Henri Parisot translated Jabberwocky into French three times. The translations are similar but for a few details, most important among them being the name of the eponymonster itself. He chose Jabberwock, Jabberwoc and lastly, Bredoulochs (as well as changing le fatal bandersnatch to pinçmacaque). Forgetting any illustrations you have seen, do the words Jabberwock, Jabberwoc and Bredoulochs conjure the same image? While none are a match for either the glaive vorpalin or the vorpaline épée, which one would win in a fight? And how would the winner fare against the Romanian Traxncaxvici?
In Ranier Maria Rilke’s poem Klage, he says: “Ich glaube, im Boot, /das vorüberfuhr, / hörte ich etwas Banges sagen.” Stephen Mitchell translates this as follows: “I think there were tears / in the car I heard pass/ and something terrible was said.”
Mitchell’s choice of translating boot into car rather than the more likely boat has always puzzled me. This changes not only the word but also the location of the action. In one poem, the narrator is near a body of water. Rilke wrote it in Berlin so I presume this means a river, which could then mean the argument happened in a small punt. I see a romantic afternoon gone wrong. In Mitchell’s version, a car. The narrator could be walking along any street. The poem was written in 1900. How common were cars in Berlin at that point, anyhow? (Perhaps Mitchell is a fan of They Might Be Giants.)
My understanding of German is negligible. I’m not bringing this up to criticize Mitchell as a translator but rather to show how a slight change in translation can have a significant effect.
All of which has me thinking, of course, about alternate universes.
[Take your practiced powers and stretch them out until they span the chasm between two contradictions]