HS: John Dryden – From the Preface to Ovid’s Epistles

Dryden, John. “From the Preface to Ovid’s Epistles.” The Translation Studies Reader. 2nd ed. Ed. Lawrence Venuti. New York: Routledge, 2004. 38-42. Print.

Dryden propounds his famous classification of translation in this Preface. He leaves no doubt that out of Metaphrase, Paraphrase and Imitation, the most favoured method is Paraphrase.

He says Metaphrase (translating word-for-word) is like “dancing on ropes with fettered legs” whereas Imitation, though culminating in producing an entirely new creation, does dishonour to the original Author.

According to Dryden, to translate Poetry, one has to be a genius in the art, master of both languages, understand the Author’s unique turn of thoughts and of expression, conform one’s genius to his, give his thought either the same turn if the target language will bear it or if not, vary but the dress, not alter or destroy the substance.

Hence in Paraphrase (translating sense-for-sense), the Author’s sense is considered to be sacred and inviolable. Yet the translator can take liberty to choose an expression, if need arises, which does not vitiate the Sense. What he calls as the Spirit of the Author being transfused, yet not lost. For Thought, if translated truly, cannot be lost in another language. Words that convey it are just the Image and Ornament of that Thought.

“Praise of a translation consists in adding new Beauties to the piece, thereby to recompense the loss which it sustains by change of language”, in the words of Dryden.

And as an afterthought to all budding translators, “There are so few who have all the Talents which are requisite for translation and there is so little praise and so small encouragement for so considerable a part of learning.”


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