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Is your English good enough to appreciate English essays?

3087 views. 2011-10-24 18:20 |

To be frank, I am not fond of reading English essays, and famous pieces by first-class writers scare me most. As I see it, essayists like Francis Bacon, Samuel Johnson prefer archaic/ formal words, involved sentences and topics that are hardly the concern of an ordinary person.  Thus, reading their works is anything but relaxing and enjoyable. However, I am often advised that reading that genre will give me insights into what elegant English is like or what life is. Besides, people often say that a person will be able to intone or even compose poems after he learns by heart 300 Tang-Dynasty poems. Both English masters' recipe for success and the saying place me under the illusion that I will be able to appreciate essays as long as I work hard enough. I've been waiting for the magic moment when I suddenly get the hang of it and am able to discover the literary beauty of the English language. 

The fact is that I, after many attempts, find myself still struggling hard to make sense of words or sentences, not to mention admiring beauty in essays. Every time I force myself to read them through, I find that correct understanding is only possible with the help of Chinese translations.

Here is the opening part of Of Avarice by Abraham Cowley, which poses me a big challenge, if not a threat:

There are two sorts of avarice: the one is but of a bastard kind, and that is, the rapacious appetite of gain; not for its own sake, but for the pleasure of refunding it immediately through all the channels of pride and luxury......

The last sentence of the quoted part is incomprehensible even if I resort to an unabridged English-Chinese dictionary for the nuances in words’ meanings. To make things worse, the Chinese translation offered by Wang Yiqun confuses me even more: …...而是为了可以一种通过各种方式来显示骄傲与奢侈的一次性归还的乐趣…… I've no idea how "乐趣” can be "一次性归还".

   How do you feel about this, my friend? Do you face similar problems? How do you work them out? Please post your comments below.

Post comment Comment (23 replies)

