NY Times blog about translating poetry
Thread poster: Patrice

Patrice  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:28
French to English
+ ...
Aug 1, 2011


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:28
Chinese to English
The stupid! It burns! Aug 2, 2011

Translation of poetry is a difficult topic, but does that excuse writing genuinely dumb things?

It starts in paragraph 8:

"Contemporary philosophers and linguists have either ignored such skepticism or dismissed it out of hand."

They really haven't. What linguist have you been reading? Jakobson? He's not exactly contemporary. Check out any linguist who works on bilingualism, language learning, poetry; check out any philosopher who works on aesthetics (I have a book by Cavell in front of me for a start). They aren't ignoring anything.

"take any expression in any poem and introduce by fiat a new expression to mean exactly what the first one does; how could this practice fail to succeed at paraphrase or translation?"

By not being paraphrase or translation into a known human language. The whole point of our profession is that we fight the differences between actual languages that actual people speak, not invented fiat languages.

"to this end, consider two individuals both of whom know English but one only speaks while the other only writes. For them, communication is impossible even though they share a common language."

Why? Person A speaks, and Person B listens; Person B writes and Person A reads. There is no difficulty in communication.

"that “brick” is italicized cannot be said out loud or signed or rendered in Braille. "

Have you ever read a story to a child? I'm pretty good at vocalising italics these days.

"since poems can be about their own articulations, substituting synonyms will not result in an exact paraphrase or translation"


"This explanation of the heresy of paraphrase differs from the New Critics’ quasi-mystical invocation of form shaping content. "

Are you sure? I'm not well read in American criticism, but I'm starting to wonder if you're not just a bad reader. Maybe this explanation is exactly what the New Critics meant...

And by the end this guy's risen to the dizzy critical heights of noticing that sometimes poets (Poe, no less!) use subtle onomatopoeia? I think I remember covering that in primary school. Good children's poets do it really well.

How does a professor get away with writing something this dumb?

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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 14:28
English to Croatian
+ ...
Millions of poetry movements and styles Aug 2, 2011

And he keeps talking about them generically and at the level that I find hard to accept. I think his comparative analysis is quite trivial, but it might come with the journalistic format of writing about poetry. Yes, he mentioned many authors aiming at comparison, but it remained at a very superficial level of literary analysis.

Yes, Poe's The Raven is a very "acoustic" poem, but that's just a tiny bit of what we can say about this poem, Poe, his life, his literary philosophy, historical background he lived in, etc. All these aspects are something a good literary/poetry translator needs to be familiar with.

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NY Times blog about translating poetry

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