preserves the cadence and immediacy of ordinary speech in his dramatic and irregular meter was, I felt, more readily noticeable in the Turkish version. In fact, I am now inclined to think that Donne's poetry is much less limited in its appeal than it is generally considered to be.
In other words, a re-presentation of Donne's poems in Turktsh seemed worthwhile not only for the benefit of the Turkish reader who would not be able to read Donne in the orignal; but also for those Turkish readers who spoke English and therefore could, and perhaps did read these poems in English.
I find it also worth. noting that during the translation process Donne seemed to be almost a friend - an endearingly and disarmingly eccentric one - ready to wink at me at any moment. I felt inclined to take some of his artfulness or verbal juggling too seriously. Every now and then he cast a playfully quizzical glance at me, as if to see how impressed I was by his display of wit and ingenuity.
Now, with respect to Sir John Denham's remark on translators, quoted above: 'the argument of those who condemn translators as "failed writers" rests on the unfounded notion that translators are people who take up translation to fulfil their frustrated ambition to be writers. Implicit in Sir John Deriham's lines is also the charge that translators are equivocators and impostors who pose as writers whereas they only re-produce what has been written by someone else, Thus, translators are alleged to misrepresent and possibly discredit the author of the source text, which they inevitably distort, much like the way unskilled copying clerks of the past used to distort the material they had to copy. In this sense, translators are traitors, too.
One feels that behind these appellations there even lurks a charge of "plagiarism". In the opirion of the commentators who adopt the kind of stance referred to above, since the translator represents a text in a mould different from the original and expresses someone else's ideas in a different guise, he is in a sense plagiarising.
Sir John Denham's dictum on translation echoes a widely held view on the subject since the day the first written ("literary") translation appeared in man's cultural history. The proposition appears to be pointed, even inspired, but on close inspection will be found to be not even feasible but spurious. The second line quoted above might, for instance, as well be reformulated as, for irsstnce, ".few, but such as cannot translate, write."
The statement is based on the astonishingly popular idea that one of the occupations referred to here is authentic, and therefore to be applauded, while the other is fake, and therefore to be despised. However, this idea is invalid and the statement pointless, because, firstly, writing and translating are related but mutually independent occupations, and the relation between the writer (poet, playwright, novelist..) and translator is far from being that of the artist and parasite, or the creator and charlatan or traitor.
Furthermore, a person who cannot write cannot translate either. The act of translation evidently requires a reasonably developed writing ability. Although translation may, and often does, help the translator improve and polish up his writing skill to some extent, it does not, of course, help him learn how to write.
There may be a variety of reasons which compel a person to take up writing. One of these is that one has something to say that one thinks the world should know. It may well be that, ideally, the scholarly minded literary translator believes that the writer whose work he translates has something to say that the translator's targeted world should know, in a language other than the one used by the writer.
So the translator, not unlike a certain kind of interpretative critic (who is likewise disparaged by some commentators and writers), aims to reproduce in a different guise what has already been produced by the writer. Indeed, critical analysis and appreciaton are an integral part of the translator's task, although this is not to say that the translator treats the source text critically iri a sustained way all along the translation process; but the very act of trying to make out what the writer means and determine the ways of expressing a given unit of writing often requires critical thinking and judgement
One of the curious by-proructs of the translator's critical treatment of the text, and of the intersely close interaction between the translator and the writer's art, is that a translator may change, sometimes substantially, his opinion on the writer. It is, as a matter of fact, possible to say in this respect that there are writers who stand up to translation and writers whcse work disintegrates, in the eyes of the translator, during the translation process which entails continuous dissection and rebuilding. At some stage in this process that is, the apparently innovative style of the original, text may prove to be sham, and the profound-sounding message, hollow.
Both the critic and the translator use techniques for recreating something
produced or created by someone else, but they don't as a rule abuse it,
and, secondly, there is no harm in this process, for people in other professions
make a living by processing an item they have not produced themselves.
It is also important to note here that translators may be misguided, even
inept, but in intention they are never hostile, wtiich is to say they can
never knowingly betray the writer. Therefore a translator cannot accurately
be called a traitor - even if the end result of his efforts does not turn
out to be as faithful to the onginal as he and others would desire ....