If you’ve ever read a work of literature in translation, you’ll know that the translator’s job is a tough one. Not only do they have to convey the meaning of the original text, but they also have to capture its style, tone, and idiosyncrasies. Now imagine being the translator of a work of Polish literature into English. This is no easy feat, as Polish is a notoriously difficult language to translate. Nevertheless, there have been many brave souls who have attempted this task over the years, and in this article, we’ll take a look at some of the earliest translations of Polish literature into English.
Let’s start with “Pan Tadeusz” by Adam Mickiewicz, which is considered by many to be the national epic of Poland. This epic poem tells the story of two feuding noble families in 19th-century Lithuania, and it’s full of vivid descriptions of the landscape, the people, and their customs. It’s a long and complex work, so it’s not surprising that it took a while for it to be translated into English. The first translation was done by Marcel Weyland and was published in 1917. Here’s a quote from the translation:
“O Lithuania, my country, thou Art like good health; I never knew till now How precious, till I lost thee. Now I stand Without thee, and alone in foreign land.”
Weyland’s translation captures the grandeur and patriotism of the original, but it’s also a bit old-fashioned and formal by today’s standards. Still, it’s an impressive achievement, and it paved the way for other translations of Polish literature into English.
Another early example of Polish literature translated into English is “The Manuscript Found in Saragossa” by Jan Potocki. This is a sprawling and surreal work that incorporates elements of Gothic fiction, Arabian Nights-style storytelling, and philosophical musings. The translation was done by Count Potocki himself in the early 19th century, and it’s a fascinating read. Here’s a quote from the translation:
“He felt a profound emotion in his heart, an emotion he had never experienced before. It was as if he had entered into a different world, where the laws of time and space no longer applied.”
Potocki’s translation captures the dreamlike quality of the original, and it’s full of strange and wonderful imagery. It’s no wonder that the book has become a cult classic among fans of weird fiction.
Finally, let’s turn our attention to British literature translated into Polish. One of the earliest examples of this is Juliusz Kydryński’s translation of “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte, which was published in 1925. This is a classic of English literature that tells the story of the wild and tempestuous relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine, and it’s full of brooding atmosphere and Gothic romance. Here’s a quote from the translation:
“You and Edgar have broken my heart, Heathcliff! And you both come to bewail the deed to me, as if you were the people to be pitied! I shall not pity you, not I. You have killed me – and thriven on it, I think.”
Kydryński’s translation captures the intensity and passion of Bronte’s prose, and it’s still considered one of the best translations of “Wuthering Heights” into Polish.
In conclusion, these early translations of Polish literature into English and vice versa may be a bit old-fashioned in their style and language, but they’re still impressive feats of translation. They show that even though language barriers can be daunting, literature has the power to transcend them and connect people across cultures and time periods. As for the translators themselves, they deserve our admiration and respect for taking on such a difficult task. They are the unsung heroes of literature, and without them, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the richness and diversity of works from around the world.
Of course, translating literature is not just about accuracy and faithfulness to the original text. It’s also about capturing its essence and making it accessible and enjoyable for readers in the target language. This is where a translator’s personal style and sensibility come into play. A good translator is not just a technician, but an artist in their own right, and their translations can have a profound impact on how we perceive and appreciate a work of literature.
In future articles, we’ll explore more examples of Polish and British literature in translation, from different time periods and genres. We’ll look at the challenges and joys of translation, and we’ll try to uncover some hidden gems that might have been overlooked by mainstream audiences. So stay tuned, and let’s embark on a journey of discovery and delight!