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« Another hominin lineage that interbred with (some) modern human populations..(omar) | Main | Fame and the Writer (narayan) »

December 24, 2010


Here's something from a book I love because it served me as a Rosetta stone when I was struggling to find meaning in the lyrics of Brazilian song :
"Writing about foreign language texts, especially rhymed poetry, poses many familiar problems. The challenges of translation are compounded when writing about songs whose words follow the contours and accents of melodies. The aim of the lyricists who write versions, recasting a foreign song into English, is to fit new words to the musical notes of the original composition, and they often modify the themes and images of the original significantly. Some of the English renderings in the present study follow the melodies of the original, but most should be considered translations rather than versions. Emphasis has been placed on meaning and stylistic features." (C.A.Perrone, Masters of Contemporary Brazilian Song)
I long had an aversion to poetry (and vocal music) and realized why only when I found Brazilian music. English, my only fluency, is a language that inhibits the profusion of rhyme, rhythm and word-play that I came to see (thanks to Perrone) in Brazilian lyrics. It is Geet-anjali after all, poetry with a musical purpose, and I sympathize with Tagore's difficulties in rendering his verse into anything as lyrical in English. How can anyone begin to duplicate in English a sequence of endings like jaagini / bhaagini / raagini / laageni? Can't be done. The wealth of words with vowel endings in many languages lends itself to musicality in ways that English just cannot deliver. Near impossible to do a translation that is also a version.
As for the conjecture about fame and commerce, I'll put up a humorous post shortly.

Actually, the lack of rhyme in the translation doesn't bother me. I'm not a huge fan of rhyming poetry, though I can see the cleverness and sometimes apt juxtaposition that come about in those. There are times when it feels contrived, inserting words just for the sake of the rhyme, rather than the mood.
My quibble with the Gitanjali is the lack of color that Tagore admitted in his letter, there is no problem of trying to maintain the rhyming or alliterations in those.
Why do you say English is your only fluency? Surely you must know at least a couple of others apart from your mother tongue, as is so often the case in India.

"Why do you say English is your only fluency? Surely you must know at least a couple of others apart from your mother tongue, as is so often the case in India." Thereby hangs a tragic tail.

`It is a long tail, certainly,' said Alice, looking down with wonder at the Mouse's tail; `but why do you call it sad?'

Maybe in another post?

very interesting post - particularly since gitanjali always left me feeling something is seriously wrong.

the problem with the poem is more than tagore catering to the western audience. it is the inadequacy of the english language to capture the nuances of bengali took me a long time to understand this.

the effeminate images in gitanjali are typical of vaishnavite devotional poems. this sounds strange (at least to me) in english. a lot is not only lost but distorted in translation.

unfortunately, i know no bengali :-(

I doubt that it is the inadequacy of the English language for the translation. Do you think that someone translating the original Bengali, into Malayalam for instance, would fare better at conveying the sense of the original work?
There are obviously some things which cannot be conveyed with the same ease and felicity of the original, at least, not without a dozen footnotes. But when translation is the name of the game, it still can be structured to convey the sense of the verse, rather than a twisted meaning.
The Bhakti tradition and the outpouring of devotional love songs played a huge formative influence on Tagore's poetry, but I'm not sure as to whether his poetry was purely intended in the Bhakti mode, or were translated to appear less sensual and more spiritual.

the inadequacy of the language - perhaps not the fault of the language but the inadequate comfort level of the user. language is a cultural signifier - hence a lacuna is likely to trouble all translators- - not just into english but into any language other than the one in which the work is written. hence translation too is a creative original piece.

From what I've tried looking up, my impression is that a lot of the translations of Tagore's works are from the English version into other languages. That would make for a rather strange mix of lenses- from the original Bengali into English and then into the target language.
What would it say for a translator who has to work with a translation in the first place? I'm not sure whether the current state of translation in India would allow for someone to translate directly from the Bengali into, say Tamil, and vice-versa.

This book link has a very interesting second half that talks about Tagore's motivations when he translated his poetry.

Actually, I meant to link directly to the chapter,the point of interest is around page 21.

sarat chandra, bankim,tara shankar b r household names in kerala as their works were serialised in mathrubhumi. to the best of my knowledge they r direct translation from bengali, and supposed to be pretty good..

translating from translation - the end product is doubly removed and therefore cannot be faithful to the original. but then any translation is an original work to some exent.

indian works translated into english are pathetic. i have given up on them. in fact i tried dabbling with translation into english - and realised something was seriously different in the end product.gave up the project half way thru

A year later, and Kochuthresiamma is no longer with us. She passed away on November 8, losing a 5-year long battle to cancer.
But I have continued to revisit Tagore, and managed to try the translation from Bengali to Tamil that I always claimed would maybe make for a different glimpse into his Gitanjali.

Here is my 'Anjali' (offering), so to speak, to the memory of Tagore, and Kochuthresiamma:

Sujatha, you and I have spoken in person about the untimely death of our frequent visitor and blogging friend Kochuthresiamma. Thanks for bringing the sad news to the attention of our other readers. KPJ was a long time reader of our blog. Her comments were intelligent, informative, curious, very often funny and always supportive. I will miss her presence here and my Facebook page.

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