Which of these rings truest to you?

August 28, 2012 § 4 Comments

I am slowly making my way through Umberto Eco’s Dire Quasi la Stessa Cosa (much of the content can be found in two separate books on translation, Mouse or Rat?  Translation as Negotiation and Experiences in Translation), as it takes some time to digest the points Eco is making regarding the choices with which translators are faced (well that, and reading it in Italian to see what was included here that wasn’t in the English-language books).  Here was an interesting passage regarding one of Dante’s poems dealing with Beatrice.  I’ll quote the original first and then provide the four English translations Eco provides (bold in the original is due to Eco’s emphasis on certain words):

Tanto gentile e tanto onesta pare
la donna mia, quand’ella altrui saluta,
ch’ogne lingua deven tremando muta,
e li occhi no l’ardiscon di guardare.
Ella si va, sentendosi laudare,
benignamente d’umilt√† vestuta;
e par che sia una cosa venuta
da cielo in terra a miracol mostrare.

Here is how Dante Gabriele Rossetti translated his namesake:

My lady looks so gentle and so pure
When yielding salutation by the way,
That the tongue tremble and has nought to say,
And the eyes, which fain would see, may not endure.
And still, amid the praise she hears secure,
She walks with humbleness for her array;
Seeming a creature sent from Heaven to stay
On earth, and show a miracle made true.

And now one from Mark Musa:

Such sweet decorum and such gentle grace
attend my lady’s greetings as she moves
that lips can only tremble in silence
and eyes dare not attempt to gaze at her.
Moving, benignly clothed in humility,
untouched by all the praise along her way,
she seems to be a creature come from Heaven
to earth, to manifest a miracle.

And Marion Shore:

My lady seems so fine and full of grace
When she greets others, passing on her way,
That trembling tongues can find no words to say,
And eyes, bedazzled, dare not meet her gaze.
Modestly she goes amid the praise,
Serene and sweet, with virtue her array;
And seems a wonder sent her to display
A glimpse of heaven in an earthly place.

And finally, Tony Oldcorn’s 2001 translation:

When she says he, my baby looks so neat,
yhe fellas all clam up and check their feet.
She hears their whistles but she’s such a cutie,
she walks on by, and no, she isn’t snooty.
You’d think she’d been sent down from the skies
to lay a little magic on us guys.

Each of these translations diverges in some form or fashion from Dante’s original text.  It might be a deviation of a word or phrase in order to make a passage rhyme in ABBCCDDA (Rossetti, Shore), 10 syllable lines (Musa), or even a total rehauling of the imagery (Oldcorn).  Yet the “truth” of a translation does not necessarily lie within its lack of deviance from the original’s form.  With this in mind, which of the four translations do you think “feels best” or “truest” to you?


§ 4 Responses to Which of these rings truest to you?

  • It's my understanding that what is striking about Dante's original Italian verse in general is its ability to be at once ingrained in a strong literary tradition and extremely colloquial. I find Oldcorn's translation totally lacking any sense of tradition (or perhaps leaning too heavily on a rather coloquial tradition). Additionally, the rhyming structure of the original is so intricately tied into the greater composition of "La commedia", I have to rule out Musa for not even attempting to create some sort of rhyme scheme that mimics the ABABCB… structure that moves the epic forward. I think I'd have to give the translator's laurels to either Rossetti or Shore. In the end, I find Shore's most palatable to our own time.

  • Gabriele C. says:

    Take into account that I have enough Italian to understand the original and have done some translations myself. That said, I find the translation by Rossetti somewhat stilted. Musa gets the four lines well (despite the missing rhymes; that's the thing I tend to sacifice, too) but the "Moving, benignly clothed in humility" is clumsy and sorta threw me out of the tramslation. Oldcon's is not a translation but rather and adaptation or prarphrasis, imho. So for me Shore takes the prize.

  • Gabriele C. says:

    *first four linesArgh

  • Larry Nolen says:

    Interesting the dislike for the Oldcorn, as I found it to be a bold attempt to recast the verse while preserving the sentiments. But I too was drawn more to the Shore.

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