Mike Snider's Formal Blog and Sonnetarium :
Poems, mostly metrical, and rants and raves on poetry and the po-biz.
Updated: 1/24/06; 10:26:11 PM.



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Friday, January 20, 2006

Jonathan Mayhew has been making some smart remarks about translation lately, and his latest is a set of firmly tongue-in-cheek (or maybe tongue-stuck-out-and-wriggling) rules for translating poetry. I'd like to add to it:

Whatever the poem's prosodic structure, be sure you don't use it. If it's metrical, make it free verse, and, if it's free verse, make it metrical. If you simply must use meter to translate a metrical poem, make sure it's wildly different in its usual application—dactylic tetrameter for endecasílabo, Old English alliterative for sapphics, and so on. If a poem end-rhymes, use internal or no rhyme instead. If it doesn't rhyme, choose some demanding scheme like terza rima. The sonic devices of the poem have no more to do with its essential meaning than do its rhetorical and syntactic devices.

That said, I must admit that for Liz Henry's second Composite: Multiple Translations I translated an unrhymed endecasílabo poem by Juana de Ibarbourou into iambic pentameter terza rima. The first is, I think justifiable in general: IP and endecasílabo are more or less the "standard" meters in their respective languages, English and Spanish. The rhyme is justifiable only by the nature of Liz's invitation: to be formally inventive in translating.

And that said, I must admit that because I had forgotten the rules about how to decide whether adjacent vowels in endecasílabo count as one or two syllables, I mistook the poem for free verse until after my translation was accepted, and I'm accurately quoted saying it's free verse in the publication. I think I'll duck now.

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