Varied Translations

“It is the age of accurate translation. The present generation has produced a complete library of versions of the great classics, chiefly in prose, partly in verse, more faithful, true, and scholarly than anything ever produced before. It is the photographic age of translation; and all that the art of sun-pictures has done for the recording of ancient buildings, and more than that, the art of literal translation has done for the understanding of ancient poetry. A complete translation of a great poem is, of course, an impossible thing. The finest translation is at best but a copy of a part; it gives us more or less crudely some element of the original; the color, the light and shade, the glow, are not there, lost as completely as they are in a photograph. But in the large photograph — say of the Sistine Madonna — the lines and the composition are there, as no human hand ever drew them. And so, in a fine translation, the thought survives. One method gives us one element, another method some fresh element, and together we may get some real impression of the mighty whole. Now, when some of us may have partly lost touch of the original, and some may never have acquired it, the use of translations, especially the use of varied translations, may give us much.” (Frederic Harrison, The Choice of Books, 1891)