Friday, September 22, 2017

9. 18 And another final thought on translation

Song of Solomon: timeless love poetry in contemporary calligraphy. 

I’m only human.  Sometimes I just choose a translation to fit the demands of the layout — not only to suit its tone but to actually provide me with the letters to design it with. Remember that medieval scribes loved to letter Beatus Vir because the initial B offers so much potential for design.  And all calligraphers like to encounter passages that offer us a Q, Z, or other favorite letter to work with. 
IV: 9

For instance, several translations of Song of Solomon make a comparison to "one chain," "one jewel, " one link," or "one bead" of the beloved's necklace.  These are all accurate, but I chose "one gem" because the g just looked like a natural part of the necklace.

Some other graphic reasons for choosing the translations I choose: 
That "BELOVED" in the first
line of I: 15 seems more like a
dove than "How beautiful
you are" or "Ah, you are
beautiful" from other versions. 
  • For overall length; sometimes the design wants lots of words, sometimes only a few.  
  • For emphasis; a design may highlight the end of the quotation rather than the beginning. 
  • To put a ascender or descender where I need it for decorative effect.  
  • For the word or initial it starts with.  For instance, consider: I am my beloved’s and he is mine vs My beloved is mine and I am his.   For calligraphers, I is a less interesting letter to work with than M.  

Thursday, September 21, 2017

9.17 A final thought on translation

  Song of Solomon: timeless love poetry in contemporary calligraphy.  

But, trust me, even the most careful copying of a script
that you don’t read yourself is an open invitation to typos.

You’ve got to have a fluent speaker proofread it for you. 
Topic 17. Reaching back before the King James Version, you can include a second text in an older language and script.  That can add depth and richness to the design, and provides you twice as many words to design with. While most of your readers won’t be able to read it, you might benefit from how people actually enjoy calligraphy more when they don’t focus too much on a literal reading.  
Not from Song of Songs, for a change, just
the parting words of a colophon.  

There are many creative ways to combine two scripts on the page, like the Latin and English valediction at right.   

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Thoughts on translation, Part 9.16: Stet

Topic fifteen: After a fortnight, I have one final thought; sometimes, you don't need to change a thing. The King James Version--as close to the "original version" as any English speaker is likely to get--still sometimes hits the nail on the head.  Mark Twain said it best; “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” When lightening strikes, you know it.      

But don't stop searching; every different translation offers a window into a different time and place and mind, and gives new appreciation for the wordsmith's art.  After five centuries it's still hard to improve on the King James Version's "jealousy is cruel as the grave." But even such perfection wasn't inevitable; less than a century earlier, Wycliffe's translation had it as "evil is hard as hell."  

"The important thing is not to stop questioning," as Albert Einstein said.   Now I will go back to writing about how to arrange these carefully translated words with pen and ink.            

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Thoughts on translation, Part 9.15: Don't get explicit unless you mean it; then speak out

Topic fourteen:  Throughout Song of Songs, you will need to guard against words that have come to mean something different from what the poet intended: my lover will come; he will go down; among the queens.  At the same time, you have to present truthfully some very explicit physical language.   

A once-neutral term like virgins used to just mean young women, not a statement about their sexual track record.  "My sister, my bride" was a metaphor for closeness, not an invitation to incest.  

Also, some words are no longer suitable for polite speech; Bowels used to mean simply your insides, so when a lover in Song of Solomon says “my bowels were moved” in the King James Version, we would say “my stomach turned over” or "my heart trembled."  Or you can turn to other renderings from 50 different translations since then.  
But one later translation goes too far the other direction, with a mealy-mouthed "mine heart was affectioned toward him." 

Translators must walk a fine line.  While avoiding unintentionally X-rated words, they must still convey the original meaning of those verses that are explicitly sexual--there are a lot of them--and that give Song of Songs its power.  For centuries, theologians denied this eroticism and insisted that the poetry was simply a metaphor for God's love for the Israelites, or for the church.  But there is no good reason now to continue treating this richly erotic book of the Bible with squeamish euphemisms.       

Monday, September 18, 2017

Thoughts on translation, Part 9.14: Visual vocabulary

Song of Solomon: timeless love poetry in contemporary calligraphy. 

Topic Fourteen: Some items just aren’t familiar to modern readers: for instance, do you know what spikenard or camphire actually look like, or how they smell? That's why I went looking for modern equivalents that people might recognize: green rushes, aloes, henna.  I kept myrrh because it feels familiar to everyone from the Christmas story, even though it's not a familiar plant.    

A hind, a roe, or a roebuck comes into focus for many of us only if it is called a gazelle. 

Scholars now think that the apple tree in II: 3 at right, may have actually been apricot or quince or orange, which are sweet and succulent, and native to the region since ancient times. I did not change the wording for this design, this time, because I wanted to experiment with the shape of the apple.  But the luscious color of the apricot keeps suggesting that someday I should try a design built on that updated translation.  

Stick with me for a few more days on translation topics, and then we will get back to interpreting scripture with calligraphy.  

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Thoughts on translation, Part 9.13: The back story

Song of Solomon: timeless love poetry in contemporary calligraphy. 

Topic thirteen: Bible verses, especially from the Old Testament, contain many implications we might miss.  For instance, the mandrake of VII: 13 was probably known to contain a mild hallucinogen in its root. For any listener who knows that, it creates a powerful metaphor for the delirium of infatuation itself.  

In VI: 8. (at left)  Mt Amana, Mt Shenir, Mt Hermon: the specific mountain peaks in Israel where the poet describes his beloved living with leopards and panthers, were familiar names to the original listeners.  (Some of these also appear in American place names, testimony to the religious background of many early settlers.) 

In I: 14, "My beloved is unto me as a cluster of henna in the vineyards of Engedi.”  En-Gedi today, near Masada, is still a flowering green garden in a dry land; last year it was one of the most popular destinations in the country. Every Israeli can visualize it.       

Indirectly, I have tried to hint at this extra dimension in my calligraphic design wherever possible.  Moral: if you don't recognize a word in scripture, looking it up will add to your enjoyment.  

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Thoughts on translation, Part 9.12: But how does it SOUND?

Song of Solomon: timeless love poetry in contemporary calligraphy.  
Topic twelve: To translate anything, but especially poetry, you must always keep your inner ear tuned to how it sounds out loud. I have spent many hours weighing the best word for a pleasant smell; I could choose from aroma, fragrance, incense, perfume, and my favorite, exquisite spices [to my ear, a better translation than powders of the merchant].  They all sounded equally good out loud.  

However, no matter how rich the English language may be in synonyms, they don't all please the ear; it only took one reading aloud for me to decide against any translation that called perfume ointment. Now that's a mood spoiler.  Read it aloud to someone you love, and decide if you, too, might want a different word. 
One more example, from I: 13.
"A bouquet of myrrh" just sounded a little more
romantic that "a bundle of myrrh." [KJV] or
"a bag of myrrh" [RSV].

And I haven't even mentioned VIII: 1, which starts "O that thou wert as my brother."  When was the last time you heard someone use wert in a conversation?!  

So read aloud, and listen to your ears. Even when Biblical poetry is meticulously rendered in calligraphy, it deserves extra attention to its sound, because it is so deeply rooted in our oldest oral culture.