Academic translates 19th century German poetry into Malayalam

Mathew John K., who teaches at EFLU, has brought out an anthology of select poems of 19th century German poet Wilhelm Busch into Malayalam

September 29, 2022 09:19 pm | Updated September 30, 2022 10:30 am IST - KOCHI

Translating poetry without losing its essence is a tough job. It is tougher when the translation is from a European language into a Dravidian tongue, one with an entirely different set of linguistic and cultural connotations.  

Mathew John K., who teaches at the department of German at English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU) in Hyderabad, has brought out an anthology of select poems, including some remarkable graphic poems, of the 19th century German poet, satirist and caricaturist Wilhelm Busch into Malayalam.  

The collection comes with the original in German, the sketches by the poet and the direct Malayalam translation, with a glossary in three languages and interpretation of the poems in English.  

Wilhelm Busch’s poetry was noted for its satirical, realistic portrayal of banal life with implicit socio-political criticism and the translation, “together with the ‘transculturalisation’ of an old traditional world of a German poet into a native south Indian language and culture, is indeed a daring attempt that has hardly been undertaken so far,” according to Babu Thaliath of the Centre of German Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University who has written an introduction to the translation.  

“The fact that Busch’s poems have mostly been translated in poetic metres [rhyme] attests to the seriousness and precision of the translator...,” he notes.  

While Busch arguably defined the concept of humour for the Germans, Mr. John’s attempt is to transplant it into Malayalam using Malayalam’s linguistic characteristics and dialectical riches.

In his foreword, the translator cites Busch’s illustrated stories in verse such as ‘Max and Moritz’ as containing a substratum of social criticism, trying to draw parallels with a poem by Ayyappa Paniker. The book, published by Bodhi Tree Books and Publications in Thiruvananthapuram, is for readers interested in poetry translation and for Malayalam-knowing Keralites studying German, he contends.

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