Evaluation of Seeley’s Translation of আট বছর আগে একদিন poem.
“Translation,” as Benjamin says, “does not find itself in the center of language forest but on the outside facing the wooded ridge; it calls into it without entering.” This suggests that translation is absolutely free but should be very faithful to the original text at the same time. By the right of the kinship between languages, different languages are interlinked and are not “strangers to one another.” So the expressive identities of various languages share common sameness and this analogy invites translation of a piece of work. As translation is semiotic transformation of meaning, so the translator ought to be very careful about proper transfer of meaning. Translating poetry is thus always a challenging and cadaverous task. Robert Frost’s definition of poetry will clarify the vulnerability of the translation of poetry; he says, “poetry is what get lost in translation.” So evaluating a translation of a poem is even more difficult as it includes various considerations.
Clinton B. Seely’s “A Day Eight Years Ago” is a finely organized piece of translation of “আট বছর আগের একদিন,” a poem by Jibananda Das. In this poem, the poet creates paradoxical situation between life and death. The poem emphasizes W. B. Yeats’s famous phrases “life in death” and “death in life”. This poem is full of assimilations and images. Clinton tries to render those images as accurately as possible. Translation of a poem into another language invites trouble because the equivalent words which are needed to create due atmosphere in the target language, are not found in the target language. Moreover, the languages do not share common structural configuration. Clinton faces complexity in dealing with equivalence, and there is a miscommunication between subject and predicate in various places of the translation. Apart from that, he translates the poem with a vigilant eye toward the must-occurring problems. He has taken as much freedom as can be taken safely.
The title of the translated poem is as simple as that is in the original poem. This title can be translated in some more ways with alterations. But this one is perfectly correct and has no syntactical and semantical errors also. Sometimes translator has to change entirely the source text title considering the content and context precisely. But in this title, that sort of change is not necessary, that’s why Clinton goes literal way.
In the first stanza, the opening two lines are translated well. But in the third and fourth line introduces a kind of cultural untranslability. The translator chooses “February” month in substitution of “ফাল্গুন”. The month “ফাল্গুন” starts about in the middle of February and ends in March. The poem does not indicate exactly in which phase of this month the person committed suicide and had been taken to the morgue. It is true that “ফাল্গুন” occurs when February is running, but this type of substitution is not totally accurate and acceptable. In the fourth line, “পঞ্চমীর চাাঁি” is loosely translated. The “crescent moon” is just an exposure of the shape of a moon and that had “five days toward full.” These are incomplete and vague expressions and do not share the poet’s intention. The last line of this stanza is good transformation.
In the second stanza, the speaker gives the condition of the dead person just before when he committed suicide. The person was laying with his wife and his child in that night. But in the
first line, the translator says “A wife had lain beside him— a child, too.” In the original poem, “wife” and “child” are described definitely but in the translated piece, they are described indefinitely. The translator should have used either possessive pronoun or definite article before them in order to translate the original text more precisely.
The next a few lines of the second stanza are : “There had been love, hope, in the moonlight / Then what ghost did he see? Why was his sleep disturbed? / Or may be he hadn’t slept for days. Now, lying in the morgue, he sleeps. / He had sought this sleep perhaps.” These are finely-tuned translations. We can get a possible picture of the original text. After that, the speaker gives a description of the dead person’s posture while lying in the morgue. The speaker describes that the dead person’s mouth was frothy-blooded and his sleeping posture is compared with that of a rat afflicted by an epidemic— plague. But as we can see, the translator is a little bit misleading about this description. The translator has messed up the condition of the dead person’s face with that of the diseased rat. The slack-neck gesture of a diseased rat is compared to sleeping posture of the dead man, but by “the frothy-blooded mouth,” the speaker indicates the dead man’s face in the original text. Moreover, the word “slack” is not the proper word for transferring the meaning what the poet in the source text intends by the word “গুদি”. The word does not hold the image that is intended in the source text. The translator translates this phrase “আাঁধার ঘুদির বুগক” as “In the bosom of a dingy cranny.” This once again hampers the writer’s intention. The poet describes the intensity of darkness amidst which the dead man was sleeping, not to emphasize the place like “a dingy cranny.” So the word “ঘুদি” is used to emphasize the intensity and discomfort of the darkness, though its literal meaning is “narrow and dark place.” Here in this poem, the aforementioned phrase may give meaning as “in the heart of profound darkness.” But in the translation, the translator says the person was lying in “a …. cranny,” is a bit misleading.
