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Joe D.

Translating Poetry

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Does anyone here regularly translate poetry from any language into English? It is, by far the toughest thing I know of. If you translate literally, you lose the rhythm, the mood...literally you lose the poetry. Yet if you make a genuinely poetic translation, you lose much of the literal sense of the original poem. It is why, though I am Catholic, I absolutely love the King James Version of the Bible. An accurate translation, it yet retains the poetry. It is a masterwork. Do any of you have any techniques you use to help achieve similarly marvelous results?

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I imagine that it would be tricky because it's a matter of going with the flow and pros, not with the literal word. Google and see if you could find any transulations already made in English for your poem.  I hope this helps.

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I've never attempted it, but I imagine it could be a little intimidating. When it comes to poetry, I don't think it's enough to just translate the words, but also the essence of the whole piece, so it would probably require a little digging to find the corresponding "artful" words to use. It's still very possible to translate it, I think, but it would be difficult to capture the whole charm of the work that was specifically tailored in and for another language.

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Its not a matter of things being lost in translation, the entire poem is butchered if it isn't read in the language it was meant to. I mean the only point of doing so would be if one wants to understand the meaning of what the poet was saying. But in that case you are better off reading a critique of the poem as opposed a translated version.

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As a poet myself, I do believe it is rather difficult to translate poetry into English from the original one that was done in another language. I compose English poems though so no problem with mine but when a Bengali poem for example is attempted to be translated into English, yes I agree, it loses the rhythm and literary meaning as depicted in the original piece. :)

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I think that poems should never be attempted to be translated. The same applies to song lyrics.

Literal poem translations never sound good and the real meaning to them always gets lost. And to use similar terms to make them fit just doesn't feel right.

It's like with some wordplay idioms and jokes, they only make sense in their original language.

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I never tried to translate a poem but I can understand why it is a difficult task to do. In one language the poem may sound perfect and in another not so much. You just have to find the right balance.

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Poetry is essentially untranslatable. I have tried many times, but you never manage to do justice to the text 100%.

Translating poetry consists of recreating the poetry in the other language. It is a creative act, more of an adaptation, you are rewriting the poem.

If you are a poet, you can translate poetry by creating your own poem about the subject in the original poem.

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To avoid the loss of the rhythm and the sound of the poem I usually just read as much as I can understand, then use translate for words that I don't know.  I always translate individual words and then once I know the definition I'll write them down next to the foreign word.  That way I can read in the other language but comprehend in English.  It is interesting, and different to some extent.  One poem I'd highly recommend checking out (rather it's a song) is Plástico by Rubén Blades and Willie Colón.  A great song and a great poetic piece.

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I understand what you mean. Some words don't really have that "omph" and essence in a foreign language, so the depth and essence of the poem is reduced when you translate it to another language. But at least the general point and meaning of the poem can still be conveyed, although with less presence.

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I don't really know any technique, but I know of a portuguese poet who translated Raven from Edgar Allan Poe in such a good way, it really makes me shiver when I read or listen to it. If you understand portuguese it may help you to have some ideas:

http://www.insite.com.br/art/pessoa/coligidas/trad/921.php

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You're right, translating a poem inevitably results in losing some if it's key features. The rhythm is relatively easy to preserve, compared to e.g. rhyme of imagery. I find it that when a poem is translated and the translation has preserved the original metre as well as the rhyme scheme, the message usually gets butchered in the process. So far, a translation of an English poem into my language that I've seen and was completely successful happened exactly once. For all these reasons, one should not attempt to translate poetry but rather learn its language :)

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Translating poetry in to another language can be tricky. The exact beauty provided by few words in one language may not have an exact meaning in another, or may need to be expressed using a lot more words. Hence, in most cases, the beauty of poetry may not translate exactly. There are words in a language that don't have the exact 'twin' in another language, and therefore the effect will be lost.

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This is almost a funny joke. Instead it's only a joke.  To translate poetry and be true to its meaning you have to have native competency in both the target and source language. Otherwise good luck; there's no way you can effectively convey the spirit of the text.

