Arthur Waley

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When translating prose dialogue one ought to make the characters say things that people talking English could conceivably say.

Arthur David Waley (born Arthur David Schloss, 19 August 188927 June 1966) was an English Orientalist and sinologist who achieved both popular and scholarly acclaim for his translations of Chinese and Japanese poetry.

Quotes[edit]

  • Since the classical language has an easy grammar and limited vocabulary, a few months should suffice for the mastering of it.
    • Japanese Poetry: The Uta (1919), Introduction, p. 8
  • I have not used rhyme, because what is really, in the long run, of most interest to American readers is what the poems say; and if one uses rhyme, it is impossible not to sacrifice sense to sound.
    • Translations from the Chinese (1941), p. 1
  • When translating prose dialogue one ought to make the characters say things that people talking English could conceivably say. One ought to hear them talking, just as a novelist hears his characters talk.
    • "Notes on Translation", in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 202, No. 5 (November 1958), p. 109
  • Anyone with a good classical education could learn Chinese by himself without difficulty.
    • 1968 remark, quoted in Japan Quarterly, Vol. XVIII, No. 1 (January-March 1971), p. 107
  • I would rather be dead.
    • Response when offered the Chair in Chinese at Cambridge, as quoted in Orientalism and the Operatic World (2015) by Nicholas Tarling, p. 78

Translations[edit]

The Tale of Genji (1925–1933)[edit]

I have a theory of my own about what this art of the novel is, and how it came into being. To begin with, it does not simply consist in the author's telling a story about the adventures of some other person. On the contrary, it happens because the storyteller's own experience of men and things, whether for good or ill—not only what he has passed through himself, but even events which he has only witnessed or been told of—has moved him to an emotion so passionate that he can no longer keep it shut up in his heart.
  • Real things in the darkness seem no realer than dreams.
    • Ch. 1: 'Kiritsubo'
  • Ceaseless as the interminable voices of the bell-cricket, all night till dawn my tears flow.
    • Ch. 1: 'Kiritsubo'
  • It is in general the unexplored that attracts us.
    • Ch. 9: 'Aoi'
  • Though the snow-drifts of Yoshino were heaped across his path, doubt not that whither his heart is set, his footsteps shall tread out their way.
    • Ch. 19: 'A Wreath of Cloud'
  • I have a theory of my own about what this art of the novel is, and how it came into being. To begin with, it does not simply consist in the author's telling a story about the adventures of some other person. On the contrary, it happens because the storyteller's own experience of men and things, whether for good or ill—not only what he has passed through himself, but even events which he has only witnessed or been told of—has moved him to an emotion so passionate that he can no longer keep it shut up in his heart.
    • Ch. 25: 'The Glow-Worm'
  • Anything whatsoever may become the subject of a novel, provided only that it happens in this mundane life and not in some fairyland beyond our human ken.
    • Ch. 25: 'The Glow-Worm'
  • You that in far-off countries of the sky can dwell secure, look back upon me here; for I am weary of this frail world's decay.
    • Ch. 40: 'The Law'
  • Think not that I have come in quest of common flowers; but rather to bemoan the loss of one whose scent has vanished from the air.
    • Ch. 41: 'Mirage'

Monkey: Folk Novel of China (1942)[edit]

