Translatability and Poetic Translation

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INTRODUCTION

Translation used to be considered an inter-language transfer of meaning, which is the point of departure for research and study. Many earlier definitions demonstrate this, using source language and target language as their technical terms. Moreover, translation theories strictly confined themselves within the sphere of linguistics. For many years the popular trend in the translation circles had been perfect faithfulness to the original both in content and in form and it had been regarded as the iron criterion as if from the holy Bible for translators to observe. The godly status and the impossible idealistic belief were not altered until new thoughts arose with the respect of consideration of target readers, the unavoidable translator subjectivity and the purpose and function of translations. This thesis, starting to look from new angles such as the accommodation to target cultural conventions, the translator's consciousness of linguistic and cultural adaptations to make it easy for readers to understand translated works without too much pain and effort, and translation as a purposeful endeavor. Translation is then understood as a much more complicated activity with a much broader scope.

Translation of poetry was, and still is by some, believed as impossibility for any unfaithful elements would have been taken as failure, be it content or form. The arguments include linguistic elements and cultural elements. Most importantly the myth of untranslatability looks upon poetry as beauty itself which is untouchable for once it is touched it is destroyed. But as translation of poetry has never been stagnant though sometimes vigorous and sometimes not, there is strong evidence in both translation history and present day practice that poetic translation, a literary form as distinguished from fiction, drama, and prose, is translatable. Poetry itself serves a purpose, be it an illusive matter, and aesthetics can be reproduced in another language and culture if accommodation is made. It would be highly likely that the target readers would obtain rather similar if not the same aesthetic pleasure reading the translation as would the source readers reading the original poem. And this is, I believe, the only criterion in evaluating and assessing what is a successful piece of translation. Of course there are other functions of poetry like informative, didactic, cognitive, practical and even entertainment functions. The aesthetic function stays at the top of the list, though.

In other words, if a translation fails to perform the aesthetic function it is in my eyes a bad translation, no matter how well the form is preserved. A word-for-word translation may be judged faithful in form, but it is failure in terms of the performance of functions. As aesthetics of one people influences them with different elements from that of another, accommodation in translation is of urgent necessity. Often loss or addition is made to achieve that end and sometimes only some elements are preserved while other elements are neglected. This is inevitable or there will be no translation, which means if one fears any loss or addition, one should learn to read the original always instead of reading the translated version. But how many of us can do that?

The thesis aims at breaking the myth of untranslatability of poetry and argues from the appropriate understanding of translation to the various functions of poetry. And in the end it suggests, with examples taken from well-acknowledged translators of poetry, some strategies for poetic translators so that global talk opens up another channel for human communication. We will understand one another better.

The detailed organization is as follows. This thesis, starting from a brief account of old ideas of the untranslatability of poetry, proposes instead a hypothesis that poetry is translatable (Chapter One). In the next chapter (Chapter Two) an analysis of why poetry is untranslatable is made...
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