[That is Wallenstein’s Camp, by F J Lamport.]
I have a set of six Spanish novels which I purchased many years ago, some of them quite difficult to obtain in English (Miguel Delibes’ The Prince Dethroned, for instance), which were published by Iberia Airways – presumably as part of a futile attempt to introduce Spanish culture to your average English tourist.
These books are pretty badly produced (a friend of mine, who worked in the publishing trade, found the type-setting in particular hilariously appalling) and in the main badly translated – and when I say badly translated, I mean not merely spelling errors and infelicities, but whole sentences which in English are just gibberish.
And yet – really, reading them, I don’t mind. I can take it; I can accept it; for the sake of being able to read the book. I don’t even think it’s really affected my enjoyment – it just catches me up every now and again, distracts me a moment against the author’s intention.
But FJ Lamport’s translation of Schiller’s Wallenstein’s Camp is far worse than this. No, there are no spelling mistakes; Lamport doesn’t get any of the English actually wrong – that would all be forgiveable. This is far more horrific: FJ Lamport – has translated it into rhyming couplets!
And even that’s not so bad, you may think – though it’s certainly true, if you want anything to sound like worthless doggerel, then you should put it in rhyming couplets. But here’s a phenomenon for you: if you ever read a prose work that’s been translated, and then suddenly there’s a poem by the author in the middle of it, you can be sure that the poem has been dreadfully rendered by the translator: that it’s set down without any sense of rhythm or cadence, without any appreciation of stress or metrical form; with no other intention, in truth, than getting a rhyme at the end of each line.
OK, so let’s take a line or two from Wallenstein’s Camp:
Did I run away from my desk in the school
Only to find the same labour and rule,
The narrow study, the toil and the cramp
Awaiting me here in the soldier’s camp?
I want to live well, not have too much to do,
Every day of my life see something new,
Cheerfully seize the moment, in sum,
Not brood on the past, nor on things to come-
That’s why I’ve sold Ferdinand my skin:
In the face of care I can merrily grin.
Lead me where cannon roar and thud,
Across the Rhine in its raging flood,
Let a third of the company shed their life’s blood;
I’ll not be squeamish, or make a dance.
But otherwise, if you don’t object,
Spare me your fuss and circumstance.
And so on, for 50 pages.
I imagine there’s a reason for all this. Perhaps the original German is in rhyming couplets. Certainly it’s probably in a different form to the rest of the play (just as this section involves the plebeians, whereas the rest – I suspect – is concerned only with the aristocracy); one of the first things I did was to look ahead and see if The Piccolomini was the same (I would have given up if it had been), but thankfully it looks like it’s in some sort of blank verse, which should probably be ok.
So – aside from all this – what about the play? – Well, it’s a sort of scene-setting: various of Wallenstein’s soldiers discuss war and peace, the current situation in Germany, what in brief has happened so far in the Thirty Years War, and whose side everyone’s on – hopefully all building towards better plays.