The Art of Translation
The Spanish writer Javier Marías wrote
...translation is one of the best possible exercises for a writer. If you know two languages and you can translate, I think it's the best way to learn how to write.
Especially (he goes on to say) if you are translating the masters: that is, writers who are better than you are. Translation forces you to get into their head, dissect their intent (and methodology), and then render the words into a new form in such a way that preserves their intent (if not actually the literal meaning).
Anyway, I found this interesting set of articles from translator, prose writer, poet, and perhaps a little bit of a folklorist David Bowles. He talks about the process of translating Aztec poetry (the language is Nahuatl) into English -- and rendering it as poetry, which is the hardest of all forms to translate, I think.
From the references to flowers and gods in the poem he discusses, I think that it's about battle and blood sacrifice (the raids that Aztecs did to capture people from other tribes for sacrifice were referred to as "War of the Flowers," or something like that).
The first article "Getting the Meaning" breaks down the literal meaning of the verse:
The second one "Crafting the Poem" tries to render it into English, as poetry:
Also, check out some of the translations Bowles has on his website: professionally, he seems to translate mostly Japanese and Spanish, but several other languages are represented as well, including Farsi, Chinese, and Latin. I especially liked Pablo Neruda's "I Like it When You're Silent" (probably because I love the poem in Spanish), and “Tomino’s Hell” by Saijō Yaso, which appeals to the macabre/ghost-story blogger in me -- the tradition says that if you read the poem out loud, tragedy and death soon follow you.
cc: @ellowrites @ellopoetry @ellolanguages @ariellcacciola (hey, you still around?) and @ddailey, because you seem interested in the indigenous languages of the Americas.
Image: Mabarlabin, own work. Source: Wikipedia