At first it had no name. It was the thing itself, the vivid thing. It was his friend. On windy days it danced, demented, waving wild arms, or in the silence of evening drowsed and dreamed, swaying in the blue, the goldeny air. Even at night it did not go away. Wrapped in his truckle bed, he could hear it stirring darkly outside in the dark, all the long night long. There were others, nearer to him, more vivid still than this, they came and went, talking, but they were wholly familiar, almost a part of himself, while it, steadfast and aloof, belonged to the mysterious outside, to the wind and the weather and the goldeny blue air. It was part of the world, and yet it was his friend.
Look, Nicolas, look! See the big tree!
Tree. That was its name. And also: the linden. They were nice words. He had known them a long time before he knew what they meant. They did not mean themselves, they were nothing in themselves, they meant the dancing singing thing outside. In wind, in silence, at night, in the changing air, it changed and yet was changelessly the tree, the linden tree. That was strange.
Everything had a name, but although every name was nothing without the thing named, the thing cared nothing for its name, had no need of a name, and was itself only. And then there were the names that signified no substantial thing, as linden and tree signified that dark dancer. His mother asked him who did he love the best. Love did not dance, nor tap the window with frantic fingers, love had no leafy arms to shake, yet when she spoke that name that named nothing, some impalpable but real thing within him responded as if to a summons, as if it had heard its name spoken. That was very strange.
He soon forgot about these enigmatic matters, and learned to talk as others talked, full of conviction, unquestioningly.
The sky is blue, the sun is gold, the linden tree is green. Day is light, it ends, night falls, and then it is dark. You sleep, and in the morning wake again. But a day will come when you will not wake. That is death. Death is sad. Sadness is what happiness is not. And so on. How simple it all was, after all! There was no need even to think about it. He had only to be, and life would do the rest, would send day to follow day until there were no days left, for him, and then he would go to Heaven and be an angel. Hell was under the ground.
Matthew Mark Luke and John
Bless the bed that I lie on
If I die before I wake
Ask holy God my soul to take
He peered from behind clasped hands at his mother kneeling beside him in the candlelight. Under a burnished coif of coiled hair her face was pale and still, like the face of the Madonna in the picture. Her eyes were closed, and her lips moved, mouthing mutely the pious lines as he recited them aloud. When he stumbled on the hard words she bore him up gently, in a wonderfully gentle voice. He loved her the best, he said. She rocked him in her arms and sang a song.
See saw Margery Daw
This little chicken
Got lost in the straw
Comment on Doctor Copernicus
The beginning of Doctor Copernicus depicts Nicolas’s childhood, when a thing itself has not been bound to its name yet. Reflecting subtle movements occurring in the young child’s mind, John Banville uses ambiguous expressions. From the first sentence, the reader does not know what “it” really means, but this lack of information attracts the reader’s attention strongly and adds reality to the description in a strange way. Young children including Nicolas do not belong to the world of adults controlled by language thoroughly, so they perceive things not by language but as something more ambiguous and mysterious. On the other hand, needless to say, this story was written by an adult in an adult way, and by language. There is an inevitable gap between the style and the theme of the story. In order to overcome this gap, Banville uses “it” skilfully. This ambiguous pronoun plays a significant role as a lens which adjusts the world of adults to that of children. Though “it” is a part of language, this pronoun seems to be located on the boundary between language and non-language in the author’s ingenious writing.
However, this unique characteristic can be one of the most troublesome obstacles in translation, while it provides the reader with an enjoyable experience of reading. In translating this story into Japanese, the repetitive appearance of “it” confused me. In the third paragraph, “it” is identified with a linden tree, but when I translated the first paragraph based on the fact that “it” was a tree, the power of “it” as a lens to the world was lost. In translating the first paragraph, translators should place themselves in the same situation as Nicolas, who is without knowledge of the world of adults. Otherwise, the translation spoils the original atmosphere. In this case, keeping translation ‘childish’ or ‘primitive’ is important in order to reflect the original text in English faithfully. Making translation clearer and more intelligible can lead to deviation from what Banville really wanted to express. To get rid of the voice of an adult and avoid adding extra explanations to the original text arbitrarily were what I had to pay attention to constantly throughout the translation.
Another prominent aspect in balancing the two worlds of children and adults is the nuanced differences in the original narration. The distance between the narrator and Nicolas is changing delicately even in this very short excerpt. Especially in the paragraph beginning with ‘The sky is blue’, the border between the narrator’s and Nicolas’s voice becomes vague because of free indirect speech. The voice of Nicolas comes to the surface of narration momentarily, and the reader can hear both voices of little Nicolas and the adult narrator. How to reproduce this complex and compound relationship of the two voices in Japanese, which has no exact equivalent of English free indirect speech, was a big problem. In translating such a difficult part, I dared to omit the subject of a sentence and avoided showing who is speaking the sentence explicitly, taking advantage of the Japanese characteristic of omitting subjects frequently.
As a whole, the translation of Doctor Copernicus presented me with a precious opportunity to stand on the various borders: between children’s primitive world before verbalisation and adults’ logical world after language acquisition, English and Japanese, and the original text and the translation. Trying to bridge the gaps of these binary elements was quite difficult but delightful at the same time.