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Lost in translation... 
29th-Sep-2011 10:07 pm
language, voyage
So, a twitter conversation today about weird similes in love songs made me think about my favorite weird simile in a love song, from the Song of Solomon. I know it best translated as:

Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners.

However, a google search turned up this page of various translations of the verse. It's remarkable how a difference of a word or two can completely change the tenor of the line. Some favorites:

New International Version:

You are beautiful, my darling, as Tirzah, lovely as Jerusalem, majestic as troops with banners.

I don't particularly care for "darling", and "troops" just makes me think of Pentagon press briefings. However, "majestic" might be closer to the intended effect than "terrible".

New Living Translation:

You are beautiful, my darling, like the lovely city of Tirzah. Yes, as beautiful as Jerusalem, as majestic as an army with billowing banners.

This is the "Y'all totally don't know what Tirzah is, do you?" translation. Feels wordy to me.

GOD'S WORD Translation:

You are beautiful, my true love, like Tirzah, lovely like Jerusalem, awe-inspiring like those great cities.

Where my army with banners at? This is the "Forget Tirzah, you're not entirely sure what Jerusalem is," translation.

Bible in Basic English:

You are beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, as fair as Jerusalem; you are to be feared like an army with flags.

Bzzzt! Thank you for playing, but no!

There are a lot of valiant attempts on that page, but I don't think any of them really improves on the King James version. What do you think? Anyone want to make a case for "you are to be feared like an army with flags"?
30th-Sep-2011 06:16 am (UTC)
I have always been partial to the Jerusalem Bible (with the book of Jonah by Tolkien!), but I could only find the New Jerusalem Bible online:

4 You are fair as Tirzah, my beloved, enchanting as Jerusalem, formidable as an army!

5 Turn your eyes away from me, they take me by assault!

"Formidable" for אֲיֻמָּ֖ה (http://concordances.org/hebrew/366.htm) is a clear win for me, and works just as well in its other appearance in Habakkuk 1:7: "They are terrible and dreadful [formidable]: their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves."

Alas, the banners have gone missing. But the Hebrew word appears to be rather fluid, referring here to an army (by implication) but elsewhere to the "chiefest". So we might even elide the army and put a "champion" or "bannerman" in its place. But the pun with verse five is too good to do without.

(I would also be tempted to put "becoming" instead of "enchanting" to fit the other uses of the word.)

Edited at 2011-09-30 06:21 am (UTC)
30th-Sep-2011 01:51 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty sure we have a Jersusalem Bible somewhere on the shelves at home (or possibly in one of the boxes in the garage). I'll have to see if I can turn it up.

I do like "formidable" there.
30th-Sep-2011 09:03 am (UTC)

You're gorgeous like Barcelona, sweetie, pretty as Paris, awesome as a Navy SEAL.

(Updated version for those who never heard of Tirzah and feel Jerusalem currently lacks comeliness... and armies don't look all that impressive in camouflage even though they're a lot more lethal.)
30th-Sep-2011 01:54 pm (UTC)
LOL! I think you have achieved the apotheosis of the modernized translation. (Plus you get that nice alliteration with "pretty as Paris".)
30th-Sep-2011 09:45 am (UTC)
I learned to read out of the KJV, so it's naturally my favorite. Also, there are rumors Shakespeare worked on it.

In one of Laurie R. King's mysteries, Night Work, she devotes a lot of time to a ballet of Song of Solomon, which has some unusual interpretations of the book. Definitely worth checking out.
30th-Sep-2011 01:58 pm (UTC)
Wow. I learned to read out of Dr. Seuss. (Tries to envision a Seussical translation of the Song of Solomon, but fortunately, it's too early in the morning.)

I will put _Night Work_ on my list of books to look for!
30th-Sep-2011 03:59 pm (UTC)
I think the only way I can make the Simplified work is if I hear it in Eddie Izzard's delivery: "do you have a flag?"
30th-Sep-2011 05:27 pm (UTC)
Many, many things are better if you hear them in Eddie Izzard's delivery!
1st-Oct-2011 05:23 am (UTC)
I actually like "terrible" -- it echoes "terror" for me, though I don't know if that's etymologically accurate (it may be), and anybody who is truly deeply passionately in love and *not* on some level terrified... Terrified, exalted, ecstatic...
1st-Oct-2011 10:48 pm (UTC)
Yes. "Terrible" (like "awesome") suffers a bit from the fact that it's core meaning has drifted a bit since that translation was written, but I think that note of fear is entirely appropriate. (Just a note though, which must combine with other notes to make a chord, which is part of why "you are to be feared like an army with flags" just doesn't work for me at all.
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