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a look at how humans think and see

5) The impossibleness in translating poetry
by David Rudd Cycleback


 


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Beyond the changed words, the foreign language translation of a poem alters and often destroys the original poem. With rare exception, the translation of a beautiful poem can be simularly beautiful or literarly faithful, but not both.

Poetry is uniquely tied to its natural language-- the unique meaning, culture, diction, rhyme, sound, beat, feel and even length of words. Due to the literal and figurative differences between languages, a foreign language translation of a poem not only changes the literal words but the poem. It is not possible to change the language and perfectly preserve the original poem.

This concept is elementally illustrated by the translation of simple rhyming poems. While 'dog' and 'fog' rhyme, the standard Spanish translations of 'perro' and 'neblina' do not. To make the translation rhyme, the translator has to take liberties with the literal meaning.

In order to preserve the artistic sensability and meaning of the original poem, many translators consciously dismiss literal translation. The translation is often as much the artistic creation of the translator as it is the of the original poet.

The reader of a translation is not reading the original poem. The translation may be closely related and beautiful and profound, but it's something different.

 

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