The opening of the third stanza is sense-for-sense translation. The phrase “pain of waking” is a conspicuous addition to the text. It functions as the compensation to the text that is disturbed earlier by translator’s interpretive attacks. When the moon had sunk, some stillness like the camel’s neck came at the window of the dead man and whispered those words: “Never again will you wake / ……. / Pain of waking.”
Camel ‘ neck-like some silence came at the window of the dead man in strange darkness and said those words to the dead man. That stillness came in front of his window, and not “stretched through his window.” If we try to write this line straightly, it resembles the following: “উগটর গ্রীবার মগ া ককান এক দনস্তব্ধ া অদ্ভু আাঁঘাগর ার িানালার ধাগর এগে এ কথা বগলদছল”. But in the translated piece, we see the translator translates as “ the moon had sunk into the strange darkness.” And the stillness sent its message to the dead man in a camel’s neck posture. Stillness had camel’s neck and raised its very neck through the window and delivered those words. So we can clearly identify the difference between the image drawn in the original poem and the image interpreted in the translation. Those words were spoken to the dead man 1) when the moon had sunk and 2) when
there were strange darkness. The phrase “অদ্ভু আাঁধাগর” is rather ambivalent because it gives sense to the both parts. “The moon had sunk into strange darkness” is possible and again “the stillness comes at the window when there were strange darkness all around,” is also possible. Two question can clarify another dilemma: 1) Where did the stillness come? — at his window, “not through the window;” 2) How is the stillness alike? — Like camel’s neck. Stillness is metaphorically assimilated to “the camel’s neck.” So the translator’s interpretation of the original poem is misleading at this point also.
In the fourth stanza, an addition of the word ‘still’ after “but” may present the sense better. The second line of the fourth stanza— “And the decrepit frog begs a few moments more” — is translated really well. But as for the third line, it seems that the line is loosely structured. The translator just translates the line word-for-word basis. The line, “Among anticipated warm affections— beckoned by another dawn,” is structurally and semantically distracted, indeed. This sort of expression could appear in Bengali language but is not allowed in English. Moreover, “Among anticipated warm affections” does not hold the sense as intended by “অনুগময় উষ্ণ অনুরাগে”.
In the fifth stanza, the speaker senses all around him “the unforgiving opposition of my mosquito net” in the deep bottom of swarming darkness. Once again, the level of darkness is intensified by the phrase “োঢ় দনরুগেগে” of the swarming darkness. So the “unforgiving opposition of the mosquito net” against the mosquitoes perhaps, is taking place in the deep bottom of the swarming darkness. But in this translation, translator interprets the mosquito net as “invisible” in the swarming darkness. The speaker realizes a kind of opposition in the very bottom of darkness. The original text does not intend to show whether or not the mosquito net is invisible. With this correction, the line may be: “I sense all around me the unforgiving opposition / Of my mosquito net in the deep core of the swarming darkness.” So the translation of this line does not contain the poet’s intention. According to the concept of George Steiner, a reader or a translator should penetrate in the main text and should try to takes its actual meaning first. And then he should incorporate the meaning in a way that does not hamper the actual meaning of the text. While incorporating the taken away meaning in the target language, the translator can take freedom but at same time, he ought to be very faithful to the original text. In such line, “I sense all around….. invisible in the swarming darkness,” the translator is a little unfaithful to the source text.
The following line of the fifth stanza also introduces a loose structure: “The mosquito stays awake within his blackened monastery, in love with life’s flow.” The latter part, “in love with life’s flow” is loosely connected. The translator gives less prominence to the main clause and entails it loosely at the end. It apparently gives no sense. “The mosquito loves life’s flow staying awake in his darkened monastery”— the line is intended in this way in the main text. But in this translation, the earlier part “The mosquito stays awake within his blackened monastery” is translated well but latter part is neglected and presented in an indifferent manner.
