“ the Romance languages we do not say “It is cold” — we say “It makes cold”: “Il fait froid,” “Fa freddo,” “Hace frío,” and so on. Yet I don’t think anybody should translate “Il fait froid” by “It makes cold… Matthew Arnold pointed out that if a text be translated literally, then false emphases are created. I do not know whether he came across Captain Burton’s translation of the Arabian Nights; perhaps he did so too late. For Burton translates Quitab alif laila wa laila as Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, instead of Book of the Thousand and One Nights. This translation is a literal one. It is true word for word to the Arabic. Yet it is false in the sense that the words “book of the thousand nights and a night” are a common form in Arabic, while in English we have a slight shock of surprise. And this, of course, has not been intended by the original.

… Then we have “the song of songs,” I read in Fray Luis de Leòn that the Hebrews had no superlatives, so they could not say “the highest song” or “the best song.” They said “the song of songs,” even as they might have said “the king of kings” for the “the emperor” or “the highest king”; or “the moon of moons” for the “highest moon”; or “the night of nights” for the most hallowed of nights. If we compare the English rendering “song of songs” to the German by Luther, we see that Luther, who had no care for beauty, who merely wanted Germans to understand the text, translated it as “das hohe Lied”. So we find that these two literal translations make for beauty…”


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