Brief bio sketch

Lloyd Haft (1946- ) was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin USA and lived as a boy in Wisconsin, Louisiana and Kansas. In 1968 he graduated from Harvard College and went to Leiden, The Netherlands for graduate study in Chinese (M. A. 1973, Ph. D. 1981). From 1973 to 2004 he taught Chinese language and literature, mostly poetry, at Leiden. His sinological publications include Pien Chih-lin: A Study in Modern Chinese Poetry (1983/2011; published in Chinese translation as 发现卞之琳: 一位西方学者的探索之旅 in 2010) and Zhou Mengdie’s Poetry of Consciousness (2006). His most recent book, a liberal modern Dutch reading of Laozi's Daode jing, was published as Lau-tze's vele wegen by Synthese in September 2017.

He has translated extensively into English from the Dutch of Herman Gorter and Willem Hussem, and from the Chinese of various poets including Lo Fu, Yang Lingye, Bian Zhilin and Zhou Mengdie.

Since the 1980s he has also been active as a poet writing in Dutch and English. He was awarded the Jan Campert Prize for his 1993 bilingual volume Atlantis and the Ida Gerhardt Prize for his 2003 Dutch free-verse readings of the Psalms (republished by Uitgeverij Vesuvius in 2011). His newer poems are published (some republished) on this blog.

After early retirement in 2004, for a number of years Lloyd Haft spent much of his time in Taiwan with his wife Katie Su. In addition to writing and translating, his interests include Song-dynasty philosophy and taiji quan. He sings in the choir of a Roman Catholic church of the Eastern Rite in The Hague.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tips for Tired Translators

(1) Yours is one of the most thankless professions in the world You are being paid – if we can even use the word ‘paid’ for the disgusting pittance you are undoubtedly getting – to help somebody else earn money and become famous. Accept it! Publishers will always think of you, if they think of you at all, as a sort of glorified typist. As for authors, take comfort in the words of an Italian sinologist friend of mine who said: ‘The nice thing about translating Ancient Chinese poetry is that the authors are already dead!’

(2) Try to avoid translating authors who know more than five words of your own native language. They will always think they have found mistakes in your translation, and want you to change your text accordingly.

(3) If you can’t see what the damned text MEANS, take a deep breath and just translate what it SAYS. An obscure original has the right to an obscure translation.

(4) Don’t break your back trying to make the original sound better than it is. We are not in business to teach people to write decently.

(5) If you are an American, never expect that one single European, never one single one of them in your lifetime or in all eternity, will ever think you know anything at all about a language called ‘English.’

(6) Don’t assume that just because a word is in the dictionary, it must be wrong.

Lloyd Haft

January 2015