music of being

When I was first studying translation I read an anthology of essays on translation compiled by Rainer Schulte and John Biguenet (Theories of Translation: An Anthology of Essays from Dryden to Derrida, 1992, Univ of Chicago Press). I’ve been re-reading it over the past few days and enjoying a sudden re-immersion in the various discussions of translatability and “the art of translation.” These essays are so good. This morning I’m looking at Octavio Paz’s 1971 essay, “Translation: Literature and Letters.” In it he writes this, which I love:

Throughout the ages, European poets—and now those of both halves of the American continent as well—have been writing the same poem in different languages. And each version is an original and distinct poem. True, the synchronization is not perfect, but if we take a step backward, we can understand that we are hearing a concert, and that the musicians, playing different instruments, following neither conductor not score, are in the process of collectively composing a symphony in which improvisation is inseparable from translation and creation is indistinguishable from imitation.

This speaks to the other essay I am reading and re-reading. Well, not really an essay, but a longish interview published alongside Jan Zwicky’s marvelous collection Chamber Music, in which she talks about poetic/lyric “availability” and how it intersects with the practice of technique. She discusses music and especially jazz and ends her thought with this:

Poetry has organic form when the music of being inhabits the body of someone’s language, when the gesture of speaking becomes physical material, stuff, that the music can express itself through. A poet’s voice is what corresponds to the dancer’s body. The music of being doesn’t express itself through “language”; it expresses itself through someone’s language.

I love thinking about how this works in translation. The writer’s language, the translator’s language. Both as a creative act. The interplay between the two.

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Michelle

Reader, writer, translator, nature-lover, happy expat and concerned world citizen.

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