I have the pleasure of now awarding the First German Joys Prize in Lyrical Amateur Translation.
We English speakers are lucky. Why? Because almost everywhere we go, people translate guidebooks, inscriptions, pamphlets, and announcements into our language. Often they are wise enough not to hire a professional native speaker to do this. Instead they hire someone whom they know, or who has an enthusiasm for the subject matter. This amateur translator then creates a surreal, often gorgeous new work of human creativity. It is this process, which I will call Lyrical Amateur Translation, that I want to celebrate with this Prize.
This last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a wedding in the small Belgian town of Hastière. Although Hastière claims to be the "Pearl of the Upper Meuse Valley" (and it is quite lovely), the website has had only 3,455 visitors. (Can’t we do something about that, Joysters?)
The wedding itself was held in the local church, a modest gray-stone structure whose foundations date back 1000 years. I picked up an information brochure called "The Romanesque Abbey Church of Hastiere," originally written by Abbé Pirotte, head of the "Gallery of our Past."
The French original of this guide to the Church was translated in 1985 into English and lovingly-hand-typed onto sheets of foldeed A4 paper with a pink cover. Abbé Pirotte hired a man whose name I will not post here (for fear of being misinterpreted), but who is indisputably a master of lyrical amateur translation. Here is Page 14, the final page of the tour of the church grounds (I’ve tried to reproduce the formatting as much as possible):
Dear Pilgrim and Friend,
You are leaving now this church where you have been seeing what a fruit is created by the labour, the faith, and the hope of the men.
Firmly fixed on the side of the Meuse, one foot on land, the other in water, the church is there as a place of welcome.
This monument had talked to you a different language from the one of everyday life.
For ten centuries, it had been contemplating the passing men.
It saw their misdeeds during the successive wars.
It has growed and acquired various artistic works through the ages.
But whether in the Middle Ages or whether in the twentieth century,
the same faith impels the men,
the same hope drive them out of their limits
It is the same belief that only God can give the man
his real reason of living
that brings the man his unlimited size.