Monday, 2 December 2013

The Weight of Words

Donald Winkler won a 2013 Governor General's Award for his translation of Pierre Nepveu's poetry collection The Major Verbs (Les verbes majeur). The following were his remarks at the awards ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on November 29, 2013:
Tonight, in this hall, we are honouring language and its practitioners who, however unlike they may be one from the other, are all intensely aware that this human attribute is a thing of great power and nobility, but also that beyond this precinct there are arenas, not far off, where it is systematically tarnished, degraded, and impoverished. Where words of insight, words of wonder, are recast as words of pretence, words of evasion, words of belligerence, words of contempt. 
It has ever been thus.  
As a translator, my responsibility is to treat every text as an offering, to be transformed, but hallowed, as it is shepherded from one tongue to another. And my accountability is not only to my words and to their readers, but to one whose words, in another language, were set down at great personal cost, perhaps, and whose endeavour and intent must be given their due. This can only heighten one’s sensitivity to the fact that in a world where much hangs in the balance, that balance may be tipped significantly by the weight of words, and how we choose to deploy them.

"We will anxiously monitor
the storms on the sun,
we will welcome its fiery tongues,
we will be nothing but spirit
when the cold centuries come."
Pierre Nepveu. 
May language be not a smoke screen, but a beacon. 
Thank you very much.

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