The next line in the main text is: “রক্ত কেি বো কথগক করৌগে কফর উগ়ে যায় মাদছ”. Here the poet describes two different kinds of states; first of which is the extremely worsening condition and the second is rather happy state. This line is expressive of life’s motion. By the words “রক্ত কেি” the poet indicates an extremely miserable state and is subjected to evoke abhorrence in reader’s mind. It may refer to the “rotten blood.” Now turning to the translation, we see “Flies” first “ alight on blood and filth, then fly again to sunlight.” The translator translates it word-for-word basis and thus loses the effect that is created in the main poem. In the next line, translation is perfectly done except the word “উ়েন্ত ( winged).” The “winged insects” can surely fly, but to make the sense more clear, the word “flying” is more preferable in this context. So, we can translate these two lines in the following way: “Fly again the flies from rotten blood to golden sunshine / On the waves of that sunlight how many times / Have I watched the flying insect’s play.”
In the first line of the sixth stanza, we see the translator only translates after the word, not after the sentence. Purvey’s Preface states clearly that the translator shall translate “after the sentence” (meaning) and not just after the words, so that the sentence be as open or opener, in the target language as in the source language and not go far from the latter. Actually in the original poem, it is meant that the intimate sky is like some all-pervasive place and thus possesses their hearts also. But the translator sets the phrase “A intimate sky” apart and interprets that “some pervasive life force controls their hearts.” This is another misinterpretation to the original text. According to the main text, All-pervasiveness is the quality of that intimate sky and that kind of sky possesses their hearts as well. Thus in translation, “some pervasive life force controls their hearts” is a misleading interpretation of the text.
The third and fourth line of the sixth stanza— The grasshopper’s constant twitching, caught in the mischievous child’s grasp, / Fights death— are translated well. But the word “caught” makes the sense a little blurred. “The grasshopper’s constant twitching in the mischievous child’s grasp” makes the sense of the original clear. The word “দুরন্ত” is referred to the children who are of swift nature, and not of calm nature. The use of the word “mischievous” is a little bit exaggerative here in the context. The following lines are: “Yet in that foremost darkness after moonset, you, a coil of rope in hand, / Had gone alone to the Ashvattha tree, / Knowing that the grasshopper’s life, or the doyel bird’s, never meets with / That of man.” These lines are translated really well. These contain precisely what in the main text is intended. The translator’s use of “after moonset” for “চাাঁি ডুগব কেগল পর” proves his conciseness in these lines.
In the seventh stanza, the poet introduces nature as opposing force to suicide in a delicate manner. The first three lines of the seventh stanza are translated skillfully. But there is a lack of intensity in the portrayal of the images. The translation of “fireflies image” is rather less effective. In the original text, there is an exposure of intense natural beauty in that image; But in the translation, that is presented in an ordinary manner. The lines, “…কিানাদকর দি়ে এগে / কোনাদল ফুগলর দিগ্ধ ঝাাঁগক / কগর দন দক মাখামাদখ?” are translated as “Did not the fireflies in a cordial throng / Appear before you?” we can easily notice the difference. In the translation, “কোনালী ফুগলর দিগ্ধ ঝাাঁগক” is avoided
altogether. Levy said that omitting difficult expressions is immoral. The passionate intensity in the original poem makes by “কগর দন দক মাখামাদখ” is totally absent in this translation. “Did not….. / Appear before you” is not creating so tempting atmosphere as is created in the source text.
Rest of the seventh stanza is translated well. The speaker asks dramatically the dead man, “Did not the blind and palsied owl come and say to you: “Old lady moon has sunk in the flood, has she?” In this part, “Old lady moon has sunk in the flood, has she?” for “বুদ়ে চাাঁি কেগছ বুদঝ কবগনা িগল কিগে?” is not satisfactory translation. This line does not expressive of what is in the original text. The lady moon’s “কবগনা িগল কিগে যাওয়া” is not just “sunk in the flood.”
The first line of the eighth stanza exposes also natural beauty: “This taste of life— the scent of ripe grains in an autumn afternoon— / You could not tolerate.” There is a sort of mild rebuke in this line. The translator renders it with dexterity. But the third line could have been more suitable to the main text. The line is : “মগেে দক হৃিয় িুগ়োগলা? The person’s heart was disturbed when he was alive even thought there were eye-catching natural beauties. That is why the speaker asks the dead man, “has his heart pacified in the morgue?” So the translation of this line, “In the morgue, is your heart at ease?” falls short of expressing the scene. The word “িুগ়োগলা” is dynamic and goes through changing from one state to another, but “at ease” is a static condition. And thus the phrase, “at ease” is not suitable for the context. Such words as “appease” or “soothe” or “pacify” which has dynamicity, should be used for the desired effect.
