Poetry Translation

Poetry translation is an art in itself and the trick is to not let the feeling and emotion lose its lucidity in the process. Here are certain general observations regarding the art of poetry translation:

For a translator the trick of the trade is to first be able to recognize, re-create, and reveal the work of the another artist. A famous work in its birthplace tends to get a bit lost when in a foreign land between people who speak a different tongue. The duty of the translator is not only to play host to this piece of literature but to make it available to the audience of that land in a form/language they can appreciate. When a work is translated although it retains its soul it gets a makeover in its look and feel.

As the words and grammar of each language differ from the other, translating a poem from one language to another involves varying its sounds and prosody. In most cases as there are no perfect word equivalents between languages there is seldom a thing called a word-to-word translation.

Translating a poetry is however not an inconceivable thing. However, it is never an exact copy of the actual work and it should not be one either. It should be treated as Fray Luis de León puts it “nacidas en él y naturales” (as if born and natural in the language) and not a translation of some foreign work.

A translation creates a bond between two poets based on love and art. If the translator knows the original writer’s language then he can immediately start off with his work, otherwise he needs to take the help of an interpreter. However this interpreter should not be misinterpreted as a poet. He should be treated as a walking, talking lexicon instead. It is always advisable to commission an imaginative writer who also has a good grasp over both the languages for a good translation.

A translator is basically a stealer, but unlike plagiarists he is a self-confessed thief. He steals from the original or adds or omits passages from it, but declares those changes honestly.

A work of translation is independent and is by no mean inferior to an original work as even the most original of the works are seldom entirely original. It won’t be inapt to second Octavio Paz when he says, “Every text is unique and, at the same time, is a translation of another text.”At times a good translator can even heighten the literary standard of a poem.

An artist translator can be compared that potter who creates a new pot from the recollecting the shape of an old pot. A translator enjoys full freedom when it comes to invent, re-invent, stray, or dig out words and passages while imitating a text, but he however is not free to make errors and he is also not free to rob the actual author his due credit.

A faithful rendition requires the greatest imagination. The translator-poet here is at risk of being seduced by the superficial surface of the literature. The trick is to be able to give wings to your imagination while staying firms grounded into the original text. Robert Fitzgerald had mastered this very art.

It is important to be a translator-poet instead of a poet-translator-his identity is first as a translator and then as a poet. It is not mandatory that a translator who is brilliant while recreating poetries would be able to write great pieces himself. But, at the same time as Octavio Paz says, “Good poets are not necessarily good poet translators”.

The art of translating poetry needs to be learned and carried out with utmost care as the moment a poem changes tongue it is reborn and a bad translation can render it dead at that very moment.

A translator treads in the unknown. He must take risks and should be open to experimentations. Clichés in the original especially if it is some exotic language often find a new lease of life in a new tongue. A literal translation of a cliché can become a shining centre-piece in a new language.

Good translation of poetry is still sparse and as the world shifts from being a global village to a global reading room the need for translation work is increasing by the day. What do you think? Isn’t it true?

6 thoughts on “Poetry Translation

  1. Laura, said:

    Reading translated poetry is always interesting. As you mention, languages are so different that there can never be an exact rendition of the original, but still, we have a window into the heart and mind of someone from a different culture. Seeing the world through someone else’s metaphors is a way of stretching the boundaries of our own perceptions.

  2. Maggie B, said:

    The Poetry Translation Centre’s website (www.poetrytranslation.org) is well worth a look.

  3. Ronald, said:

    @ Maggie – Thanks for sharing the wonderful link. Appreciate your contribution.

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