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Monday, September 11, 2006

A heart of compassion

I was thinking this morning as I drove to school that if I wrote again about literary devices in Alter's translation that I would want to show how I have used alliteration and parataxis in my own writing. Not here on the BBB, but on my writing blog. I wanted to explain that when someone reads a piece of writing that is full of literary devices they should not even notice them, and the writer should not even know that she is putting them in - until after. This is why.

Last spring I started writing on my writing blog - privately, for myself. And I got an email,

"Suzanne, you are quiet. What are you up to at the moment?"

"I'm writing this,' I said, 'What do you think of it?'

'I'll tell you when I stop crying.'

Then, I thought, well that is one person. It is not exactly a published collection. And I decided against mentioning it here.

But, today after school, as I was packing up my papers, a man stood in the middle of my classroom, waiting to speak to me - the school engineer.

'How's your daughter?' he asked.

'Better,' I said, 'She'll be going back to school soon.'

'Did you write that story about the girl?' he asked.

'Yes," I said, but this time I didn't ask him how he liked it.

'I cried,' he said. 'Can I make a copy and give it to a friend? Is that all right?'

'It's on the internet,' I said. 'I'll show you.'

So we sat at the computer and we talked about children and language and Shakespeare and the Bible, and Alter and Adam and Eve. He talked about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. And I talked about how God has chosen the foolish things of this world to shame the wise and the weak things of this world to shame the strong. And he talked about his family and his university studies.

And then I sat silent and stared out the window and waited - I waited until finally he told me what he had come to say.

He told me how his son had died. He had lived never seeing, never talking, never knowing about life. He lay dying while he lived, a constant object of care. He wondered out loud why his son had lived so long. Then he told me that his son had lived to create a heart of compassion in those who cared for him, and when he died he left a void.

He got up and left and then I cried.

    ἐνδύσασθε οὖν ὡς ἐκλεκτοὶ τοῦ θεοῦ ἅγιοι καὶ ἠγαπημένοι σπλάγχνα οἰκτιρμοῦ χρηστότητα ταπεινοφροσύνην πραΰτητα μακροθυμίαν 13 ἀνεχόμενοι ἀλλήλων καὶ χαριζόμενοι ἑαυτοῖς ἐάν τις πρός τινα ἔχῃ μομφήν καθὼς καὶ ὁ κύριος ἐχαρίσατο ὑμῖν οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς 14 ἐπὶ πᾶσιν δὲ τούτοις τὴν ἀγάπην ὅ ἐστιν σύνδεσμος τῆς τελειότητος
    Clothe yourselves therefore, God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, with a heart of compassion, with usefulness, humility, gentleness, and a slow temper, putting up with each other. Indulge one another if anyone has a complaint against someone else. As the Lord indulges us, so we others. To all these things add love which binds to completeness. Mine
      Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. KJV
        Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. TNIV Colossians 3:12-14
      Notes: In this passage 'heart of compassion' replaces 'bowels of mercy' and 'slow temper' replaces 'longsuffering'. Longsuffering only gives the impression that it translates the Greek, but it actually doesn't.


      At Tue Sep 12, 12:40:00 PM, Blogger DavidR said...

      The writing that precedes enables the action counselled in the passage that follows.

      Hmmm. Didn't say that well. I meant: the reading of the narrative was itself a sort of 'clothing ... with a heart of compassion'.

      Thanks for this, Suzanne.


      At Tue Sep 12, 01:55:00 PM, Blogger DavidR said...

      And a question for you...

      What made you decide to break up ἀνεχόμενοι ... καὶ χαριζόμενοι? My inclination would have been to keep them together somehow. Probably just me being boring! It's a pretty 'fluid' passage, isn't it.

      David Reimer

      At Tue Sep 12, 02:38:00 PM, Blogger codepoke said...


      Wow. Yes.

      At Tue Sep 12, 03:33:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


      It was a hash job. There is no possible way to do something like this in a little bit of one evening.

      Here are a few problems.

      1. If you use 'clothe' instead of 'put on' then you have to insert 'with'. Easier to use 'put on' but you have to use 'clothe' because you have to use 'strip' in the previous sequence instead of 'take off' or 'put off'.

      2. Decide how to get rid of the 'bowels' but keep a concrete image just the same.

      3. Struggle with the rest of the list. Really humility is a very outdated word. Isn't there a modern equivalent for the same feeling?

      4. Decide not to use 'forgive' but 'indulge' instead, for who knows what reason.

      5. Try to decide whether to use a finite verb or a participle and give up on that. I meant to come back to it, and didn't.

      6. And finally figure out how to translate the last word. It doesn't sound like perfect exactly, but I definitely don't like the way I left it.

      Interesting that the LSJ lexicon had 'longsuffering' for makrothumia, I don't think that really represents the morphology very well, but I think that people think of it as literal when it isn't.

      Then I looked at several other translations, and almost rewrote the whole thing.

      There it is. A very humbling exercise, burning the midnight oil. The problem is that I don't actually work as a translator, so I forget how hard it is!

      At Sun Sep 17, 05:03:00 PM, Blogger Dana said...

      Are we allowed to ask you guys questions about translation/interpretation stuff?

      At Sun Sep 17, 05:09:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

      You can ask anything you want!

      Surely someone on the blog or in the comment section will attempt to answer.


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