Translating poetry

Last night in workshop, Sean read “Keeping Quiet” (“A Callarse”) by Neruda. I don’t know who the translator was (Sean?), but it was well done and was conscious of rhyme, sound, and rhythm in the new language. A few of us noted, though, that we have read really bad translations that preserve little of (what we presume is, I suppose) the original author’s intent. And the whole idea of a translation is that a third party is rewriting the original work, using his own interpretations of the author’s intent – is this not a complete bastardization? So this brought up the question for me of whether or not we should even read translations. I guess we could just go learn every language… Thoughts?

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2 Responses

  1. For the record, the translator was Alastair Reid (I have another book by Neruda w/a different translator, and though it’s still a good translation, the poems are noticeably different.) I think translation of any writing form is essentially impossible, but with poetry it’s especially difficult. As far as what we talked about in class, I appreciate the translator keeping as close to the original poem as possible and not forcing rhyme onto it. I think it’s interesting how much writing depends on language, yet we’re still affected deeply by translated work (read: García Márquez.)

  2. You might find this article useful and this one.

    And do take a look at Lucas Klein’s Cipher Journal, which I mentioned in class yesterday.

    I’m looking forward to reading your blind translations!

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