However it may appear to the world on the surface, the inner work of translating, as well as that of interpreting, calls forth an extraordinary consciousness during the process involved. In the outer form one sees either the prose or poetic text, or listens to a verbal communication simultaneously arising out of social necessity. It is and has to be ‘taken for granted’ and trusted. Yet, invisibly, the translator or interpreter has plunged into an inner sea of language, emerging in time on the other side of the shore, with a representation as true as possible to the original meaning. That representation is then carefully placed back or ‘rendered’ into the ‘visible’ language structure to bring understanding. A threshold has been crossed. Order has been temporarily upset, so it may be restored in a different form. In that sense, a Michaelic task is performed, promoting unity and order in the world.
Nationalism, as such, is in opposition to the true Michaelic spirit that wants to see the whole earth as one. Each nation should be equally respected, but eventually they will all disappear. Striving to be truly human is the essential task. Language barriers create separation and misunderstandings. Thus the responsibility of the translator to convey truth is of great importance. The process of attaining unity and mutual understanding is inherent in every part of the translating process.
For someone one who is not bilingual since early childhood, there is an element of courage involved in plunging into the foreign sea of words. Love of the subject matter can help. The human needs must be met, and necessity creates service. One has to simply trust the thought pattern forming as the sentence progresses and be patient enough to grapple with the meaning. This is a kind of trust in the Creative Logos and has a strengthening effect on the human beings involved.
There is a ‘space of freedom’, engendered by the Michaelic forces, where the ‘dragon’ is being vanquished. The translator helps to make this possible by becoming one with the original, focusing all attention on the change of syntax, thought, and meaning, and traversing the barrier to the new order. The etheric space actually seems to shield the onslaught of ‘chaos’ caused by the disintegrating structure in the one language, as it is transformed into the new language. This ‘spatial etheric experience’ becomes suspended for the span of concentration during which the translator may have to seek out a word or determine the appropriate quality of expression in its structure and sound – the span needed ‘to pluck the flower from chaos’. Sometimes the brain seems to sizzle with the activity and long for completion. Finally, when a harmonious translation has been found, the ‘catch’ is treasured. Perseverance has been rewarded. The thought pattern shaped in one structure has been traversed, to catch ‘the corresponding fish’ across the way. The ‘organ of the soul’ has become centred in this concentrated effort.
For simultaneous interpretation it is necessary to have the corresponding word and quality immediately in the memory. An immediate yearning for meaning is present. One feels the individuals involved in the situation. In this experience, the concentration becomes enhanced, adrenaline flows, as well as a sense of the helping forces. Having once spoken with an interpreter from the United Nations, I ascertained that the stress levels are high in that field. A subtle nuance may shift the course of world history.
Conversion from the language of prose to that of poetic form, in rhyme and rhythm is akin to translation when one considers that poetry itself is a language. While seeking to ‘translate’ stories written in prose into hexameter or alexandrine, one approaches the poetic spirits in Greek or French, for example.
Poetic translation between languages teaches one how to penetrate deeply into the qualities of the languages involved. The German poet, Christian Morgenstern once said: ‘There are two kinds of translations: bad, or less bad.’1) Indeed, the translator must be a poet, and intuitively grasp how the languages lend themselves to be interpreted.
This provides the opportunity to plunge into realms that may be foreign to one’s given temperament: Trochee tends to be melancholic; iambic has a choleric character, anapaest can be sanguine, while dactyl has a watery side. The attempt to master this variety in translation can eventually help to transform the etheric body.
In Vienna, Austria on 1 June 1918, Rudolf Steiner spoke of the difficulty in ‘translating’ spiritual truths (such as a seer can investigate) into an understanding suitable for present day language. One must note that in German the verb for ‘to translate’ is ‘uebersetzen’; that means ‘to place over, above, or beyond’. It is a heightened state of activity, a kind of ‘traversing between above and below’ in a sense.
Steiner speaks of three levels of language:
Language is pushed down to a lower level in the day-to-day philistine communication (dried-up, wilted language). The real purpose of speech is not to negotiate communications on a rudimentary level.
In language, he says, there is also a second level where the artistic-picturing of the folk-spirit can be conveyed. It comes to fruition in the poetic works of a folk, when the spirit of language is really being carried.
