When she was translating Rilke into Russian, the poet Marina Tsvetaeva wrote in a letter to Boris Pasternak:
And today I want Rilke to speak—through me. In the vernacular, this is known as translation. (How much better the Germans put it—nachdichten!—following the poet’s path, paving anew the entire road which he paved. For let nach be—(to follow after), but—dichten!, is that which is always anew. Nachdichten—to pave anew over instantaneously vanishing traces. But translation has another meaning. To translate not just into (the Russian language, for example), but across (a river). I translate Rilke into the Russian tongue, as he will someday translate me to the other world.
To speak through another always sets us down in a place of no return, a place of exile, translation’s natural habitat. However, precisely because it is a place of exile, translation allows for the confluence of several voices. And suddenly, sometimes, the almost-miracle occurs, as Rilke writes in the fifth of his Duino Elegies:
In this troublesome nowhere, suddenly,
the unsayable point here the pure too-little
is changed incomprehensibly—, altered
into that empty too-much.
Translating poetry requires both a deep knowledge of the original language and of the poem’s historical, cultural, and literary context; more than anything, though, it requires a still deeper knowledge of the language into which it’s being translated, the translator’s own language. Added to this must be a love of that language, the language of the person receiving and then transforming the poem into a new poem—creating a new path. Read More