What’s the first thing to do before ing to translate a poem?
As Enigma sings, before you start to translate a poem: “Turn off the light, take a deep breath and relax”
Poetry translation is often considered an insuperable challenge. Roman Jakobson said that poetry is the only (linguistic) untranslatable literary genre, because of the differences between culture of origin and culture of arrival. The cultural untranslatability is lied to the absence, in the culture of arrival, of the specific characteristics of the language of origin.
But poetry translation is not simply mechanic reproduction of grammatical or syntactical structure of the text, it reside in the “soul” of the source text, in its different shades. It’s a synthesis of two different types of poetic: the poet’s one and the translator’s stylistic peculiarities, in the attempt to fill the gap created by the spatial, temporal, cultural and linguistic diversity between poet and translator. Putting poems into another language is one of the best ways to share culture, honour poets, and remind us that we can transcend time and geography.
What are the four fundamental rules to respect when translating a poem?
1. Work step by step. When you translate a poem, try to stay as close as possible to its general meaning. That said, you also have artistic license to use the meaning to make a clear and well-turned translation. A direct translation would make the poem fail. In that case, turn the meaning into its equivalent. Remember, you want readers in your language to enjoy the poem, they don’t have the impression that you’ve translate literally.
2. Be documented on the poet. If you have to translate a living poet, write to him/her, asking questions about him/her life and on the poem. The more you know about the poet and his/her life, the better able you are to understand the nuances of the poem. 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. Be familiar with the poet to penetrate the sense of the poem.
3. Stay Close to the Source Text. First of all, is important to read the poem again and again until the words become second nature on the target language. This is the best way to feel the rhythm of the poem, to recognise the pace, the pauses, the beats.
4. Be wary about all sources. 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 as they may help get to the bones of the poem, but your job is to put heart and live language on those bones.
And you, what do you think the best way to translate poems is?