In the last line of this stanza, the dead man’s lips are compared to those of the flattened rat. The lips of a flatted rat must be bloody, but in this poem, “রক্তমাখা ক াগটাঁ” the dead man was sleeping in the morgue. The translation of this line may be: “In the morgue, in that suffocating stillness / With blood-soaked lips like those of a flattened rat.”
In the ninth stanza, the speaker tells “the dead man’s tale.” In the second line, the word “lacked” is not sufficient here to carry the sense. Fourth and fifth lines are translated well. But from the sixth line to eighth line,— “From time’s churnings emerged a wife / And honey, the mind’s honey / She let him know. “— translation becomes very shallow. This is pure word-after-word translation, and thus lacks the refection of the original. The translator translates the phrase, “মনগনর মঘু” as “mind’s honey”, is really a mark of immaturity. “হা়েহািাগ র গ্লাদন কবিনার েীগ / এ িীবন ককানদিন কেঁগপ ওগ নাই”— the translator extraordinarily translates these lines. In his life, he never trembled “In the cold of hanger’s draining pain.” And thus “ In the morgue / Flat out he lies upon a table.” In translation of these lines, the poet’s intention is not dismantled, rather, these visualize the picture of the original.
In tenth stanza, the poem gets into more serious level. The translator carefully translates this stanza excepting one or two loosely-selected equivalence. This stanza opens well: I know, Yet I know/ A woman’s heart—love— a child— a home— these are not everything.” But in the next line, the word, “স্বচ্ছল া” is transformed as “creature comfort,” makes the original a little
vague. In the next line, “দবপন্ন দবস্ময়” is not “perilous wonder.” There is meaning gap between these words in the source text and the words used in translation. Rest of the stanza— “….which frolics / In our very blood……That exhaustion is not present / In the morgue. / …. Flat out he lies upon a table”— is flawlessly translated. These lines are echoes of the original.
See also:Marxist Interpretation of The Metamorphosis.
The second line of the eleventh stanza introduces structural errors : “A blind and palsied owl come sit upon the ashvattha branch.” The third line is just a reiteration. We have already discussed the problem of that line.
In the twelve and concluding stanza, the speaker reminisces his old lineage. The translation of the first line is not clear. The speaker addresses his ancient lineage. I suppose, the word “প্রোঢ়” does not mean “profound” here; it may indicate some “ancient grandmother.” The latter part of the first line is very weak translation. It is just literal translation of the original text: “… is still today so marvelous (আিও চমৎকার?)” It does not make any sense. The first part of the first line is an address to someone and thus can not be made as “subject.” The translator just follows the words of the main text and then translates that. He becomes indifferent as to whether it is structurally allowed in the target language, whether that makes sense in the target language. In the last line of the source text, the speaker says, “আমরা দুিগন দমগল শুনয কগর চগল যাব িীবগনর প্রচুর িা়োর” . In translation, the speaker says, “Then we together shall empty life’s full store.” In the main text, it is explicitly said that “Then we together will leave after emptying life’s full stores.” So the translation of this line is incomplete.
Evaluation of the translation of a poem is, as I have already said, a complex task and invites various opinions. In answering the question regarding the quality of Clinton’s translation, I would like to say, at some places of the poem the translator has not confined himself in just metaphasing, paraphrasing or imitating the source text as Dryden specifies them, but applied where what is needed to retain the sense. At the same time, he has taken too much freedom during translation which is not justifiable, as Walter Benjamin says in his “The Task of the Translator” that a translation is a mode of the original text and the source text should be reflected in the translation. The most recurring problem in this translation is that the translator fails to connect the predicates with their right subjects. Therefore, at a number of places discussed above, the translation does not reflect the original text.
(N.B. This evaluation article has been published on the RU journal.)
MD Delour Hossain
MA in English, University of Rajshahi.