Translating Henry Miller’s Greece

[This post is somewhat a sequence of a previous post about the same book: Henry Miller and His Greece ]

This noon, I started translating a travelogue of Henry Miller’s — the book that’s so beautifully written to the point that I almost love every sentence of it, except in the middle, as I told you, because the middle is somewhat boring and difficult to follow.

But the first paragraph struck me as love at first read. How lyrical it begins: “I would never have gone to Greece had it not been for a girl named Betty Ryan who lived in the same house with me in Paris.” I asked one publishing house whether it’ll be interested in having this book translated. The answer was that it might not sell since it’s not as famous as Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. So I’m here, spending my Saturday afternoon translating a page or two out of fun. I don’t even know if I manage to finish the whole book, there’ll be someone interested in paying the copyright’s holder for the publication or not. So you can see that this’s purely a labor of love, producing no tangible, profitable result.

It’s the same with writing innumerable letters to you — no tangible return for hours after hours spent. Yet I love every minute of it. Too bad we’re not Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin. They had crossed countless of letters and were observed by a critic, Erica Jong (another favorite writer of mine), that they were each other’s double, lover, and most of all — muse. I’m glad nonetheless that you are my muse even though it’s not your muse that I am.

While I was translating the book this noon, I was, at the same time, had a sudden thought of writing another letter — about the art of translation and the act of love-making.

I used to write about this book, saying that I like it so much I had a strong desire to translate it, because:

To translate it is to make love to the text. I want to penetrate it, make a thorough exploration. I’d pick up each word like I’d pick up a rock, turn it over, and see if there’s any hidden message written under it. Translators do that. I want to bathe in it, swim through every sentence, submerging among lines of alphabets. I’ll never get bored. I can re-read it again and again, over and over. –  “Henry Miller and His Greece”, a previous blog post of mine

And I was right. I was lost in extreme pleasure while translating the first two pages of the book. What could be a greater joy than reading those beautifully-phrased sentences and feel that joy again in the process of finding words for them in another language? Anaïs Nin said that we write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospective. I say translators taste something twice too: First, we get to taste the beauty of the original text; Second, we experience the joyousness and get lost in it from having to rephrase that beauty into another tongue. And it’s the second that give you a greater euphoria since you’re part of that creation. I felt like I was really making love to the text. I was high, baby. I really was.

Translation is like carving. I have to really pay close attention to each sentence and  make sure I understand it thoroughly so as to translate it correctly. And that’s what I want to do to your body: making a close examination of it — of every inch of your flesh — slowly, attentively, searchingly, and at the same time, feeling the ecstasy such act would bring.

“To me this river, this country, belong to the poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. It is not French, not Austrian, not European even: it is the country of enchantment which the poets have staked out and which they alone may lay claim to.” (Note: “This country” in the sentence here is not Greece. He’s talking about France.) – The Colossus of Maroussi

สำหรับผม แม่น้ำนี้ ประเทศนี้เป็นของกวีนามเรเนอร์ มาเรีย ริลเก มันไม่ได้เป็นของคนฝรั่งเศสหรือคนออสเตรียหรือแม้กระทั่งคนยุโรป มันเป็นประเทศน่าอัศจรรย์ซึ่งเหล่ากวีได้จับจองและมีแต่พวกเขาเท่านั้นที่จะอ้างสิทธิ์ได้ – My translation

Note: Though I’d love to participate in Today’s Prompt, alas, this post recalls such calm and harmony,  totally opposite of the word Argument. So Prompt, here’s how I’d interpret your theme. 


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