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Linguaholic

(French)How much editing are you allowed to do during translation of poetry?


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Usually, you can never translate one language to another word for word, but how much are you generally allowed to change? Poetry in particular is especially hard to translate because you have to try to keep as much of the rhythm, tone and rhyme of the original piece as you can.

For example, I'm studying French poetry at the moment. In the poem Barbara, by Jacques Prévert there are the lines:

Des chiens qui disparaissent

Au fil de l'eau sur Brest

Et vont pourrir au loin

A translation that I've read says something like: (sorry this is mostly from memory)

The dogs that disappear

In the downpour drowning Brest,

float far away to rot

In your opinion, do you think that trying to keep the general tone of the poem the same, or translating the words so that they have their original meanings as much as possible is more important?

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  • 2 months later...

I'm glad it is only opinions that we are exchanging.

I fully agree that poetry in particular is difficult to translate. There are so many layers, even besides rhythm, tone, and rhyme. I think the most important is trying to preserve the sentiment, the picture it is trying to paint. Even specific words, I do not think is particularly important because different culture treat words differently (like connotation). I think, instead of finding the correct words to simply translate the original text it should be finding the best words to translate the meaning/purpose to a different culture.

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  • 2 months later...

Obviously you do need to stay faithful to the context as much as possible, but that being said, sayings and idioms for instance differ from one language to another and can often be found in poetry.

For what is of your poem for instance, I'd give this translation a shot:

On 7/23/2015, 6:22:01, lovelanguages said:

Des chiens qui disparaissent

Au fil de l'eau sur Brest

Et vont pourrir au loin

Dogs disappearing
Following Brest's water flow
Only to rot afar

 

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