Translation Exercise #1: Ida

The following is the prologue from Ida by Géza Gárdonyi. I’ve tried to make this as good a translation as I can, both stylistically and in terms of accuracy, so criticism is welcome and probably fully warranted.

We stand in the darkness sometimes, not knowing ourselves how we came to be there. We only gaze into each other’s eyes, fumble at each other, hesitate. And our hearts fall dumb.

“Where are we going?”

And the answer, we believe, is nowhere.

We only fumble. We step forward. We come to a standstill now and then, blindly. Perhaps a stone cliff hangs above our heads? Perhaps before our feet a wolf-pit or chasm gapes? Perhaps we set our foot upon a snake? Our hearts tremble, like aspen leaves.

“My god!…”

But we must go, that we shall arrive—somewhere. So we step, we hesitate, onward and onwards. In the directionlessness. Blindly. Growing numb. Groping. At times our eyes flood with tears. At times anxiety crushes our hearts. We swoon.

“Where have I come to?!”

And we do not sense in the darkness, in the hesitancy, the dangers among us; Death shall not surprise us on the path; we do not perceive that an invisible, benevolent hand is in our hands. Guiding us.

3 thoughts on “Translation Exercise #1: Ida

  1. “Perhaps we set our foot upon a snake?” – The other constructions all run plural (“our FEET upon a snake”). Was there a conscious reason to choose otherwise?

    Also, “directionlessness” made me stumble – not that I have another English-language suggestion…

    This section is very poetic; your translation flows smoothly.

    • In the original, that sentence, literally, reads “Perhaps we step onto a snake.” That felt a little flat to me, not as powerful as the preceding sentences, so I fiddled with it and made it a bit more poetic. But the plural/singular problem, which is sort of present in the original, is made worse by my translation. It could stand a bit more fiddling.

      “In [the] directionlessness” is a literal translation of a single Hungarian word, iránytalanságban, which is an example of how to pile suffix upon suffix: irány is direction, -talan means “without” (hence, directionless), -ság converts an adjective to a noun (directionlessness), and -ban means “inside”. Hungarian forms these lengthy compounds easily and naturally, English not so much.

      Thank you for the praise and the criticism.

      • Knowing no Hungarian makes for a challenge in commenting here. ::wry grin:: Nevertheless, it seems as if one challenge in translating Hungarian is similar to the challenge of translating German – the creation of so many compound words that English seems to shun. (I don’t read German, and most of the German translations that I’ve read have been in the area of philosophy – I suspect I’d understand Heidigger and Co much better if I could read the original and get a grip on the compound nouns…)

Leave a Reply

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