Monday, December 1, 2008

Are you freaking kidding me?

Somebody felt the need to "translate" Paradise Lost into modernized ENGLISH prose, apparently. Because ordinary speakers of English just aren't smart enough to read it in lines, or to parse those Latinate sentences. Contrary to what I teach my students every term. Shame on you, Dennis Danielson; you should know better. And shame on any teacher who assigns this condescension.

10 comments:

Dr. Write said...

I understand your reaction, however....just to establish that I am a cretin of the lowest order, when I had to read PL, I nearly died. Maybe if I tried to read it now, I could appreciate it. But I understand your objections. It just seems wrong. Yes, it's a difficult text. And maybe those of us for whom it was too impenetrable should have had you for a teacher :) or should just give up (which was my strategy....).

Fretful Porpentine said...

Well, people have been perpetuating this sort of abomination with Shakespeare for years, so I guess it's no surprise that it's spreading.

Here, have a happy news story about Milton, to take the curse off.

rml said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Doctor Cleveland said...

He wasn't even finished talking when the top devil, like, started walking off the burning lake, and that guy, the main devil I mean, he had this humongous shield that he was wearing on his back and it looked like the moon, really, because it was round if I hadn't mentioned that and made out of some kind of special heavenly stuff and it was so massive that it looked like the moon looks to Galileo in Italy when he's looking at it trying to discover new lands and rivers and things. The moon, I mean. Which is what Satan's shield looked like.

Renaissance Girl said...

Doc: So you've read it, then?

Doctor Cleveland said...

Why would I do that?

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

Not to be snarky, but I wish someone would do this with the Faery Queene. I know, I know, I know... Spencer was going for that whole old language thing, but I know I'll never get through it because it's just annoying to me. Milton? Not as hard -- at least, to me.

Anonymous said...

Few people got snippy when Heaney translated Beowulf. If it's done well, I say God Speed.

Why not let one great writer inspire another great writer? All these Shakespeare and Milton modernizations aren't crap because Modern English is a crap language, but because the translations are crap.

I nominate you, R.G., for the next, more elegant, Latinate-ish version.

Renaissance Girl said...

Thanks for the compliment, Anon., but I’m not sure a modern American prose version of Paradise Lost really presents the same kind of text that Heaney’s translation of Beowulf does. Beowulf is, after all, written in what amounts to a foreign language (to modern English speakers); in order to understand it, 21st-century readers need training in a distinctive vocabulary and grammar. It really does remain opaque without that training. But Paradise Lost uses a vocabulary and grammar that is identical to the one in use in the 21st-century. Some of Milton’s Latinate sentences may need a little attention, but they are totally diagrammable. About which see my post of 12/5.

And just for the record, I’m the last person on earth to sneer at the idea of reading texts in translation. I’m under no illusion that my reading of Italo Calvino replicates the experience of reading him in Italian. But I don’t speak Italian (or any other useful language), and I’m delighted to have some access to Calvino’s work THROUGH THE MEDIATION of a translator, whose work (I am happy to acknowledge) constitutes its own artistic endeavor.

But Paradise Lost requires no such mediation for English speakers, because the poem is IN ENGLISH.

Doctor Cleveland said...

Now, RG, be fair to Anon. Since Anon is the *author* of Beowulf, s/he deserves some slack. And take it from the author: translating Beowulf is exactly like translating PL.

I mean, if we're going to translate a perfectly straightforward opening line like "Hwaet, we gar-dena in geardagum," why wouldn't we tranlate the much murkier line "Of Man's First Disobedience, and the Fruit ..." which is full of strange foreign words such as "disobedience" and "fruit?" Seriously, how many gar-dena of your acquaintance know a word like "first?"

Anon: love the ballads. Keep up the good work.