Tuesday, June 19, 2012

i rely on translations

If you know me, you know my obsession with the work of Clarice Lispector.  Since I don't speak Portuguese, I rely on translations.  You've probably heard me talk about the new translations with great anticipation - and yes, mine finally arrived.  Strangely, I haven't really even opened them - though I did line them up so that they formed the portrait of C.L. The thing is, I'm saving them for summer, for when I have time to sink into them, to do them justice.

But okay, I couldn't resist finding one of my favourite lines in The Stream of Life / Aqua Viva and compare translations.

From the Lowe and Fitz (U of Minnesota) translation:

"Now I'm going to speak of the sadness of flowers in order to feel more fully the order of what exists."

From the new Tobler translation:

"Now I shall speak of the sadness of flowers so as to feel more of the order of whatever exists."  

As soon as I read the new translation, I felt relieved.  I have lived in the first translation for so long, I was worried that it would be somehow radically different.  There are differences - subtle and lovely.  The rhythm is of course different.  I'm used to the rhythm of the first, but I can also feel a sensitivity in the second - that the translator isn't going to sacrifice the strangeness to a rhythm.

I've also decided that I'm not, for the most part, going to sit there and read the new translation with the old one beside it.  But I'm going to try and live with it for a while before I do that.  Once I cross a couple of obligations off my list, then, I will be living with C.L, with these new translations, all summer, exclusively.  (Well, as exclusively as one can in this world so full of words).

But one more comparison:

Lowe and Fitz:

"I want to paint a rose.

The rose is the feminine flower that gives of itself all and so completely that the only joy left to it is to have given itself. Its perfume is an insane mystery. When its scent is deeply inhaled it touches the intimate depths of the heart and leaves the inside of the entire body perfumed. The way it opens into womanhood is very beautiful."


"I want to paint a rose.

Rose is the feminine flower that gives herself wholly and such that the only thing left to her is the joy of having given herself. Her perfume is a crazy mystery. When inhaled deeply it touches the intimate depth of the heart and leaves the inside of the entire body perfumed. The way she opens herself into a woman is so beautiful."

Ah, you will say, ah.

I prefer 'insane mystery' to 'crazy mystery' - but which is closer to the Portuguese?  The pronoun though, that changes things.  And so.  There is much to ponder.

Have you read Lispector?  Will you?  {You should...}

This one grafted rose tree in our back yard - at the time of this photo - had 17 blooms, and 43 buds.  Sitting on the patio - the scent is insane.  Also, crazy.  Intoxicating and gets into you, so that I can smell it just by looking at the photo.  


  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on translation the translations of Clarice Lispector, Shawna. I have wanted to read C.L. for a while, since I know of your fascination with her work. It'll certainly help me when translating Calm Things because she's an author that has so deeply influenced you! I love the photos that accompany the entry... They have a warmth and a familiar feel. They are appealing and you create the illusion of touch. I see and I can almost touch!

  2. Oops! It should be read: "...your thoughts on the translations of C.L."


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