Sunday, September 30, 2007

On translating poetry

An article by Carol Rumens and discussion by divers commenters about translating poetry here, at the Guardian.

The nub:
So why translate? My first answer is that poetry in translation simply adds to the sum total of human pleasure obtainable through a single language. It opens up new language worlds within our own tongues, as every good poem does. It revitalises our daily, cliche-haunted vocabulary. It disturbs our assumptions, jolts us with rhythms flatter or stronger than we're used to. It extends us in the way real travelling does, giving us new sounds, sights and smells. Every unique poetry village sharpens us to life.

Some people would disagree, saying poetry in translation is the wrong side of the tapestry - it just can't be done. But they are talking about replication, not translation. It is perfectly true that you will never get a replica of the original - nor would you wish to. The way it works, when translator and original are in tune, is that a third poem is created. It is the child of two parents and simply couldn't exist without them.

Digression: Why are so many of my recent posts about translating literature, when it's not something I actually do. The closest I get is translating book blurbs for publishers' catalogues, which isn't always a good idea.

Back to the article, I like how the commenters got into the spirit and, among other topics, shared their own attempts at translating Neruda.

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At October 04, 2007 10:32 a.m., Blogger whyidontbelieveingod said...

A beautifully expressed summary of how translation helps people to understand language as well as themselves.

Hope you don't mind I "borrowed" it.


At October 04, 2007 1:35 p.m., Blogger Mago said...

J.: Thanks, I liked it too! The post included the link to the Guardian article and the name of the author, so you know who to ask permission from if permission is needed to "borrow" it.


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