Comp Lit #1

The Translator sends along an item of interest:

I was reading the pdf file (This is a link directly to the PDF of “Twentieth Century Korean Literature.” ) and came across a poem on page 14.

I thought it would be interesting (for what end, I don’t know) to translate it myself and compare

The Translator’s version is superior, because it is more concrete and less conceptual. This preference has NOTHING to do with technical accuracy, because I am certainly not qualified to judge that (and don’t have a copy of the Korean text at hand in any case).

NOTE: The Translator’s version is a first-draft and reproduced here entirely without editing, and I am certain Ko’s work was vetted at some point. The means there are a few small glitches in the Translator’s version, but ones that would have been worked out in about 5 minutes of process (and in the next version, perhaps we will do this) during the editing stage.

The work on the left is by Ko Ch’angsu, that on the right of the Translator

First a couple of things at the meta-level

  • I prefer the broken up version because it allows conceptual chunking. The enjambment and two-verse format makes the Ko version of the poem seem more monolithic and less delicate.

  • Their is a critical difference between who the poems addresses. The Ko translation is in the third person – focusing on the romantic concept of love in some cases and referring to “he” in others. By adopting the second person, the Translator’s version focuses more directly on the lover, the “you.” I should say I also prefer the Translator’s translation in this because it recognizes the tendency of Korean to drop pronouns, and the preference of English for using them.

    The “my love is gone” reminds me of middle-ages “woe is me-itry” that never impressed me as anything else than a dutiful discharge of the romantic requirement to feel unrequited.

The Translator is also better at choosing vocabulary and images, in order to create a feeling of specificity in the poem. Here are four examples:

  • Breaking versus shattering of the light/tint – the Translator’s choice is more dramatic although I slightly tend towards “light” as the object.

  • On a breeze of sigh(s) versus “a breath of breeze.” The Translator uses a specifically human image (“sigh”) while Ko prefers a more general and distanced one (“breeze”). For all I know that is a horrible mis-translation, but in English it makes the line much less diffuse and drills tightly down to the essentially human nature of the poem. This “human” nature is one that BOTH translations insist on (“love after all .. is human”) and thus I think the Translator’s approach is closer to the philosophical basis of the poem as I read it through dual translations.

  • The Translator’s metaphor of lost control (the “turned round” compass point of the individual) seems better to me than the more general conceptual notion of Ko (fate altered). I would alter the “turned round” to “spinning,” but that is mere editing.

  • Similarly the cliched “bursting heart” of Ko, is not nearly as impressive as the much more vivid, “the astonished heart explodes,” which also has a nice touch of anthropomorphism (“astonished”) to it.

There are several other examples of this that pop up in a comparison, but as I’m off to the bookstore, I don’t have time to follow them all up. There are some slightly rough areas in the Translator’s version, but I see those as a function of where that version is in terms of editing and polishing. All in all, the Translator’s version is much more direct, expressive, and English, to my eyes..

More on this, I think, when I get back..

2 thoughts on “Comp Lit #1

  1. Wow, I wasn't expecting such a reaction from you. It was more for a mere enjoyment, away from all the editing work. BTW, you missed the final two lines of my version of the poem. 🙂

    I'll do more of these if it interests you.


  2. Hi Charles,

    This is David Carruth from 10 Magazine. You may remember me sitting across the table from you at Dicken's/Scrooge's pub on a certain Saturday afternoon. I was the tall guy, the assistant editor.

    Just thought it was an odd coincidence that I came across your blog randomly while doing a bit of research for the magazine. I know you had given me the address that afternoon but I had failed to follow you up on that.

    Looks like you've got a good thing going. Hope to talk again some time.



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