Friday, August 19, 2005

Translating Poetry

I came across this interesting essay about translating Chinese and Japanese poetry. The cultures are interrelated, and Japanese writing includes much use of Chinese characters. But their spoken languages are unrelated, and their traditional poetic forms do not make use of the same sound effect systems.

Classical Japanese poetry does not rhyme, but classical Chinese poetry does rhyme - consistently. If you only read Chinese poetry in English translation, you could go a long time without finding out that originally it rhymed. I know I did.

My view is that all poetry translation involves trade-offs, and that one is the choice between writing something that sounds like the original, versus something that sounds good in the new language.

Of course, translating the imagery, and the allusions, and the connotations - all that stuff is hard, too.

As for me, I think it's debatable
Whether poetry's really translatable.

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