It happened… a very significiant incident. One of the Indian poets, Rabindranath Tagore, translated one of his small books of poems, GITANJALI, “Offering of Songs.”
He was awarded the Nobel prize for that small book.
To translate prose is simple; to translate poetry is immensely difficult
And every language has its own nuances which are almost untranslatable. Although the poet himself translated his own poetry, he was doubtful about the translation. So he showed it to one of the Christian missionaries, a very famous man of those days, C.F. Andrews — a very literate, cultured, sophisticated man.
Andrews suggested four changes. He said, “Everything else is right, but in four places it is not grammatically right.”
So Rabindranath simply accepted his advice, and changed those four places. In London, his friend, the Irish poet Yeats, called a meeting of English poets to hear the translation of Rabindranath. Everybody appreciated it. The beauty of it was something absolutely new to the Western world.
But Yeats, who was the most prominent poet of England in those days, said, “Everything else is right, but in four places it seems that somebody who is not a poet has made some changes.”
Rabindranath could not believe it. He said, “Where are those four places?”
Yeats pointed out the four places exactly.
Rabindranath said, “What is wrong?”
He said, “There is nothing wrong, they are grammatically correct. But poetically… whoever suggested them is a man who knows his grammar but does not know poetry. He is a man of the mind but not a man of the heart. The flow is obstructed, as if a river had come across a rock.”
Rabindranath told him, “I asked C.F. Andrews; these are his words. I will tell you the words that I put there before.”
And when he put his words in, Yeats said, “They are perfectly right although grammatically wrong. But grammar is not important. When it is a question of poetry, grammar is not important. You change it back, use your own words.”