[lit-ideas] Re: Poetry x 2 = Sabbatical

  • From: John Wager <john.wager1@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 15 Oct 2006 11:48:32 -0500

JimKandJulieB@xxxxxxx wrote:

There was a Russian poem I stumbled across 7 or 8 years ago and I cannot for the life of me remember either the poem's title or the author. But after some searching I the net I found 5 different translations of it. They were all vastly different. It's my thinking that poetry cannot be translated, though prose can, at least more clearly & accurately.

I suspect that there are two connected problems. One is the translation itself; of course one looses something. But often, if the translator is a poet, one gains something. I first read Dante in the Chiardi translation, which tried to keep some of the rhyme.

The second issue is that translators end up with different translations, not just because translating is difficult, but because the original poem is opaque. It's not the translator's problem, it's the poem's problem. Poems can mean as many things even in the original language as they can mean in different translations; the translations simply reveal the ambiguities more clearly. Prose is typically more precise and less opaque, so it's easier to translate.

I have some vague notions about why but have not been able to pin them down. Perhaps the author's intent in prose is more clear than the author's intent in poetry. Perhaps poetry relies so heavily on metaphor and symbolism that another language's words for those metaphors and symbolisms mean something different. Perhapas it has a lot to do with cadence.....
Julie Krueger

"Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence and ignorance." -------------------------------------------------
John Wager john.wager1@xxxxxxxxxxx
Lisle, IL, USA

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