Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Straight to the Source: Using Phaedrus and la Fontaine to Retranslate Fable V, 25, of Felix Maria Samaniego

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Straight to the Source: Using Phaedrus and la Fontaine to Retranslate Fable V, 25, of Felix Maria Samaniego

Article excerpt

Salvaging Literary Models in Translation

Andre Lefevere describes the translation of rhymed, metrical poetry into target-language rhyme and meter as a "double bondage," and dismisses the enterprise as "doomed to failure from the start" in his prescriptive study, Translating Poetry: Seven Strategies and a Blueprint (49). This landmark work of the Translation Studies movement he helped spearhead may be faulted for its excessive reliance on the outdated, quirky, even mediocre English versions of Catullus 64 he selects as the basis for his analysis of poetic translation, a specialized act which, he writes, "becomes necessary when the `variations' obscure rather than express the original author's interpretation of a theme" (99). While surely Lefevere's insistence that a translation capture the source text's "communicative value" is central to this endeavor, his position seems to preclude translating a poem written in rhyme and meter into anything other than a vaguely poetical diction too timorous to assume the identity of an entirely new text. This rather confining conceptualization of poetic translation thus seems to allow no other option than loose metrical transliteration. It is telling that Lefevere never provides the reader with his own rendering of Catullus 64, after having judged, often harshly, nearly twenty models to be, in their own specific ways, misguided or deficient. Translation is a most pragmatic process, and for the influential author of Translating Poetry, highly normative theoretical precepts occlude the very real demands of choice.

Lefevere does, however, raise an often neglected point with regard to preserving intertextual echoes in target-language versions. Broadly stated, he is troubled that "the demands of meter require the sacrifice of accuracy" (55), an "accuracy," given his staunch opposition to carrying over meter and rhyme, one must assume he conceives to be primarily semantic in nature. Lefevere objects, for instance, to T. Hart-Davies's rendering of lines 204-6 of Catullus 64, "annuit invicto caelestum numine rector/quo motu tellus atque horrida contremuerunt/aequora," as "The mighty Thunderer his dread assent/Nodded propitious and the sound was sent," for being a "quiet falsification," and writes:

   No sound at all is sent in the source text; the mere fact that Jupiter nods
   is enough to make the earth and the seas tremble. In the source text the
   passage is, moreover, a hardly veiled allusion to Zeus' nod in the Iliad;
   to give a garbled translation of this particular passage is to obscure the
   poem's lines of descent, which Catullus definitely wants to establish,
   because they are part of what is expected of the doctus poeta he is trying
   to be. (55)

Putting aside Lefevere's fondness for authorial attention as well as his witheringly close cross-reading, the observation that source materials--whether direct quotations, paraphrases, oblique echoes or allusions--are carelessly overlooked, poorly translated, or simply too foreign to survive transference into target-language texts appears well taken. The thorny problems of historical relevance and cultural equivalence vis-a-vis linguistic intertexuality are too often obscured by the resulting distortions in target-language texts, which may clumsily veil their originals' aesthetic intent or provenience.

Decades of structuralist and post-structuralist poetics have refigured the New Critical conceptualization of the aesthetic text as a self-contained, spatial object whose more or less stable meaning lies latent, but poised for extraction, beneath a congeries of tension, paradox, repetition, and contradiction. The post-formalist poetic text is now more widely perceived to be a fluid, experiential, even temporal matrix where language, culture, reception, and history, both socio-political and literary, combine to complicate faith in the poem as static artifact whose unchanging significance remains readily retrievable through the tried-and-true methods of close reading. …

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