Thoughts on translating or why this is so damn difficult

“Poetry is what is lost in translation.” Robert Frost

“Poetry is what is gained in translation.” Joseph Brodsky, the Nobel prize winning Russian poet who also spoke several languages.

“Poetry is what gets transformed.” Octavio Paz

“A poem is a manifestation of an invisible poem that is written beyond languages themselves.” Tomas Transtromer, renowned Swedish poet

“Languages are many but poetry is one,” says the Russian poet Andrei Voznesensky.

“If you say it is a matter of words, I will say a good poet gets rid of words. If you say it is a matter of meaning, I will say a good poet gets rid of meaning. ‘But,’ you ask ‘without words and without meaning, where is the poetry?’ To this I reply: ‘get rid of words and get rid of meaning, and still there is poetry.’” Yang Wan-Li, a Chinese poet

“A literal word-for-word trot is not a translation. The attempt to recreate qualities of sound is not translation. The simple conveyance of meaning is not translation.” Jane Hirshfield

“Translation is an actor’s medium. If I cannot make myself believe I am writing the poem I’m translating, no degree of aesthetic admiration for the work will help me.” Charles Simic

“One can be impeccably accurate verbally and yet miss the point or blur the tone quite badly….I wanted to be ‘literal’ in another sense. I wanted to be more faithful…to the complexities of the poetry, both to its shades of meaning and its tone. At the same time I wanted the English to flow very naturally. Therefore I avoided transferring ‘meanings’ from one language directly into another.” Galway Kinnell on translating Villon

“It is because it is impossible that translation is so interesting.” William Matthews


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