Translation of poetry is one of the most difficult and challenging tasks for every translator. According to Robert Frost’s definition, “Poetry is what gets lost in translation”. This statement could be considered as a truthful one to a certain extent because there is no one-to-one equivalent when comparing two languages. Even if the translators possess a profound knowledge in the source language they would not be able to create a replica of the original text. What should be preserved when translating poetry are the emotions, the invisible message of the poet, the uniqueness of the style in order to be reached the same effect in the target language as it is in the source. When talking about the translation of poetry we could not but mention some of the numerous problems encountered during this process. The essential problem with translation is an obvious one. A word has more qualities than just its denotation. For one, a word has a sound, an attribute which has great importance in poetry (though we should not underestimate its significance in prose, as well). Also, a word consists of various connotations, meanings which only rarely cross over from language to language. Complicating matters is the nature of literature itself. Writers and poets put pressure on the language; they often choose words because of their rich variety of meanings, complicating rather than clarifying their subjects. Unfortunately, then, for the translator of literature, the currency of words is not as easy to exchange as the other kind of currency. Italian has a saying, “traduttore-traditore” (translator-betrayer). The phrase reveals at once the problem of all translators – words don’t have literal equivalents in different languages. To say “translator-traitor” in English would be unduly dramatic!
But, as Christopher Caudwell notes in his “Illusion and Reality”, while the qualities of great novels can survive translation, those of poetry cannot. Surprisingly enough, this is not due to the difficulty of translating metrical pattern, but to the nature of poetry itself. The usefulness of the debate on translating is that it compels us to look more critically at the task of the poet and the function of poetry. Poetry is neither just words, nor just metre. It is a music of words, and is a way of seeing and interpreting the world and our experience of it, and of conveying to the listener a heightened awareness of it through an intense concentration of metaphor and words in which the natural flow of speech sounds is moulded to some kind of formal pattern. Such patterns can never be the same after the act of translation. Pattern, obviously, is governed by the rules of syntax and prosody that language has inherited from the historical and social pressures that shaped it. Poets may accept or reject these rules, but this is also determined by historical and social tensions. Some who choose to modify the rules may, like Lear or Carroll, for example, or Edith Sitwell, do so by writing “sound poems” or nonsense verse, musical but meaningless. Emerging from the same social tensions, poetic “movements” have expressed widely divergent views on what should be the purpose and the structure of poetry. What, then, is a translator to do? Which of the many threads of which poetry is made must he capture in his translation? Luckily, we don’t have to answer that question. He answers it for us. He responds to his own poetic instincts. He chooses which of the poems many threads he will seek to interpret. If he aims at literal translation, he will not necessarily expect a “poetic” result. He may aim to translate a poem’s “music” or “mood”. But the sounds of words and the norms of prosody make of every language a fortified compound, as hard to escape from as to access. E. V. Rieu recognizes the inherent difficulty of translation. Perfect translation may be impossible, so the best we can hope for, he writes in the following, is a translation of the spirit of the work: “I call it the principal of equivalent effect and regard it as signifying that that translation is the best which comes nearest to creating in its audience the same impression as was made by the original on its contemporaries” (55). Rieu criticizes the translators of the King James Version of the Bible for remaining stubbornly faithful to the original language. Here he presents a parable, the moral of which is undoubtedly weakened by awkward translation. St. Luke in (xvii 8) reports Jesus as imagining a scene in which a master says to his slave, “Get something ready for my supper.” The Greek is colloquial and the master is not represented as speaking politely. Yet the authorized translators put into his mouth the words: “Make ready wherewith I may sup.” (55) In that example the superiority of Rieu’s plain-spoken translation is obvious, but it begs the question of how much freedom does one give a translator. Rieu’s ideal that a translated work must cause “the same impression” as the original seems to give