Mahfil. v 7, V. 7 ( 1971) p. 129.

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Wendy Doniger O^Fiaherty


With an application to Kalidasa^ Kumapasambhava^ Canto VIII

It has been said that a translation, like a woman, cannot be both beautiful and faithful. English translators of Sanskrit poetry, beset by all the usual problems of translation in addition to the special problems posed by the nature of the Sanskrit language and the artistic conventions of Sanskrit poetry, have ricochetted back and forth between the two extremes of "beauty" (which has usually been interpreted as translation into mannered, rhymed English verse "loosely" based upon the ideas expressed by the Sanskrit) and "faithfulness" (an almost mechanical, literal rendition of the Sanskrit words, rearranged to cope with the inflection and elaborate compound structure which give Sanskrit verse its particular character)c

Sanskrit verse is compact, tightly packed with words of intense and often double meaning, further compressed by brief inflectional endings in place of bulky phrases and clauses which English requires. In this it combines the virtues of academic German and classical Greek, Yet English translation, particularly when rhymed, pads it with insignificant syllables which ruin the effect of the poetry English poetic forms are particularly ill-adapted to accommodate Sanskrit conventions, and it is due to the nature of German, as well as to the brilliance of the German poet Ruckert, that his translations from the Sanskrit have long been considered peerless. The use of English verse is sometimes justified as a means of conveying the atmosphere of the poem, with the admitted loss of some of the sense contento But it is as impossible to convey atmosphere without conveying sense as it is to build a brick wall without using bricks; to convey atmosphere, the translator must convey meaning and something else.

Scholars are a conservative lot, on the whole, and still tend to equate poetry with rhymen Not only, however, is it well nigh impossible to produce good, accurate, rhymed translations from the Sanskrit; it is no longer a positive achievement. English readers of the twentieth century are quite well accustomed to consider unrhymed verse as poetry; indeed, the use of rhyme is generally frowned upon. This fortunate fashion of the times is greatly to the advantage of translators, who, nevertheless, with the notable exception of Daniel IL H, Ingalls, fail to take advantage of the one aid which present literary conventions offer,

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