The Language Is Thick, Gnarly, And Old, Like An Ancient Tree

hard-timesAnd like an ancient tree, it is difficult in places to climb. Take, for example, ‘He was disgracefully thrown out, for a gentleman who had seen so much of the world’. I think some words have changed meaning in this sentence. I think ‘put out’ or ‘offended’ rather than ‘disgracefully thrown out’ is a more modern translation, but I could be wrong. He certainly did not end up on the street.

Then there is the added difficulty of local dialects: ‘I ha’ hed what’s been spok’n o’ me, and ’tis lickly that I shan’t mend it. But I’d liefer you’d hearn the truth concernin myseln, fro my lips than fro onny other man’s, though I never cud’n speak afore so monny, wi’out bein moydert and muddled.’

But there is no difficulty in climbing these words: ‘Oh, my friends, the down-trodden operatives of Coketown!  Oh, my friends and fellow-countrymen, the slaves of an iron-handed and a grinding despotism!  Oh, my friends and fellow-sufferers, and fellow-workmen, and fellow-men!  I tell you that the hour is come, when we must rally round one another as One united power, and crumble into dust the oppressors that too long have battened upon the plunder of our families, upon the sweat of our brows, upon the labour of our hands, upon the strength of our sinews, upon the God-created glorious rights of Humanity, and upon the holy and eternal privileges of Brotherhood!’

Well-spoken, well-formed words. Yet the speaker was ‘an ill-made, high-shouldered man, with lowering brows, and his features crushed into an habitually sour expression, [who] contrasted most unfavourably, even in his mongrel dress, with the great body of his hearers.’ Our sympathies go to the speaker of dialect, not the speaker of polished words. Sometimes a gnarly, ancient tree is worth the climb.

But struggling with the original may be preferable to breezing through a translation. Some, though prefer a translation, especially if it’s a sacred text.

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