Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Did something get lost in the översättning?

The photo above is of Gamla Stan (Old Town) in Stockholm, Sweden. It is the oldest part of the city, dating from the 13th century. The green-roofed building on the left is the Royal Palace where King Carl VI Gustav lives. I was in Stockholm in 1969, from February 1 to March 1, when King Gustav VI Adolf lived in the palace (Carl is his son). I've retained a warm place in my memory for a very cold month during which I visited Drottningholm, Hötorget, Stadhuset, Östermalmstorg, Strandvägen, Lidingö, and other things Swedish.

I'm showing Gamla Stan to you because of a strange thing (strange to me, at least) that I found on the Internet: Edgar Allan Poe's poem, “The Raven,” in Swedish. The poem was first published in 1845 (in English), and at one time thousands of American schoolchildren were forced, forced I tell you, to memorize part of it along with “Annabel Lee” and “The Village Blacksmith” and “Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard” and “Flower In The Crannied Wall (I Pluck You Out Of The Crannies).” Maybe you remember the first stanza of Poe's “The Raven”:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“'Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door;
Only this, and nothing more.”

Well, in Swedish, the title becomes “Korpen” and the first stanza is:

Trött en natt jag satt och drömde vid en gammal bok, där glömde,
bakom seklers förlåt gömde tankar hägrade förbi.
Knappt jag börjat slumra, förrän något knackade på dörren,
något pickade på dörren, ticketick det ljöd däri.
Upp jag blickade och sade, väckt ut ur mitt drömmeri:
“Nå stig in! Vem söker ni?”

Excuse me. Vem söker ni? Vem söker ni? I don't see a question mark in the English version of the first stanza. Do you? Underneath the Swedish title on the Internet page were the words “Översättning av Viktor Rydberg” which I presume mean “translation by Viktor Rydberg.” Maybe Viktor should go back to the drawing board; something of the essence of Edgar Allan Poe seems to have been lost in the översättning.


  1. I feel poorer for not having had to memorize those poems back in schooldays.

    (How do you type the a's and o's with the dots on top?)

  2. Hello again, jeannelle!

    When I am creating a new blog post and I want to include a letter with special markings, this is what I do: I open a new window for a new Microsoft Word document (on my computer I click on "Start" at the bottom of the page and then on the Microsoft Word application) In the new, blank document I click on "Insert" at the top of the page. On the draw-down menu that opens, I click on "Symbol." This gives me (you) a table of many different alphabets with all sorts of diacritical markings and accents for various languages. Simply select one by clicking on it, then click on "Insert" at the bottom of the table, and magically the special character you chose appears in the Microsoft
    Word document you are making. Lastly, highlight the desired character in the Microsoft Word document and click "Edit" and "Copy", and go back to the "New Post" area of the blog and and click "Edit" and "Paste." Then I delete the Word document without saving it.

    I don't know how other people do it, but that's the rather time-consuming way I do it. I don't know of any faster, easier way to do it.

    Good luck! Let me know how it works out for you!

  3. Wow....thanks for the instructions! I had no clue how to do many ways, I'm very ignorant of computer stuff.

  4. Okay, I know that this blog post is over 4 years old, but I could not refrain from commenting anyway. I stumbled upon this while googling, and while it was not what I was looking for, it made me rather upset. See, I'm a translation student from Sweden, and I dare say that I know a bit more about translation than you do (correct me if I'm wrong). I have translated texts from a wide range of genres, and let me tell you: poetry (or any other genre) is NOT easy to translate. Also, translation is not just about writing the words of the source text in another language, because no two languages are exactly the same, and the more poetic a text, the harder it is to translate "word by word". You have to change, rearrange, interpret the text. Sometimes you have to add a question mark. This does not make it a bad translation.

    I am also very sceptical to you criticizing a translation into a language that you do not know (I assume you do not know swedish).

    Finally, you write: "something of the essence of Edgar Allan Poe seems to have been lost". Really? The essence of Edgar Allan Poe is absence of question marks? Well, what do you know.

    P.S. I'm not going to say anything about what I thought of the translation, because I haven't read all of it and am not that familiar with the poem. But mainly because that's not the point of my comment. The point is that translators need to get more respect, especially from people who don't know anything about translation.

  5. Kristin: Jag talar inte mycket svenska. Jag förstår inte mycket svenska. Gud förlåta mig.

    But how perfect it is to have received your comment on St. Lucia's Day!

    I think I might disagree somewhat with your last sentence ("The point is that translators need to get more respect, especially from people who don't know anything about translation.") because translators probably need to get more respect from other translators, who would recognize the quality of the translations much quicker than the non-translating scum of the earth like me.

    Overall, your point is well-taken but your tone is not appreciated.