scholars license to embellish. Werner Winter believes that, regardless of the degree of embellishment, translation cannot avoid altering the work. Try as we might, Winter writes, “Meaning and form cannot be dissociated from one another” (70). That is, just the basic look and sound of a group of words lined up together is tied up with their meaning, and the differences between languages make impossible their unaltered, undefiled translation. He compares the translator to a sculptor who attempts to replicate a marble statue without the benefit of marble. “Whatever his material,” Winter writes, “if he is a good craftsman, his work may be good or even great; it may indeed surpass the original, but it will never be what he set out to produce, an exact replica of the original” (65). Words, like marble, have certain intrinsic qualities that are indivisible from the form they take. If perfect translation is impossible, as Winter regards it to be, how much imperfection do we allow before we give up the whole thing? There arise certain difficulties in poetic translation process; the losses are the result of the existing divergences in the grammatical structure or in the means of expression in the two languages, first of all in the greater number of syllables in the same words in Persian, which is a tangible obstacle for the translators of poetry. That is why in order to maintain the poetic metre of the lines in the original stanza above the translator had to transform them. By studying and analyzing Robert Frost’s heritage and translating his poems into the target language in the light of his own understanding, the translator made an attempt to make an adequate contribution into literary translation development and transform the values of the source culture into the target culture through the subjective innovative perception of the translator, tried to achieve the “translation of full value”, to find the core of translation and tried to create the version of translation in the target language so that it should make sense and bring aesthetic and emotional pleasure to the target reader with minimum losses in perception and created a more precise and detailed translation, enriching it with his own vision preserving details and subtle shades of the source poem with minimized losses in its form and content in comparison with other versions of translation. In her essay “The Politics of Translation,” Gayatri Spivak writes about the responsibilities that we have as Western readers and writers to question our position and privileged identity over, in particular, third-world translated texts. “Translation is the most intimate act of reading,” she writes. “I surrender to the text when I translate (398).” Surrendering to the text means careful attention and awareness of both the logic and the rhetoric of the original language–an attention that would be difficult to master without doing the hard work of actually immersing oneself in the culture and language of the text being translated. Ammiel Alcalay, in an interview with Benjamin Hollander, writes that learning another language is crucial in the agenda to “stretch the American context to engage with experiences that are not made to fit existing models”(184). To Alcalay it is crucial to resist mono-lingualism and to “give permission to other languages, literatures, and cultures to come into the space of the language you happen to be writing in (194).” Shafi’ee Kadkani (2001) believes that “good poetry, ranging from the most modern to the most traditional types, is one which would sediment totally or partially in the memory of serious readers of poetry…” (p.23).This ‘sedimentary’ aspect of poetry among Persian speakers can be traced in their appreciation of their great poets such as Ferdowsi, Rumi, Sa’di, and Hafiz. Among these great figures, Sa’di was the one who, according to Arberry (1945), “brought the high style down to the understanding of the masses, but without sacrificing either purity or elegance.” (p. 22). Among the huge bulk of Sa`di’s masterpieces a very short but universally known piece has been selected for this study, i.e. “Oneness of Mankind.” This has been done for two reasons: First, Sa`di’s style is a model of ‘elegant simplicity,’ i.e. while his poems are not devoid of the artificial aids of such figures of speech as puns, allusions, and metaphors, he nevertheless keeps a tight rein upon his exuberant fancy and avoids the pitfalls of becoming precious and obscure, of overloading his matter with too great a burden of learning (Arberry 1945). Thus, it seems that one who wants to translate Sa`di would not have to tread a ‘thorny’ road. Second, the availability of different English translations of the selected piece persuaded the researchers to examine it through a comparative analysis, with the purpose of coming up with a clear understanding of the rhetorical diversities involved in translating poetry. Most translation authorities believe in some sort of stylistic