some trace, however faint, of this initial sanctity of the Word

Even the physical embodiment of a sacred text is numinous: it is wrapped in leather or silk, stored in a cupboard used for no other purpose, copied over only by special scribes. It may be raised in both hands as an offering before being opened; it may itself be offered fragrant incense and sweet milk. All written work retains some trace, however faint, of this initial sanctity of the Word: the inhabiting Logos and the breath of inspiration are the same, each bringing new life into the empty places of earth. It is no wonder, then that many different cultural traditions share an ancient prohibition against translation. As George Steiner has pointed out in After Babel, if a sacred text has been given to us directly by its divine source, surely it must remain exactly as it first appeared, each word preserved intact for the meaning it may hold. Whether in a sacred text or a contemporary poem, any alteration risks unwittingly discarding some mystery not yet penetrated.

Jane Hirshfield, “The World Is Large and Full of Noises: Thoughts on Translation”


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