Herbert Lomas On Being a Literary Translator

August 3, 2017 by admin

Get a Free Quote

Our Accreditations

  • ATA Logo
  • ATC Logo
  • BSI 9001 Logo
  • DIN EN 15038 Logo

Recent Updates

The linguistic strengths and weaknesses of #MeToo

The BBC Radio 4 series “Keywords for our time” examines key phrases currently in use in public debate and political culture. In a recent programme, Helen Lewis, deputy editor of the New Statesman, took a look at the… Read More

 

The Year of the Hare_cover

 

On a friend’s recommendation I recently read The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna, translated from the Finnish by Herbert Lomas. This delightful and hilarious book recounts how a dissatisfied journalist walks away from his job, his wife and his home in Helsinki to care for a young hare, which he accidentally runs over in his car. I was particularly interested in finding out more about this translator because the text reads so beautifully. I found myself wondering if the translation’s distinctive style had captured something quintessentially Finnish in its pithy, pared back tone.

At any rate, I was not surprised to find out that Herbert Lomas was himself a poet because the language in the translation has a particularly dense and potent feel to it. As my friend put it “like a fine stock which has been simmered and reduced to create the perfect flavour”.

In a wonderful piece published after Lomas’s death in 2011 by the literary journal Books from Finland, the editors reflect on his thoughts about literary translation. When considering the question of why an author might bother with the task of translating someone else’s work, Lomas was initially hard-pressed to find an answer, saying “the pay’s absurd, one’s own writing suffers from lack of time, it’s very hard to please people and translation is, after all, the complacent argument goes, impossible.” Lomas was also quick to point out the miniscule public demand for translation from minor languages into English when he began tackling Finnish literature. But he was also able to pinpoint the pleasure of grappling with someone else’s words: “You have the pleasure of writing without the agony of primary invention. It’s like reading, only more so. It’s like writing, only less so.”

When asked about the differences between Finnish and English and the challenges presented in translating from one to the other, Lomas reflected on the far larger vocabulary available in English and commented that, as a consequence, “crucial decisions are being made with every word”. He could also see the potential benefits of translation work for his own poetic endeavours, comparing translation to practising scales on a piano and saying “it may extend one’s knowledge of what poetry can be”.

As for the contrasting syntax in Finnish and English, Herbert Lomas is particularly entertaining: “Finnish loathes to put things in […] a stereotyped order and employs fifteen cases in order to confuse not only foreigners but the tongues of its own native speakers. I think Finns speak slowly, not only because their words are long and mellifluous, and because they have been taught never to speak without thinking, but because getting their teeth round their Ciceronian sentence-structure is no joke.”

In later life Lomas was able to admit that although the pay was still absurd and people were still hard to please, there was at least a growing market for literary translations. Certainly the Year of the Hare is as fine a place to start as any.

References

The Year of the Hare, Arto Paasilinna, translation by Herbert Lomas published by Peter Owen Publishers in 1995

http://www.booksfromfinland.fi/2009/11/poetic-excercises-by-the-sea-herbert-lomas-revisited/

http://www.booksfromfinland.fi/2011/11/a-thankless-task/#more-16332

Share This Post

Comments

Add Comment








Andreea Mohan

Taylor Wessing LLP

We are very pleased with the services provided by Rosetta Translations. They always send very prompt responses, transparent prices and deliver their work product at the highest standards.

More Testimonials

Jackie Brook, Sr Product Manager

American Express

Thank you very much for your prompt and efficient service.

More Testimonials

Conor McLarnon

Maximus Crushing and Screening

I have translated multiple projects with Rosetta now and I cannot emphasise how great the service they provide is; quality, turnaround time and pricing is the best I have found yet. The qualities of translations we receive are of the highest standard and communication from the start of a project to the end is consistent.

For a company looking into translations, I would highly recommend Rosetta as first pick, as the support and service they provide is first class.

More Testimonials

Get a Free Quote

©2018 All Rights Reserved