Translation is doomed to failure. Rather than trying to hit a target, it’s as if translators face away from the target and simply try not to shoot their arrows too far. Perhaps another metaphor is to think of translation as being more like performance. The notes exist on the page for each poem, so to speak, but how each translator “performs” the poem will vary for each translation, just as one orchestra’s “translation” of Haydn will differ from another’s. All the performances will have necessary and inescapable similarities, yet also slight variations of interpretation, both arrived at independently. The source of those variations, however, is essentially not other orchestras—other translators—but the original text itself, which inherently contains, it seems fair to say, all the possible interpretations. As Edward Hirsch has said, translation “brings the world to our doorstep.” Nevertheless, in The Book of Tea, Kakuzo Okakura writes that “Translation is always a treason, and as a Ming author observes, can at its best be only the reverse side of a brocade” (New York: Dover Publications, 1964, edited and introduced by Everett F. Bleiler, page 19). And as Fergus Chadwick said in Acumen (May 1997), “Translation is like describing one animal in terms of another. What you read outside its original language is a convincing rhinoceros, but the actual poem is an elephant.” What follows here, at their least, are a few rhinoceroses and the reverse sides of a few brocades.
Working mostly with Emiko Miyashita as my cotranslator, my translations have appeared on numerous websites and in several poetry journals, in books from PIE Books (Tokyo), on the back of a U.S. postage stamp, in the Japan Air Lines in-flight magazine, for Japan Railways station exhibits, as captions for educational Japanese traditional music videos, as compact disc liner notes, and through the publications and broadcasts of Haiku International and NHK World Radio. If you have any comments or questions, please contact Michael Dylan Welch.