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A New Year's Resolution
Thread poster: Kim Metzger

Kim Metzger  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:32
German to English
Dec 25, 2003

I've just been reading "Literature Lost" by my old German literature professor, John M. Ellis. I particularly liked his explanation of what it is that distinguishes poets from philosophers when it comes to telling us something about our lives.

"Why, after all, do we read literature? A large part of the answer to this question is surely that although in the course of a life one encounters only a limited number of the people, situations, and problems that exist, literature expands those limits dramatically. The result is both a broadening and a deepening of experience. The new situations and people we are exposed to are not simply those that we might have known had we more than one life to lead; rather, they are created by writers who give us a distillation of real life and an interpretation of it that often takes us beyond anything that everyday life offers....

Almost everyone knows someone who paints, for example, but the painter of Robert Browning's poem "Andrea del Sarto" gives us much to think about. This is a man known as a faultless painter, a perfect technician who can execute any idea flawlessly but who lacks one crucial thing – a compelling style or vision of his own. Browning focuses the issue for us with the much quoted

Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what's a Heaven for?

Browning's painter raises in a peculiarly sharp way an issue that everyone struggles with sooner or later: the need to have goals that will stretch but not overwhelm us. Unlike the painter, whose reach 'is' his grasp, we need to grasp for something not quite within our reach to give our lives a challenge and a meaning. If the goal is so beyond reach that we have no chance of attaining it, we end up disillusioned and bitter; if it is so close that it is easily reached, it will have no meaning. Browning uses his painter as a means of examining a central principle in human life. Once we encounter his poem, it becomes a permanent part of the way we think about ambition. No philosopher could have captured the principle so vividly, because abstract formulae will not do the job. What is needed is a concrete expression, and that is why the great poets are more often quoted to illuminate human situations than are philosophers....

It is no accident that quotations from Shakespeare have become part of everyday life... Yet this happens not because Shakespeare had a unique ability to turn a pretty phrase but because he comments on central issues in human life with such devastating accuracy, giving us in the process a unique way of grasping and understanding them.
It is the precision of his thought, the sharpness of his observation, and his power to abstract the essence of events that keeps Shakespeare's language so influential hundreds of years after his death...."
Literature Lost, Social Agendas and the Corruption of the Humanities, John M. Ellis

Most translators aren't great poets, of course, but here's a thought for the New Year:
Ah, but a translator's reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what's a Heaven for?

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone!

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Abdellatif Bouhid  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:32
English to French
+ ...
Thank You Dec 25, 2003

Thank you.

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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:32
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Keep trying with those resolutions - it's worth it! Dec 27, 2003

My father used to tell us that sermons and resolutions were like having a bath: the effects don't always last very long, but that's no reason to stop taking baths or trying again to keep your resolutions.

Some resolutions do build up into good habits over the years.

Happy New Year!

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Lorenzo Lilli  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:32
German to Italian
+ ...
Thanks Dec 28, 2003

Thanks for posting this interesting topic. That's what I (and maybe we all) should try to do with translation: ok, I wouldn't dare to translate Joyce, but going beyond user's manuals wouldn't be such a bad idea

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Gareth McMillan  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:32
German to English
+ ...
Where does google fit in here? Dec 29, 2003

Fine words, I agree.
But when the New Year is past, it'll be back to dictionary dredging and gooogling far into the night, as if nothing had been said, nothing will happen.
The great god google is alive. The killer of initiative, philosophy and ALL poetry.

Sure I'm cynical.

Please give me a reason not to be.

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laurawheeler  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:32
English to French
+ ...
I agree with CRAndersen. Dec 29, 2003

New Year's resolutions never last too long, but they are nonetheless part of a purifying and enlightening process!

bonne année 2004 !

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