loss in translating poetry into prose, let alone for rendering a poem into its equivalent verse. This is partly true for Sa`di, where the intended meaning and the whole beauty of his style lies in the beautiful wording of his poems and the application of ‘art prose’ (Saj’). This will be better clarified by taking a look at the prose version of Rehatsek (1964) below: All men are members of the same body, Created from one essence. If fate brings suffering to one member, The others cannot stay at rest. You who remain indifferent To the burden of pain of others, Do not deserve to be called human. (p. 85) Although faithful to the meaning of the original poem, this rendering has not been able to create its aesthetic effect. Sa`di’s art is to put the most manifest truths into the most memorable words. But Rehatsek’s version has just considered the first part of this reality, i.e. putting the simplest truths into the simplest words. Moreover, he has not been able to show the sense of religiosity characterizing Sa`di’s poetry. At the same time, the last two-three lines are so pedantic and laborious that one may feel the translator is not a native speaker of English. Theodore Savory regards translation as a worthwhile enterprise, despite the built-in flaws. As the following passage suggests, Savory does not regard these flaws as terribly serious ones: “… losses in translation occur only when the original words contain something more than their plain meaning. In Savory’s view, prose offers little problem to the translator, since the complications making the translation of poetry difficult reside solely in the domain of poetry and are in fact what elevates poetry above prose (78). One wonders what Savory would make of the translation of an especially poetic bit of prose–the last paragraph in James Joyce’s “The Dead,” for instance–but his point is clear. Poetic devices, then, are “characteristics which cannot be translated” (78). What can be translated is the poet’s vision; Savory writes, “The poet has seen or heard or otherwise experienced something that we might never have known but for his poetry; and these experiences can be expressed in another tongue by simple and faithful translation” (88). In other words, although alliteration, assonance, consonance, punned expressions, rhyme and meter may be lost in translation, the poet’s unique vision will remain, if translated simply and faithfully, and that alone makes translation worthwhile. Your job as a translator is not only to pass the meaning of the poem into another language but to respect and honor its spirit. I don’t mean you need a séance with a thousand candles, begging the poem to breathe your page. I mean that there are some rules to respect when you translate a poem. 1. Stay Close to the Poem. Read the poem again and again until the words become second nature on your tongue. By doing this, you will be able to feel the rhythm of the poem. You will recognize the pace, the pauses, the beats, the swirls of energy. Write the poem in longhand and make ten copies. Stick these where you can see and read them. Try the bathroom, the kitchen cabinet, or the freezer door, leading to the Ben & Jerry’s. These copies will familiarize you with the poem’s grammatical structure: Where the adjectives are, where there is a break in tenses. Plus, if you put them on that package of Oreo’s, it’ll take you longer to gobble the bag down. You will have to read the poem first! 2. Know the poet. If you are lucky enough to pick a living poet to translate, write to him or her. Get to know the person; ask him or her questions about the poem. What was the poet thinking when writing the poem? What does the poet think the poem means? Is there any imagery or language that is repeated? Is there anything symbolic from his or her life? What does the poet think of poetry? The more you know about the poet and his or her life, the better able you are to understand the nuances of the poem. Be courteous and grateful. The poet is answering your questions to help you with your translation. If, however, you choose a poet who has passed on, your job is a little harder. Try and find out as much as you can about the poet’s life. Most countries have national writer’s associations. If they don’t, check the web and university libraries and language departments. Maybe from there you can find other people who knew the poet or can help guide you. Build as many contacts as you can. Be familiar with the poet and you will get a sense for the poem. 3. Go for Grace. When you translate a poem, your job is to stay as close to the meaning as possible. That said, you also have artistic license to use (not abuse) the meaning to make a clear and graceful translation. Translating slag is an excellent example of when to use artistic license. Some slang has absolutely no meaning in another language. In fact, a direct translation would make the poem fail. In that case, turn the meaning of the slang into its equivalent. Remember, you want readers in your language to enjoy the poem, not marvel at how well you can directly translate words. 