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This article is taken from PN Review 16, Volume 7 Number 2, November - December 1980.

On Translation Michael Hamburger

THE TROUBLE with this subject, even if it is narrowed down to imaginative writing or poetry, is that there is no beginning, middle or end to it, because translation is not one thing but many things, a vast range of multiple and complex processes involving choices and adjustments of which the translator may or may not be aware. From time to time I am asked to write or talk about the 'problems of verse translation'. Again and again I find that those problems bore me, as the activity does not. If I comply with the request, sooner or later I am ringing the changes on Dryden's division of verse translation into three kinds-metaphrase, paraphrase and imitation-and affirming that, mutatus mutandis, it is as valid now as it was when he made it. At the same time I am nagged by the knowledge that beyond this useful distinction there are regions of speculation and analogy that could be metaphysical, anthropological or aesthetic; that in practice Dryden's three kinds tend to overlap; and that we now have modes of scientific, or quasi-scientific, analysis of language, meaning and interpretation, all of which suggest that translation is an impossibility. All this, however, doesn't prevent me from getting on with the job-doing the impossible thing. My 'problems', as a translator, are either solved in the act or never solved at all. So it is not my business to reflect on them. If I reflect on anything it is not on problems, which are the ...


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