28 September 07 | Chad W. Post

In James Buchan’s review of Paul Celan’s Snow Part/Schneepart and Other Poems he asks just this:

Is there any purpose to translating poetry? A poem does not contain information of importance, like a signpost or a warning notice. If you do not understand what Sereni meant when he wrote “è la mia / sola musica e mi basta” or Propertius “sunt aliquid manes” or, come to that, Yeats “I must lie down where all the ladders start”, nothing so very dreadful will happen to you.

Which is bound to upset some people.

Well, today, Carol Rumens responds in her Guardian blog.

So why translate? My first answer is that poetry in translation simply adds to the sum total of human pleasure obtainable through a single language. It opens up new language worlds within our own tongues, as every good poem does. It revitalises our daily, cliche-haunted vocabulary. It disturbs our assumptions, jolts us with rhythms flatter or stronger than we’re used to. It extends us in the way real travelling does, giving us new sounds, sights and smells. Every unique poetry village sharpens us to life.

Fair enough. And I especially agree with this sentiment:

Some people would disagree, saying poetry in translation is the wrong side of the tapestry – it just can’t be done. But they are talking about replication, not translation. It is perfectly true that you will never get a replica of the original – nor would you wish to. The way it works, when translator and original are in tune, is that a third poem is created. It is the child of two parents and simply couldn’t exist without them.


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