On Translation

I teach translation, so I have no shortage of offered-up speculations and analyses, from my students and from myself, about why a given translator might choose to translate a term or phrase one way over another. We all know about Ezra Pound’s formulation, for instance, of dichten = condensare, and how that influenced a tighter economy of language in poetry, which translation has had to follow.

And yet sometimes it comes down to some simple external influences. Working on the layout for Notes on the Mosquito, for instance, we have to struggle at times to make a line, or even a whole poem, fit on the page. When Xi Chuan wrote 玫瑰, should that be “roses,” or “the rose”? Sometimes it just comes down to which one’s shorter.