To translate is to betray

02005-01-19 | Uncategorized | 3 comments

There is an old Italian saying: ‘Traduttore, traditore.’ It’s a cynical remark; it assumes that the task of translation is hopeless, that you can’t ever properly transmit a work from one culture to another. It may, in the end, be true; but if there must be treason, it does not have to be committed in the first degree, with malice aforethought.

Reading Hesse’s Siddhartha in English is as disappointing as reading Henry Miller in German. I wonder how much I am missing in Basho’s poetry.


  1. Matt Callahan

    Thank you for mentioning Basho again. I’ve been meaning to dig out The Narrow Road to Oku but I had wandered off course. My translation is by Donald Keene and has wonderful painting by Miyata Masayuki to go along with the text.

  2. Ole

    There is a fascinating literature on the translations of Lewis Carroll’s classic poem “Jabberwocky”. This work features words which aren’t real, but somehow “sound real”, but they only sound real in English. So the task of translation is to find equivalent words which aren’t words in the target language, that evoke the same emotions in native readers of that language.

    Here it is in English:

    And some others:

    I believe the most interesting is a translation into Klingon:

    Any native Klingon speakers out there want to comment on this?

  3. Carol

    That would have been an interesting puzzle Ole. Fun but um…not quite the same.
    How wonderful it is, Ottmar, that you can speak and understand and feel more than one language.
    Every time I see a new translation of “Tal Te Ching” I buy it. They are all unique, but they all contain wisdom. It makes me wonder what Lao Tsu would think of each, and what we would gain by understanding the “first edition” from so long ago.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.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



Concert Dates

Thu, May 30 2024 in Phoenix, AZ

Fri, May 31 2024 in Tucson, AZ
@ Rialto Theater

Sat, Jun 1 2024 in Sedona, AZ
@ Sound Bites

Sun, Jun 2 2024 in Sedona, AZ
@ Sound Bites

Tue, Jun 4 2024 in Loveland, CO
@ Rialto Theater

Fri, Jun 7 2024 in Santa Fe, NM
@ St. Francis Auditorium


@Mastodon (the Un-Twitter)