'Master, we can start now; I have killed them all.'
'I am very sorry to hear it,' said Tripitaka. 'One has no right to kill robbers, however violent and wicked they may be. The most one may do is to bring them before a magistrate. It would have been quite enough in this case if you had driven them away. Why kill them? You have behaved with a cruelty that ill becomes one of your sacred calling.'
'If I had not killed them,' said Monkey, 'they would have killed you.'
'A priest,' said Tripitaka, 'should be ready to die rather than commit acts of violence.'
  • There was a rock that since the creation of the world had been worked upon by the pure essences of Heaven and the fine savours of Earth, the vigour of sunshine and the grace of moonlight, till at last it became magically pregnant and one day split open, giving birth to a stone egg, about as big as a playing ball. Fructified by the wind it developed into a stone monkey, complete with every organ and limb.
    • Ch. 1 (p. 11)
  • 'To hope for [immortality],' said the Patriarch, 'would be like trying to fish the moon out of the water.'
    'There you go again!' said Monkey. 'What pray do you mean by fishing the moon out of the water?'
    'When the moon is in the sky,' said the Patriarch, 'it is reflected in the water. It looks just like a real thing, but if you try to catch hold of it, you find it is only an illusion.'
    • Ch. 2 (p. 22)
  • 'Nothing in the world is difficult,' said the Patriarch, 'it is only our own thoughts that make things seem so.'
    • Ch. 2 (p. 26)
  • 'Master, we can start now; I have killed them all.'
    'I am very sorry to hear it,' said Tripitaka. 'One has no right to kill robbers, however violent and wicked they may be. The most one may do is to bring them before a magistrate. It would have been quite enough in this case if you had driven them away. Why kill them? You have behaved with a cruelty that ill becomes one of your sacred calling.'
    'If I had not killed them,' said Monkey, 'they would have killed you.'
    'A priest,' said Tripitaka, 'should be ready to die rather than commit acts of violence.'
    • Ch. 14 (p. 132)
  • A team of horses cannot overtake a word that has left the mouth.
    • Ch. 27 (p. 266)
  • Suddenly they saw a body in the water, drifting rapidly down stream. Tripitaka stared at it in consternation. Monkey laughed. 'Don't be frightened, Master,' he said. 'That's you.' And Pigsy said, 'It's you, it's you.' Sandy clapped his hands. 'It's you, it's you,' he cried. The ferryman too joined in the chorus. 'There you go!' he cried. 'My best congratulations.'
    • Ch. 28 (p. 282)
  • Tripitaka stepped lightly ashore. He had discarded his earthly body; he was cleansed from the corruption of the senses, from the fleshly inheritance of those bygone years. His was now the transcendent wisdom that leads to the Further Shore, the mastery that knows no bounds.
    • Ch. 28 (p. 282)

Quotes about Waley[edit]

[Waley] belonged not only to the world of oriental studies, but to the world of literature. ~ David Hawkes
  • A large capacity to accept the assumptions of any world-view, without assuming any merit for our own, is the basic virtue of Waley's mind.
    • William Empson, essay posthumously published in Argufying (1987), p. 442
  • Whatever Waley's achievement as a poet may ultimately appear to be, there can be little doubt that his most widely-known works, the novels Genji and Monkey, are likely to survive longest in popular regard. Indeed, both are likely to retain a permanent place in English literature [...]. It is unthinkable that other translations of these novels could ever supersede them in popularity, and improbable that the astringent charm and ascetic delicacy of their style could displease the taste of any age, however much literary fashions may fluctuate and change. Of course he made mistakes—so did the translators of the Authorized Version; but not enough ever to make his translations obsolete.
    • David Hawkes, "Obituary of Dr. Arthur Waley" in Asia Major 12 (1966), p. 146
  • Greatness in men is a rare but unmistakable quality. In our small profession it is unlikely we shall see a man of such magnitude again.
    • David Hawkes, "Obituary of Dr. Arthur Waley" in Asia Major 12 (1966), p. 147
  • Waley is a special case. He is a fine poet who has deliberately limited himself, as a kind of rigorous aesthetic discipline—a little like the self-imposed rigors of Paul Valéry—to translation from the Chinese and Japanese.
  • The translator who can be accurate and yet idiomatic is both craftsman and artist. [...] Such a one is Arthur Waley, translator of exquisite Chinese poetry and of the monumental Japanese novel by Lady Murasaki. Translator Waley learned both Japanese and the still more difficult Chinese from native teachers in London. He has never been east of Suez, and yet he is a recognized authority on literature and art of the Far East. By profession Assistant in the Oriental Section of the British Museum Print Room, his favorite diversion is the poetry of Chinese Po Chu-i.
    • TIME, August 27, 1928

External links[edit]

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