Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Henri Meschonnic - death of a great poet translator

I've mentioned Henri Meschonnic only once before and was sad to read tributes to him in Le Monde following his death last week aged 76 from leukemia.
What a follows is a far too brief résumé of two articles about him in Sunday's Le Monde.
A poet, linguist, translator and polemicist, he found that structuralism often led to an impoverishment of literary translation. He translated the Bible and was keen to give his translations of the Hebrew scriptures a real feeling for and rhythm of the original language, to give the Jewish text its Jewish specificity. He saw Bible translation as being basically a Christian enterprise, not fully based on the source language and usually completely ignoring the rhythm of the original biblical text. What was most important for him was to give readers a sense and feeling for the beauty and complexity of the texts.
Le Monde quotes him as saying: "Hebrew doesn't say 'holy language' it says 'language of holiness'. There is language and there is holiness. The paradox is that I translate a text written in the language of holiness but I don't do this as someone who is religious. I do it as someone who tries to understand the relationship between that which is divine and language."

In his final work De Monde en Monde he said "Je ne parle pas mes mots, ce sont mes mots qui me disent et qui me réconcilient". I can only attempt a very limping translation of this, something like "I do not speak my words, it is my words which say me and which reconcile me".
Meanwhile I'm looking forward to one day having time to read his translations of the Five Scrolls and of the first four books of the Bible. Perhaps one day I will make time for that and for Martin Buber's translation of the Bible. Then of course there is André Chouraqui too, but at least I've already started on his translation. Too many books, too little time ...