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I have tried to translate songs and had a hard time doing so. Songs are similar to poetry, wherein it is all about the rhythm and pattern of your words. Some are easier than others but it is just hard in general because of the reasons you listed earlier.

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I just experienced translating two poems before because it is part of our school activity. One was from English to Filipino and the other one was vice versa. It was not that easy cause you need to really understand the thought of the poem and be able to bring that out too on your translated version.

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We have a school assignment before in which we have to translate poems into our native language and I had a hard time doing it. It's really difficult because I need to make sure that I retain the meaning of each lines.

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Translating poetry is so difficult. Thank goodness I don't do it for a living. I only translate poetry for myself in order to understand what I'm reading. But to able to translate for public viewing you need to have a really good grasp of both languages, especially when the poem uses different conjugation and sentence structuring.

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Well, Robert Frost said ''Poetry is what gets lost in the translation'' and I must admit I completely agree with him. I'd tried translating Poe. Annabel Lee is not that difficult to translate into Croatian, but The Haunted Palace was challenging. I've also realised the shorter the poem is, the more difficult it is for it to be translated. You have to choose the right word which would match perfectly - the sound, the meaning, the rhythm, the rhyme (if there is one). I also believe that if you have to sacrifice one, always choose to maintain the rhythm rather than rhyme.

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There's a saying in Italian, apparently: "traduttore, traditore." Fittingly enough, it loses the pun in translation :), but the literal meaning is something like "translator traitor."

A translation of a work from another language is its own form of art, and it will never be exactly the same as reading it in the original language -- something will always get lost, and there will always be subtle differences. That being said, I don't think it means we should give up on translation entirely. No one can learn every language in the world, although I'm sure some of us on the forum are trying, so it'd be a shame to miss out on certain works entirely. Reading something in translation is a shadow of the real thing but it's better than nothing!

Although in fact the reasons I'm trying to pick up a little French and German is so I can read Baudelaire and Rilke, respectively, in the original.

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When I translate poetry or song lyrics,  I do a literal translation first. Then I go through many drafts, slowly rewriting it, and checking it against the original, to make sure I didn't change the meaning too much. It's very time-intensive, and can be very difficult. My college professor told me I was good at it, but I never feel like I am :-/

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I had the opportunity to translate poetry two years ago and I too agree that it´s the most difficult thing to do! Translating texts is so much easier. You watch grammar and syntax... semantics, but that´s it. With poetry, it´s far more difficult: you also have to watch the choice of words, metre and rhyme, the form of the poem (sometimes you will see poems that look like,for example, triangle of words or a flower and so on) and many, many more.

Although, I´d say that metre and rhyme aren´t as important as keeping the rhythm. If you succeed in retaining the rhythm of the original work and the feel, I´d say you´d done a good job. In most cases, you have to sacrifice something and it´s usually the metre that goes. It can´t be helped.

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I think that poems should never be attempted to be translated. The same applies to song lyrics.

Literal poem translations never sound good and the real meaning to them always gets lost. And to use similar terms to make them fit just doesn't feel right.

It's like with some wordplay idioms and jokes, they only make sense in their original language.

I was thinking the same thing.  After all, a song is just poetry put to music.   

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I think that poems should still be translated. After all, there are so many people who will never ever learn that particular language, and then they'll never even be able to get a glimpse of how beautiful, say, Arabic or Chinese poems can be.

Translating poetry (and songs) is the most difficult translation task I can think of. The only method that helps is study the masters of such translations (I know some examples of English to Russian translations that were brilliant). See how they did it, what words they chose, how they worked with rhythm...

I'm now attempting to translate a certain song from French to Polish, and it's a huge struggle. I've been working on it for weeks and it's just so hard. If you do it as literally as possible, you'll lose the song's rhythm, and it's too important to lose. If you try for a "more or less" vocabulary approach, then suddenly the song doesn't sound even half as funny as it did in the original. Keeping that balance starts to seem pure torture to me. I feel deep respect for anyone who does these things professionally. Those people must be so very talented.

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I never have and probably never will. Hats off to those who can, but I find it practically impossible to convey the same meaning in another language. I have read some translations but always find that something was lost in the translation.

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