Academic journal article Studies in the Literary Imagination

Introduction

Academic journal article Studies in the Literary Imagination

Introduction

Article excerpt

In the Dedication of his Aeneis--one of the most revered poems in the eighteenth century--Dryden uses the old Horatian adage, ut pictura poesis (a poem is like a picture), to reiterate what he had been saying for years, that only a true poet can be a translator and that a translation is a poem in its own right:

   There is a kind of Invention in the imitation of Raphael; for though the
   thing was in Nature, yet the Idea of it was his own.... Suppose Apelles and
   Raphael had each of them Painted a burning Troy; might not the Modern
   Painter have succeeded as well as the Ancient, though neither of them had
   seen the Town on Fire? For the draughts of both were taken from the Idea's
   which they had of Nature. (5: 305)

In fact, he had already argued, extra talents are required of the poet who works as translator, for "No man is capable of Translating Poetry, who, besides a Genius to that Art, is not a Master both of his Authours Language, and of his own ..." (1: 118). In highlighting both the genius required of the translator and the special difficulties facing those who work in this mode, Dryden willy nilly provided a rebuff to the notion that the translator is a mercenary drudge, an aspiring but ultimately impotent writer who will always fall short of the true poet. Powerful as Dryden's critical and poetic forces have proved, he was not successful, however, in eradicating the stigma attached to translation in the minds of all posterity, for still in the realms both of literature and of literary criticism this mode of writing is seen as a poor cousin or, at best, an exotic oddity--rarely as a genre in its own right and only occasionally as interesting for theoretical issues of language and literature.

Yet the first book printed in English was a translation: William Caxton's own History of Troy (1473?). The significance of Caxton's choice as he set about the translation that was to be made available in print and in England lies in the fact that the press, like translation, not only provided a means of dissemination of treasures but immediately became a key instrument of exchange between languages, cultures, and historical periods. The obvious objection to be made here, of course, is that the printing press is always true to the original work, while a translation will always be unfaithful. Indeed, the notorious problem overshadowing any exchange through translation is the multiple forms and varying degrees of supposed accuracy--or lack thereof--this mode of literature can take. Addressing this issue in 1680, Dryden made his famous division of translation into three kinds: metaphrase ("or turning an Author word by word, and Line by Line, from one Language into another"), paraphrase ("or Translation with Latitude, where the Authour is kept in view by the Translator, so as never to be lost, but his words are not so strictly follow'd as his sense, and that too is admitted to be amplyfied, but not alter'd"), and imitation ("where the Translator [if now he has not lost that Name] assumes the liberty, not only to vary from the words and sence, but to forsake them both as he sees occasion: and taking only some general hints from the Original, to run division on the ground-work, as he pleases") (1:114). While Dryden himself saw metaphrase and imitation as "the two extremes which ought to be avoided," he was ultimately concerned with the supremacy of the translation--the carrying over--of the original work's spirit and sense so as to allow the translator's audience equal or at least similar experience and insights that, the translator felt, the audience of the original work enjoyed.

Trevor Ross's essay in this collection addresses the assumptions of intent and value underlying the choices a translator must consequently make. What is important here is the exchange involved in any translation, whether it attempts to adhere strictly to the original or exploits the latitude of an imitation. …

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