Poetry in Translation

Lately I've picked up a lot of books by modern French poets (Robert Desnos, Raymond Queneau, Andre Breton, Paul Eluard, Benjamin Peret, etc.) and I'm trying my hand at translating some of my favourite poems of theirs into English. Let me tell you, it isn't easy. Translation isn't just about copying down the original text word-for-word but about capturing the poetic essence of the original. The Guardian's blog on books recently did a little article on the art of translation that's worth taking a peek at.

From The Guardian:

Clearly, the purpose of poetry translation extends beyond merely giving the literal meaning - after all, a prose crib could do that. In order to convey untranslatable aspects such as rhythm, rhyme, syntactic structure, mood and cultural connotations, a successful translator needs to be at the very least a skilled verse-technician, if not a poet themselves.

Writing a new version of an existing poem is an artistic endeavour hovering between recreation and repossession - or at least it is generally regarded as such when, for example, a new translation of a much-translated classic (think The Odyssey, Beowulf or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) is published by a renowned poet. When contemporary poetry is first translated, however, the translator often takes a back seat in terms of accolade - after all, shouldn't the freshly translated poet be the one in the limelight?

More here.

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