Friday, November 20, 2009

Reading to Translate

Part of what we have been doing in this long first term of my MA course, is considering what it means to read as a translator. It is both incredibly obvious and bizarrely surprising that the act of reading can be completely transformed by the purpose for which one reads. Of course, this is no new news. We all learned it in the first week of first year at university (if we hadn't already), when we discovered that reading for an essay necessarily did NOT involve becoming absorbed in the book from cover to cover, as one might read a novel.

But the fascinating thing about reading to translate is that in the process of the reading you discover things about your own "readings," not just of the text's layers of meaning, but of the world, people and things. And becoming aware of the way you read the world can change the way you look at things even when you're not "literally" trying to translate them from one language to another.

Even for those of us who are not translators, it could be fascinating to attempt, for a day, to place ourselves in the shoes of translators, and read people, situations, things, ourselves, as if we are trying to translate them…be it into another language, another landscape, another culture, another person's worldview.


It's been a long time since I've been properly posting on this blog. For a variety of reasons, not because I haven't had time or anything to write about!

One thing that I have, most recently, been meaning to blog about has been the new discussions between the Vatican and the Church of England/Anglican Communion. I was thinking about what to write on that topic, but then I saw Rowan's speech from this week in Rome. And I realised that this speech manages to sum up what I, and I think it would be fair to say, many of the ecumenists I have met in the past year, have been wanting to say about ecumenical dialogue, but haven't quite dared to.

Have a read for yourselves!

More posts on the way soon…

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Other peoples' words

Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening
into the house and gate of heaven,
to enter into that gate and dwell in that house,
where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light;
no noise nor silence, but one equal music;
no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession;
no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity;
in the habitations of thy glory and dominion,
world without end.

(after John Donne 1571-1631)

In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, 0 Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased?
Yet, 0 Lord God most holy, 0 Lord most mighty, 0 holy and most merciful Saviour, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.
Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not thy merciful ears to our prayer; but spare us, Lord most holy, 0 God most mighty, 0 holy and merciful Saviour, thou most worthy judge eternal, suffer us not, at our last hour, for any pains of death, to fall from thee.


Almightie God, we geve thee hertie thankes for this thy servaunte, whom thou haste delyvered from the miseries of this wretched world, from the body of death and all temptacion. And, as we trust, hast brought his soule whiche he committed into thy holye handes, into sure consolacion and reste: Graunte, we beseche thee, that at the daye of judgement his soule and all the soules of thy electe, departed out of this lyfe, may with us and we with them, fully receive thy promisses, and be made perfite altogether thorow the glorious resurreccion of thy sonne Jesus Christ our Lorde.

(BCP, 1549 version)

Take him, earth, for cherishing,
to thy tender breast receive him.
Body of a man I bring thee,
noble even in its ruin.

Once was this a spirit's dwelling,
by the breath of God created.
High the heart that here was beating,
Christ the prince of all its living.

Guard him well, the dead I give thee,
not unmindful of his creature
shall he ask it: he who made it
symbol of his mystery.

Comes the hour God hath appointed
to fulfil the hope of men,
then must thou, in very fashion,
what I give, return again.

Not though ancient time decaying
wear away these bones to sand,
ashes that a man might measure
in the hollow of his hand:

Not though wandering winds and idle,
drifting through the empty sky,
scatter dust was nerve and sinew,
is it given to man to die.

Once again the shining road
leads to ample Paradise;
open are the woods again,
that the serpent lost for men

Take, O take him, mighty leader,
take again thy servant's soul.
Grave his name, and pour the fragrant
balm upon the icy stone.

(Prudentius, Tr. Helen Waddell.) Howells' setting of this text was part of the repertoire of my first tour with Selwyn College Chapel Choir, to Scotland, in 2004.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

This is the night…

Permit me to be a little liturgical in this Easter season…

One service whose magic many churches manage to miss out on for the sake of a few inattentions is the Easter Vigil. Here's the order it went in where I was this year, with some annotations…

1. The people gather around the new fire (which is already lit) outside the church.

Two things are unfortunate about this: firstly, everyone should see the flame being kindled from nothing, to mark the moment of new light. Secondly, the fire should only come *after* the darkness. Which means definitely not at the beginning of the vigil.

2. The newly lit Paschal Candle, with its pins in, is processed into the church and 'The Light of Christ' is chanted three times, increasing in pitch, while the people's candles (which must be new ones) are lit.

At this point there should be no light in the church. Not even in the organ loft!

3. The Exultet is sung

This is well and good, but two things are important: firstly, that it is sung with all the right words, and secondly that it is sung with meaning (that means understanding what is being sung and singing it with poise and atmosphere). THIS is the night.

4. The vigil readings

These should come right at the beginning of the service, before number 1. above. They should be read while the church is in complete darkness, with only a tiny light for the reader to see with. There should be seven readings. Seven. Not four.

5. The vigil psalms

These should be sung to plainsong, including tonus peregrinus where appropriate. They should not be sung to anglican chant (too pretty) nor responsorially, please. Most importantly, the psalms are NOT to be followed with anything resembling 'Glory be…', since these are forbidden words from Maundy Thursday until Easter and may not rise again until Jesus does.

6. The Gloria

After the vigil readings and psalms, it is either Easter, in which case numbers 1 and 2. may follow, and a MASS. Or, it is considered not yet Easter, in which case the service should conclude (possibly with the Exultet but I am not convinced by this theory).

If it is Easter, then after 1., 2. and 3, there follows the Gloria, which, being (as I mentioned before) the first risen Gloria since Maundy Thursday, should be accompanied with the switching on of the lights in the church (or the rising of the sun, if vigil at dawn), an organ fanfare and, as long as Maundy Thursday was properly celebrated*, the ringing of bells for the first time. The people's candles should not be extinguished until this has happened.

This is the celebration of the resurrection, with light and music bursting through the darkness and silence of the first 'vigil' part, and from this point it is definitely Easter. There follows the First Mass of Easter, including as many allelluias (sung and triple) as possible - this word hasn't been said during the entirety of lent!

At the habitual place in the mass, baptisms, renewal of baptismal vows, blessing of the new water, and so on, may take place. Where I was this year, however, more was made of the water than of the fire. Which is a bit of a confusion.

Ideally, the entire thing takes place not in the evening of saturday, but very early on Sunday morning: "And very early, they came to the tomb…"

I don't know of any church that does all of this entirely as I have described it, though I hear from John that such a place does exist. I do know some places that come quite close to getting it right, and when they do, it's among the most moving services of the year. Quite appropriately, I would say: after all, what more miraculous than the moment of the resurrection?

*On Maundy Thursday when the gloria is sung for the last time, the bells should be rung with glee, and from then on remain silent (the organ also remaining silent from this moment on) until the first Gloria of Easter.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

'Direct' translation

Suppose we have two trees. They are exactly the same size.

This tree is as big as the other tree.
Cet arbre est aussi grand que l'autre.

Supposing one is larger than the other…
This tree is bigger than the other tree
Cet arbre est plus grand que l'autre

Supposing one is 100% larger than the other. It's 200% of the first tree's size.
This tree is twice the size of the other tree
This tree is twice as big as the other tree

Cet arbre est deux fois plus grand que l'autre

which is like saying 'two times bigger' and suggests that the tree is not 200% but 300% of the original size…doesn't it?

French has a strange sort of logic :-)