The Mis-Translated Poem
This is an extract taken from a longer article about literary mistakes which can be found at http://emilybooks.wordpress.com/2010/10/11/some-literary-mistakes/
The other literary
mistake that springs to mind ¡K arises in a fantastic book ¡V Season of Migration
to the North by Tayeb Salih. The narrator returns to his native
The ¡¥mistake¡¦ occurs when, one evening, Mustafa Sa¡¦eed recites in English, ¡¥in a clear voice and with an impeccable accent¡¦ a poem, which the narrator says he later found in an anthology of First World War poetry. Here is the extract that appears in the book
Those women of
Await the lost,
Await the lost who never will leave the harbour
They await the lost whom the train never will bring.
To the embrace of those women with dead faces,
They await the lost, who lie dead in the trenches,
the barricade and the mud.
In the darkness of night,
This is Charing Cross Station, the hour¡¦s past one,
There was a faint light,
There was a great pain.
There¡¦s no point in Googling this, or leafing through anthologies searching for
the first line ¡¥Those women of
These are the women of
They await the lost.
They await the lost that shall never leave the dock;
They await the lost that shall never again come by the train
To the embraces of all these women with dead faces:
They await the lost who lie dead in trench and barrier and foss,
In the dark of the night.
There is very little light.
There is so much pain.
Mustafa Sa¡¦eed is reciting a bastardised version of Ford Madox Ford¡¦s poem. How on earth has this happened?
[It might be argued that] Season of Migration to the North was originally written in Arabic and so the poem, in the original text, must have appeared in Arabic as well. When Denys Johnson-Davies translated the novel into English in 1969, he translated the poem into English. Perhaps he didn¡¦t recognise the poem¡¦s provenance and so didn¡¦t find the original for quotation. [However, if this is the case] it seems a bit mean for Tayeb Salih not to have let him know!
[A more thematically interesting
explanation] is that what we have now in Season of Migration to the North is an
English translation of an Arabic translation of English. It shows what a
complicated and distorting process translation can be ¡V how impossible it is to
neatly reverse, instead bringing one further and further away from the
original. And if one takes translation on a bigger scale ¡V the literal ¡¥bearing
across¡¦ not just of language but of a person ¡V a similar distortion occurs.
Season of Migration to the North is about the translation of the narrator and
Mustafa Sa¡¦eed from