4. Be Wary. This tip is for those of you who think translating takes a few minutes’ tops. There are some great computer programs that are designed for translation. There are also some excellent dictionaries and phrase books. But do not rely on them to give you the end-all-be-all translation. You must do the footwork. You can use these computer programs and dictionary translations as a guide. They may help get to the bones of the poem but your job is to put heart and live language on those bones. 5. Take a Deep Breath. When you finish a translation, sit tight for a few days, maybe even a week, before you go over it. Take some time to think about something else, in your own language. Then come back and see where the gaps and the goodies are. 6. Have a Self- Confidence in Translating of Poem You as a translator should have courage and dare to translate every text specially the poetry texts which have many complexities of meaning per itself. Do not worry about the misunderstanding and comprehension of the readers or poem translating well. More exercise over and over makes you perfect translator. We still must ask, however, what can be left of poetry after its passage, whether in literal or in free translation, across so forbidding a frontier? How can even the most talented of translators presume to take it across undamaged? Poetry has deeper roots in our consciousness that most of us are aware. From our earliest days we are nourished with nursery rhymes. Rhymes at school help us remember rules of grammar and arithmetic. Rhymes help drivers remember the rules of the road, and pilots their take-off checks. Poetry read, or sung, has helped man face heavy labour and adversity. And chanted patterns of words assisted – and still assist – the performance of physical labour.
The origins of poetry pre-date written literature. Speech rhythms fitted to metrical designs assisted memory in distant ages when learning existed but writing did not. Some of the earliest written languages were hieroglyphic, and what are hieroglyphs if not metaphors, the images from which poetry is constructed? Poetry is, indeed, deep in our roots. It is not uncommon to find illiterate people who may not normally be articulate, who can and often do, when stirred by emotion, lapse into rhythmic, poetic speech.
A “gooseflesh reaction” then tell you that you are listening to poetry. Is it justifiable to think that stirring such emotions – that we believe also stirred the poet – is a part of the translator’s purpose? Certainly, the translator’s first task is to dismantle the linguistic part of this organic structure. How can he then, or can he, claim to be faithful to the poet in doing so? How can he, or can he, reproduce in another tongue the music of a poet’s words? How can he, or can he, awaken in another language the emotions that stirred the poet and his listeners in their own tongue – not just emotions but gooseflesh also, not the translator’s but the poet’s also? How freely may the translator translate before he ceases to be a translator? At what point can he, or does he become a plagiarizer, or a copyist? Let me close with an example of a free translation, and a question. Is it faithful to the poem’s creator who wrote in long unrhymed polysyllabic lines? It is assumed that though the translation of literary texts in general and that of poetry in particular seems a far-fetched challenge and, in rare cases, only possible with partial semantic and stylistic loss, it is by no means totally impossible. The evidence of past masterly achievements indicates that a skilled translator with a poetic taste can achieve this end with the necessary literary features and devices of the source text kept intact. Translating a poem is a lot like writing a poem yourself. You have to know what you want to say. You have to feel what you want to say. You have to be focused. There are a thousand other jobs that are easier, better paid, and eyesight-saving, but translating has its own glories. Putting poems into another language is one of the best ways to share culture, honor poets, and remind us that we can transcend geography. Do your best. Adam’s sons stem from the same holy trunk; With the first sacred clot they’ve become drunk.
When Father Time afflicts a fellow with pain, Others will restlessly start to complain.
You heedless of other humans’ distress, Deserve never to don Adam’s dress. (Sa’di) References Alcalay, Ammiel. From the warring factions, Venice, CA: Beyond Baroque, 2002. Arthur L. Clements. 1962. John Donne’s poetry. New York: W.W. NORTHON & COMPANY. Arberry, A. J. (1945). Kings and Beggars: the first two chapters of Sadi’s Gulistan, Luzac & co., London.
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MA in TRANSLATION, Great Translation Theoretician,Mazandaran Province, Ghaemshahr City,IRAN
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