In the spring semester of 1983, each Wednesday would see Haj taking a late morning flight from Logan to La Guardia, where I would meet him to drive out to the State University of New York College at Old Westbury, where I was teaching at the time. As a nontraditional college founded by Nelson Rockefeller in the 1960s to be the social sciences sister to SUNY/Purchase's arts focus, SUNY/COW did not have formal departments. I taught in a program called Comparative History, Ideas, and Cultures (CHIC), and, in the spring of 1983, we were fortunately able to find funding to bring Haj to the college each week for a seminar course called Art and Science in a Society at the Turning Point, loosely based on Fritjof Capra's recently published book on that subject. In addition to the regular seminars, three public lectures were offered--"Science in Search of Humanity," "Language in Search of Meaning," and "Poetry and the Power of Words." While students were able to take the course for credit, all the lectures and seminar sessions were open to the public and the college community without charge. The three-hour long seminars started at 7:30 p.m. and drew upwards of forty people each week, students, faculty, and staff alike.
Accompanying Haj on his weekly visits was his beloved carpetbag, crammed with manuscripts, articles, and juggling balls. Students, faculty, and staff learned to find Haj on his arrival at Old Westbury by the CHIC Xerox machine, where they could engage him in conversation while he ran off innumerable copies of all kinds of material that be thought everyone should know about. The seminars themselves were magical, as all Haj's friends would suppose: the room was large enough to seat everyone in a circle, and halfway through, Haj would produce enough juggling balls from his bag of tricks for everyone to stand and stretch and juggle. As the lecture titles indicate, seminar topics focused on Haj's interests and concerns on the nature of linguistics, art, humanity, science, and poetry, and the increasing influence of Eastern on Western thought, all of which still engage him and us to this day. Haj's energy was prodigious. After the seminar, we would drive home to Brooklyn for a late supper and talk into the early morning hours with my husband Don, who had known Haj since their days at MIT in the 1960s. I would then drop Haj off at La Guardia for his return trip to Cambridge on my way to the college the next morning. An indelible memory in my brain is the sight of sandy-haired Haj and his carpetbag on the sidewalk at La Guardia each Wednesday morning, as I arrived to pick him up.
Many years later, I find myself engaged in a natural development from these seminar exchanges and Haj's influence in my work with an Emily Dickinson colleague, Masako Takeda, from Osaka, Japan, who has translated many of Dickinson's poems into Japanese. We are collaborating on her translation of a short poem by Dickinson, whom Haj invariably refers to as "Saint Emily" or "Ste. Emilie" (either a nod to what he thinks is my attitude or a reflection of his own--or perhaps both). One manuscript text (there are three) is accompanied by a note that says: "Please accept a sunset--." What follows are my comments on how a cognitive analysis could possibly help in translation, together with Masako's discussion of the poem as she has translated it.
Dickinson's poetry, as all who read her know, is challenging in its obscurity, an obscurity compounded by the complexities of her language. If Dickinson's poetry is difficult for the native speaker to understand, how much more so is it to translate her poetry into another language? Whatever theoretical stance a translator takes, whether that of Nabokov's literal (word-for-word) translation, von Humboldt's theory of adequate equivalencies, or the reception theory of twentieth-century approaches, the translator is still very much seen as one who first and foremost must deal with "experiencing and defining the boundaries of meanings and associations surrounding each word" (Biguenet and Schulte xiii). According to this view, the challenge for the modern translator is to capture as much as possible the sounds, rhythms, tone, and possible meanings of the original text, without losing its sense of "foreignness" (Schulte and Biguenet 15). If this is indeed the goal for the translator, what strategies will best serve to analyze these effects in the original text?
Discussions of translation theory and methodology to date share one thing in common: they tend to assume that meaning somehow resides in the language of the text itself and that such meanings can be accessed by close attention to the denotations and connotations of words in isolation and in combination with other words. Other features, such as sound and rhythm, are considered ancillary to the meaning, as aesthetic "add-ons," rather than as aspects integral to the "meaning" of the words. Recent developments in cognitive linguistics, however, have produced evidence that this is not in fact the case, that meaning does not reside so much "in" language as it is accessed "by" it, embodied in both content and form. This shift in focus has resulted in a new way of looking at analogical mappings and cognitive metaphor, of seeing how meaning emerges through conceptual integration networks, of recognizing what cognitive processes must take place in order to understand the conceptual domain underlying words in a text. The application of cognitive theory to literary texts has already deepened our understanding of the ways in which a literary text, in its embodiment of content and form, accesses conceptual ideas of the culture, the time, and the emotions and feelings of the individual writer. Whether cognitive theory can also encompass the "textual" features of literary language, such as tone, rhythm, and sound pattern, still remains to be more thoroughly explored.
For translators, the question becomes to what extent a cognitive approach to literary texts can help them improve the quality of their translations, in capturing both the content of possible meanings accessed by the text and the aesthetic qualities that reflect the emotional stance the writer takes to those possible meanings. In our work together, Masako and I are exploring the possibilities of taking into account what a cognitive analysis of a Dickinson poem can offer to its translation into Japanese. From the range of possible meanings produced by a linguistic analysis of the words and the structure of the poem, a cognitive analysis enables the translator to make an informed choice: to select a reading that is closest or most "prototypical" to the poem's inner coherence, or to choose a reading that is less prototypical. The translator must not only be aware of the cognitive effects of the language being translated but also consider the cognitive effects of the target language. The following section describes the process by which Masako set about translating Dickinson' s Sunset poem (F1599/J1622). (1)
Translating a Dickinson Poem: First Steps
Many of Dickinson's poems have a syntactical complexity caused partially by the poet' s apparent preference for rhythm over meaning. She evidently did not feel the necessity of taking into consideration the readers of her time if the meaning was clear to her. She also may have preferred to keep it ambiguous. Whatever the case, the actual poems, even as one tries to trace a superficial meaning, present a considerable difficulty, aside from enjoyment, to the readers of today.
To begin with, we need to clarify what is meant by the word interpretation. Linguistically, it has two dimensions, grammatical and semantic. Although these two processes do not occur in sequence, we will discuss the former first, as we explore the textual possibilities inherent in the poem's language.
F1599/J1622 is one of Dickinson' s shortest poems. The longer a poem is, the …