Reply AlexG 2011-10-24 19:15
well, it's difficult for me too. I guess my magical moment hasn't come either.
Reply snowflying 2011-10-24 19:31
to tell my truth, maybe i have no the comment right to your this article at all, because my poor english always can't express myself correst and clearly enough, le along the english essaya. but i always like the beautiful essays in chinese, certainly always failed to translating into chinese. myself's chinese articles always better than my poor english articles. that's surely so difficult to me,dear friend.
Reply bluephoebe 2011-10-24 20:36
i admire your courage to pick up those articles to read, if you said you were fond of them, i might be freaking out---no offence to those masters. i think it's nothing about English, such essays, either in English or in Chinese, will attract less readers than agatha Christia's work.
Reply louislaolu 2011-10-24 20:50
AlexG: well, it's difficult for me too. I guess my magical moment hasn't come either.
In fact I doubt that the magic moment will ever come!
Reply hurrymm 2011-10-24 20:54
Dear friend, sometimes you just write like Francis Bacon or Samuel Johnson to me. Take the word "involved sentences" as an example. I had thought "involved" as the past tense for "involve", and thus this part makes no sense to me. Therefore, I look up the word in a dictionary, only to find "involved" embraces the meaning of  "comlex, or complicated".  You can not deny the fact that though you are not fond of those authors' works, as you claim, you are still trying to intimate their way of writing.  While, your approach of improving writing English is supposed to be encouraged, as their woks have always been regarded as classics of English literature, essence of English language.
Reply louislaolu 2011-10-24 20:58
bluephoebe: i admire your courage to pick up those articles to read, if you said you were fond of them, i might be freaking out---no offence to those masters. i t
Your comment makes me feel less stressfulYou are right, it's not simply a matter of good or bad English. Perhaps I should have  known my limits and not attempted things that don't interest me.
Reply louislaolu 2011-10-24 21:14
hurrymm: Dear friend, sometimes you just write like Francis Bacon or Samuel Johnson to me. Take the word "involved sentences" as an example. I had th
I confused you with the adjective "involved"? Shall I take that as a compliment? However, I am just nobody. If Samuel Johnson uses a difficult word and I don't understand it, It's my poor English to blame. If I use a word you don't know, I am responsible for the failure in communication. That's the difference the same and one word make on different occasions. Anyhow, it matters who uses it.
Reply AlexG 2011-10-25 07:07
louislaolu: In fact I doubt that the magic moment will ever come!
let it come if it will, let it be if it will not. This is magical enough for me because I can enjoy whatever result it turns out. After all, learning is more a process than a result.
Reply rich 2011-10-25 09:17
i totally agree with you. i think we all have had such kind of experience while reading essays. anyway i'll try to translate for fun. 世上有两种贪婪:一种只是无赖性质的贪婪。换言之,是一种贪得无厌的欲望。他们不是为贪婪而贪婪,而是为了一种乐趣,一种可以马上把它转换成通过各种途径来显示自豪和奢侈的乐趣。
Reply moli 2011-10-25 10:47
To be honest, my English is not good enough to appreciate English movies, but I indeed enjoy myself in doing that.
Reply JMZ 2011-10-25 13:28
Translating english essays is not a easy thing, but if one can do this well, I think his/her english must be perfect and know about western culture! remembered that, once I was confused with a sentence from a poem, I didn't know how to understand this grammar exactly since strange grammar, then I turned for help, and knew sometimes there is no gramma in poems, hehe~~ my teacher told us just enjoy the soul of poems. if it is difficult, it will be better that you can apreciate the assary in Chinese and English.....
Reply louislaolu 2011-10-26 15:54
rich: i totally agree with you. i think we all have had such kind of experience while reading essays. anyway i'll try to translate for fun. 世上有两种贪婪:一
Your version sound much more natural than the one given above. At least I understand what you are saying. That's of fundamental importance whatever genre of literary work is involved. Thanks!
Reply louislaolu 2011-10-26 16:02
moli: To be honest, my English is not good enough to appreciate English movies, but I indeed enjoy myself in doing that.
I wonder how you make it. I mean, you can still enjoy yourself when you can't appreciate it. It sounds so paradoxical. But it could be true. Movies reach you audio-visually and you can enjoy lots of things other than words.
Reply louislaolu 2011-10-26 16:09
JMZ: Translating english essays is not a easy thing, but if one can do this well, I think his/her english must be perfect and know about western culture! r
Vow, you can actually appreciate poems and their souls while I am struggling with eassays. Good for you! I have to admit that even Chinese translations of those poems are hard to understand, not to mention English originals (Tagore's are perhaps among few exceptions). I guess it's that I haven't figured out how to grasp the poetic souls. Thanks a lot!
Reply JMZ 2011-10-26 17:44
louislaolu: Vow, you can actually appreciate poems and their souls while I am struggling with eassays. Good for you! I have to admit that even Chinese translation
No, no, maybe I didn't express it well. It is difficult for me to unstand poems, I just read a piece of Tagore's simple poems. some simple can understand it, some is so difficult for me, sometimes our classmates always ask my teachers some strange questions about poem, Thus, My teachers told us it is benefit to read poem and emphasize that  just enjoy its key soul, not pay more attention to those things, such as grammar, some confused words and so on. I think essays is harder than poem. ok, if have beautiful articles, let's share together, ok? my friends, hehe~~~
Reply 异物 2011-10-26 20:11
rich: 世上有两种贪婪:一种只是无赖性质的贪婪。换言之,是一种贪得无厌的欲望。他们不是为贪婪而贪婪,而是为了一种乐趣,一种可以马上把它转换成通过各种途径来显示自豪和奢侈的乐趣。
Your translation is topnotch!And here is mine:

贪婪有二,一曰骄贪,贪得而无饜,饕餮却不餐,唯显奢露富而后快。
Reply louislaolu 2011-10-26 21:06
异物: Your translation is topnotch!

And here is mine:

贪婪有二,一曰骄贪,贪
Thanks a lot! You rendered it in Classical Chinese style. How amazing! I believe that you must be good at uncovering beauty in essays. Since reading essays is part of my assignment , I am hurting for your advice.
Reply rich 2011-10-26 21:21
louislaolu: Your version sound much more natural than the one given above. At least I understand what you are saying. That's of fundamental importance whatever ge
my version is not perfect, actually. however through this we learn from each other. thanks for sharing.
Reply rich 2011-10-26 21:29
异物: Your translation is topnotch!

And here is mine:

贪婪有二,一曰骄贪,贪
thanks. i know mine is far from perfect. maybe it is a little too colloquial. i think yours is better. translation requires not only a good understanding of the foreign language but a good command of your mother tongue. and you seem better qualified. hehe.
Reply 异物 2011-10-29 16:35
rich: thanks. i know mine is far from perfect. maybe it is a little too colloquial. i think yours is better. translation requires not only a good understand
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