Translation, a perennial perplex

I’ve been reading through the Coverdale translation of the Psalms, and it’s actually very good. Modernists pooh-pooh it, largely because, being essentially illiterate, they don’t have any grasp of 16th-century English, so it all sounds very quaint and gadzookish to their large fair donkey ears.

One of the things I like about Coverdale is that he doesn’t try to cover-up the difficulties of translation; he plods through, rendering each Hebrew word as best he can. So it feels in some ways like a pony — one of those interlinear translations that schoolboys depend on. And yet at the same time it captures the earnest plain-spoken urgency of the original, and its impetuous rhythm.

No translation is ever satisfactory — this goes without saying — but a translation that familiarizes is a bigger liar than a translation that doesn’t. These are weird old texts and anything that diminishes their weirdness is falsification.

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