Creativity in translation


Splendid books deserve to be shared, just like fantastic movies or music. I have translated excerpts in Chinese from books and poems to English. They are treasures that belong to the world, and I don’t want to see them trammeled by the scopes of language.

A good piece of translation is part of the creative process, not a mechanical exercise that is easily done with a computer. A computer can translate words, but they can't translate feelings. Computer-generated translations can be grammatically correct, but lack imagination. When we start to draw the images that hide in our head and lead them out, creativity emerges like a flood, powerful and unstoppable. Finally, our imagination is defined with dreamlike pictures, and we translate with irresistible creativity.

In translation, the perfect tool is wording. We are not creating words, instead, we are bonding words. To bond words, so that they could perfectly match in terms of meaning according to an author’s emotion and a character’s personality, we try to fathom words in a new language. Here are translations of a poem, Jiangxue (Liu Zongyuan 773-819), written approximately 2,000 years ago.

Google Translation: Thousands of mountains and thousands of mountains can not see the traces of birds; thousands of roads can not see the footprints of pedestrians. On a lonely boat, a fisherman wearing a cloaked coat and fishing; alone fishing in the snow. (Liu Zongyuan 773-819)

My translation: From peak to sky no bird in flight; from path to home no man in sight; a single fisherman afloat, fishing snow in a lonely boat. (Liu Zongyuan 773-819)

As the poem describes, the poet is trying to build a place where there are many majestic mountains untraversed. To represent the untraversed characteristics of the mountains, I try to use as less and short words as possible so that they will add the extra feeling of loneliness. There is no route lonelier than an endless and doleful path to home. A single fisherman afloat indicates a strong sense of isolation like a small island in the middle of nowhere. In the poem, A lonely man is fishing, which is the only thing that has meaning. But, actually, he is fishing snow. It puts a nothingness and bleakness to the picture.


Written in October 2018

United States of America