Few people realise that Assia Gutmann Wevill was a poet in her own right, and also a talented translator. She spoke Hebrew, German, Arabic, Italian and English, and so was in demand as a translator. Her most acclaimed work was her translations from Hebrew to English of Israel’s major poet, Yehuda Amichai. Interesting to note that she used her given family name of Gutmann, in recognition of her shared origins with Amichai (both had fled their native Germany for refuge in Palestine, fleeing the Nazi persecution of those of Jewish descent).
Her translations are -in my humble partially bilingual opinion – hauntingly accurate in emotional tone (John Jablonka, Hebrew speaker).
A BRIEF EXCERPT FROM “CAPRICCIO” A NOVEL”
‘We’ll work on Yehuda’s poems together,’ Larry told Esther later, after the Israeli poet had enthusiastically agreed to appoint Esther as his translator. ‘You can do the technical part, finding the roughly equivalent words, while I’ll fashion the language into poetry.’
Esther felt affronted; wasn’t she attuned to the nuances of Hebrew, able to turn Amichai’s powerful poetry into the equivalent in English? Besides, Larry knew hardly a word of Hebrew, that ancient language with its spidery backwards script. He’d been studying the Kabbalah scriptures recently, but only in their English translation.She assumed he knew, however, that the art of translation is not just a matter of nuance of language and powerful images, but of many other dimensions and metaphors existing in the lines. Give me some credit, she’d thought, but hadn’t said.
Finding English words to replace Yehuda’s evocative imagery, the nuances of his Hebrew metaphors, was complex and challenging. Esther knew she was the right person for this task, with her fluency in both English and modern Hebrew. She determined to replicate the music of his language, so that her translations would resonate with Larry’s readers.
HERE ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF ASSIA’S BRILLIANT TRANSLATIONS: