Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0015556, Sun, 7 Oct 2007 11:20:10 -0300

Probably most Nabokov-List participants speak more than two or three languages and have the opportunity to read his writings both in their original language and then in their translations. When I read Nabokov in different languages, I find that his novels retain an unmistakable nabokovian quality ( soul?), but are almost always independent creations.

Jorge Luis Borges shows us how even when we are familiar with a poem's rendering in its original, our times are so distinct from the poet's that the insidious variation of metaphors and personal experience totally alter one's precise apprehension of a poet's words. In olden times words such as "tunor" expressed simultaneously Thunder and Thunor: words were magic and, the poet, a warrior animist.This "magic" feeling irrecoverable, as Borges shows. Languages and readers change with the times.

A friend of mine once told me that he feels differently when he says to his girl-friend of the moment: "I love you", "Ich liebe Dich", "Je t'aime", probably because one of these languages, only one, is his girl-friend's mother-language, but not his own... Keats had to read Homer through Chapman but in his poem, we find a rendering of his experience at first hand: we can witness his emotion but not in relation to any Ulyssean adventures but as it rises from Keat's own primordial experience with words ( Borges underlines the word "first" in Keat's verse "on first looking into Chapman's Homer...").
Even if a translation makes a poem more elegant and, perhaps like in Fitzgerald's Khayyám, works it into something new and even more beautiful, the original should never be muted because it brings up a poet's unique witnessing of a mental event, the voice of a developping subjectivity gaining shape in words that reach us from a real past made into our present. This is, perhaps, what Nabokov also intended when he translated Eugene Onegin. And yet, in my opinion, to read other translations ( interpretations) of EO should add new perspectives and feelings that can only appear when we allow the sway of the narrative take over.

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