The Master And His Student

Ok… A bit of confession…

A dear friend of mine in meatspace gave me a couple of books of translated Bengali poetry, which is frankly stunning stuff–it reminds me that even translated poetry is–or can be–actually poetry, not mere verse (longtime readers both will remember that I am a huge fan of poetry but do not claim to be a poet–I am a proud versemonger, a wordsmith, a cuttlefish); I am a huge fan of verse, but also a huge fan of poetry, which is a different thing entirely. Some of my favorite poems I have only ever read in translation, which is shame, really–in real poetry, every element matters, from the sound to the meaning to the associations to the very breaths one takes in reciting–translated poems cannot be expected to perfectly replicate every element.

I have tried, and failed miserably, to translate poetry–I have actually tried in three languages (Spanish, German, and Greek), with no success in the slightest. I try too hard to fit meter and verse, and meaning necessarily slips away; the author’s “voice”, perhaps the most important element of all, I disregarded entirely… and as a result, my translation attempts have been pathetic failures.

What I am trying to say is… translation of poetry is not easy. But I love it. My favorite poems are actually translations of Greek (better in the original) or Turkish (my favorite, which I’ve never heard in Turkish) poems. The strength to be able to choose which elements to keep, which to sacrifice… I admire it, but have never had that talent…

Go. Read This. Kausik Datta has beautifully translated an Indian (Bengali) poem, The Master And His Student. And it works. Wonderfully. Yes, I wish I spoke Bengali, to see how it compares to the original, but the translation works. It is playful, it is sweet, it is… well, as far as I can tell, perfect.

And I cannot convey how honored I am that he dedicates his poem to me; his translation, even in translation, is far more poetry than the verses I write here (I say that as a fan of poetry and–separately–a fan of verse), and I clearly do not deserve it…but out of pure self-interest, will gladly put it up on the mantel!


  1. 4ozofreason says

    I think there’s a saying from Russia- “Translation is like a woman- if it’s faithful, is not beautiful; if it’s beautiful, it’s not faithful.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *