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I am trying to translate Invictus by William Ernest Henley into my language. I was done translating it, but I had a discussion with a fried for the first line.

Out of the night that covers me.

My idea is that the best way to translate it is in the night that covers me, because he is in it, and he is thanking the gods for allowing him to go so far. My friend suggests that out of be taken literally, as in beyond. Which is more correct? Can both be used?

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  • If it's not "in," it would no longer be in the present tense ("covers"), maybe?
    – Kris
    Oct 23, 2014 at 20:47

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Henley hasn't got complete control of his imagery here. He's thinking of a voice issuing from darkness: a “’Hist!’ said a voice out of the night’ sort of thing. But that is properly said from the point of view of the hearer of the voice (whatever gods may be), while the persona Henley adopts is that of the speaker, situated within the darkness, the night that covers me. Still, the meaning is clear enough: the Henley persona, from inside the night, thanks the gods, who are presumably outside it.

To my mind, beyond would be wholly wrong: the phrase modifies thank, not the gods. In covers only half of what Henley means, but it is the more coherent half. Still, I would stick with whatever preposition in your language translates (from) out of, as long as it works with your meter. There’s no reason you shouldn’t get away with it; Henley did.

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I believe you’ve got it right.  The fifth line of the poem,

In the fell clutch of circumstance

and the seventh line,

Under the bludgeonings of chance

suggest that the author is describing the situation that he’s in.  (You do know that fell is an obscure adjective meaning evil here, right?)

I’m not sure what you mean by “thanking the gods for allowing him to go so far.”  The way I read it, he’s stuck in a miserable situation, but he’s refusing to let it get to him (i.e., to depress him), and he’s thanking the gods for giving him the strength to do that.

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Is there a reason why you cannot use "out of" in the language you are translating to?

Since Henley is writing about being "unconquered" "out of the night" is more evocative of that than "in the night."

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