Speaking of the third level, Rudolf Steiner says:
‘The third kind is experienced in the realm of clairvoyant vision. One is in an unusual situation because when one wishes to express what is seen, one does not have the words of language; they are not present in that reality. One cannot express what is beheld as a seer experiences it in the same way as would be possible in languages where words have been learned to communicate with. Words are not made for it. Therefore the seer has to express many things in a much different way. He must clothe his sentence so as to approach what he means to say, and rely on his listener’s good will to allow one sentence to shed light on the other. When this good will fails, then people may reproach him for making contradictions. One who really wishes to express clairvoyant thought must work in contradictions, where one contradiction sheds light on the other, for the truth lies between the two. In the process of traversing this realm, one arrives in the sense of language, at the relationship between the artist and the seer. The seer must rely on the good will of those present and try to stress much more how he expresses something than what he actually says.
Gradually he makes it possible to reach back to the
Spirit of Creative Speech, which held sway before language existed. 2)
Novalis had an ‘all encompassing’ overview of translation. He claimed that not only books, but, anything can be translated using one of the following three methods. In fragments from ‘Bluetenstaub’, he wrote:
‘A translation can be either grammatically represented, transformed to be made better or worse than the original, or mythical. Mythical translations are of the highest style. They present the pure, fulfilled character of the original work of art, giving us the ideal rather than the real. There does not yet exist a complete example of this level to my knowledge…. Greek Mythology comprises, in part, such a translation of a national religion…. The Madonna Mythology is another example.
Grammatical translations are translations in the usual sense. They require a great deal of scholarly endeavour, but no extraordinary talent.
The highest poetical spirit is to be found in an authentic ‘altered translation’…. The true translator of this sort is in fact an artist who is able to give a greater idea of the whole in whatever way possible, becoming the poet’s poet. The poet’s own idea can thus speak itself out in the translation. The human spirit is related in a similar way to each individualhuman being…’ 3)
The mythological, as well as the ‘altered translation’ level, would bring forth the content of a work in accord with a folk spirit and the spirit of a particular time. In early Christian times, the Madonna and the Deeds of the Christ were to be seen and painted directly out of the etheric world. They are written or ‘imprinted’ in the Akasha. Novalis said ‘not only books, anything may be ‘translated’. Are then from the universal to the temporal, the temporal to the universal also possible modes of translation?
Rudolf Steiner shed light on the kind of translation necessary for ancient scripts such as the first verses in ‘The Gospel of St. Mark’, where an understanding of spiritual science is really necessary for full comprehension.
He spoke of how the Persians would translate the ancient manuscripts anew each epoch. The spiritual divine Word in the Zendavesta has been ‘reclothed’ and transformed seven times. :
…. ‘Precisely when one seeks to maintain the greatness of an old style, one should not keep to the ancient words as much as possible, for we cannot understand them properly anymore. Rather one must try to transform those words directly into the present understanding…’ 4)
A highly spiritualised, individual connection to the ancient script itself, as well as grace, and poetic genius would somehow be necessary to approach such a level of translation.
The mercurial world wants to give us transcendental experiences. Saturn holds the key to structure and depth. Mars forms speech. Venus enhances artistic phantasy….Thus there are helping forces!
Translating works from authors who are living in the life between death and rebirth can evolve into an intuitive grasping of their individualities, where grace is involved in the process. The dead experience the ideals and thought patterns that motivated them during their earthly lives. Universal thoughts need to descend to serve earthly existence, and in doing so they also link the living and the dead. Here, one feels like a small fish in a big pool!
Translating understandings of truth, beauty and goodness brings the worlds together. It promotes and necessitates further education, growth, research, and social unity. It needs to be rightfully reimbursed, although it is potentially a treasure beyond measure in dollars and cents.
In anthroposophical circles, further education, collaboration and consultation between translators is made possible through the Translator’s Conferences in the Literary Arts Section work at the Goetheanum.
1) As quoted by Ted Van Vliet in his translation of Christian Morgenstern’s book of poetry Turning Inward , Mercury Press.
2) G.A. 271 Rudolf Steiner Kunst und Kunst
Erkenntnis, ‘Das Sinnlich-Uebersinnliche –
Geistige Erkenntnis und Kunstlerisches Schaffen’
(‘The Sense Perceptible – Supersensible – Spiritual
Knowledge and Artistic Creation’).
Wein, 1 Juni, 1918.
3)From Bluetenstaub (Pollen) Fragmente
von Novalis # 67
4) G.A. 124 Rudolf Steiner Exkurse in das Gebiet des