“The first time I saw her she was coughing.“
That is the first line. I have translated it many times over, along with several other lines from the same text. I wrote the entire thing in one sitting about a week ago. It is for her but written as if I’m talking about someone else. It is also written in my language, which she barely understands.
I’ve met with some problems during the process of translation. There are only about a dozen sentences in total but each time I translate one of the lines I find that the meaning shifts. There are some tiny changes, that only affect details, but details nonetheless that I feel precious about. Then there are changes that affect the shape of the text as a whole. It has become unrecognizable, this text.
This is not a question of correctness of translation; it is a question of me losing sight of what was written there originally and what I had in mind to tell her. I now have several versions written in her language, with absolutely no idea which one fits best. Some parts seem like obvious winners, but they only work as snippets, and even then that’s only because I know the context. I can’t send her one line, disembodied. How would, “crossing that empty yard” sound in isolation, or worse “a teardrop on an eyelash”? And those are the only two lines I feel totally happy with.
I am only a novice translator but this is not an issue of competence. Meaning shifts before me. It’s like I’m trying to catch a fish with my bare hands, but the water I look through reflects everything back at me in a mirror-image.
I might just speak to her although this involves a lot of confusion and normally makes me agitated.