The joy of translating

Translating poetry is a special pleasure, both for its challenge and its beauty. It is impossible to take a poem in one language a duplicate it in another, even in closely related languages. The more different the languages are, the more hopeless that effort becomes. Thus, in translating, one is essentially creating a new poem, but with the challenge of staying true to the original while sounding nice in its new tongue. In doing the preparation to attempt a good translation, one gains a deeper appreciation for both the original and the nuances of one’s own language.

To begin, I read the original many times to improve my understanding of the meaning it is conveying, the emotion of each line, and how the structure of the sounds and the words contribute to the feeling and meaning. After that, I like to make a literal translation, word-for-word into English, both to clarify my understanding and to see how the raw materials flow when the meaning is as faithful as possible. However, even just a literal translation is often difficult because words, especially in poetry, can often be interpreted in different ways, might have culture-specific references or allusions, and even words with the same meaning might be used in a different context.

A literal translation is useful, and I always like to show the literal translation. However, so much of poetry is sound and emotion that a literal translation alone really doesn’t do the original justice. To convey the sense of the poem as best as possible, I attempt a figurative or interpretive translation as well, trying to balance the flow in English with staying true to the emotion and meaning of the original. Of course, the original can never be recreated, but, if successful, a good translation will give a taste of what awaits the reader should he delve into the original.

Finally, I like to include the pronunciation because, no matter what I would like, it is simply impossible to recreate the native sound. With the advent of Youtube, it is now often possible to find a native speaker reading the original, complete with sound and emotion. When not possible, Google Translator has recently added an audio feature that does a pretty good job of showing the right pronunciation, minus the melody and rhythm.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.