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On Translation

Kimon Friar
Comparative Literature Studies
Vol. 8, No. 3 (Sep., 1971), pp. 197-213
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40467958
Page Count: 17
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On Translation
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Abstract

The translation of poetry is metabiosis, the "relationship between two organisms when one of the two can flourish only after the other has preceded it and prepared the environment for it." All forms are valid, from the interlinear trot to the extreme paraphrase. A paraphrase is most valid when the foreign work is already in literal translation and the paraphraser has a fine poetic talent himself. This can enrich both languages and forever alter the way in which the original poem is read. But transposition should be used when the poem has not previously been translated. The work in translation then reads like an original poem and yet is so faithful to the original that a reader quoting from it may be certain he is quoting the poet as well as the translator. A translator essaying a wide variety of poets should be like an actor assuming many roles, through which his own voice is overheard. He must carefully check ambiguities, nuances, punctuation, syntax, compound words—translating always into true English but also stretching his language to the breaking point. A translator often must be a greater craftsman than the poet himself, for he tries through the letter to reach the spirit. (KF)

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