Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Translation as Possibility

I saw the following quote in one of my favorite e-newsletters, A Word a Day:

Poetry, indeed, cannot be translated; and, therefore, it is the poets that preserve the languages; for we would not be at the trouble to learn a language if we could have all that is written in it just as well in a translation. But as the beauties of poetry cannot be preserved in any language except that in which it was originally written, we learn the language. -Samuel Johnson, lexicographer (1709-1784)

People are always claiming that poetry cannot be translated. But of course it regularly is translated and often quite well, too. So I think it’s time we moved on from this idea that translation is impossible, especially of poetry. No one can ever learn all the languages in the world, no one can be able to read all the literatures in the world, no one can converse with all the people in the world in their own native tongues – thus translation is necessary and by necessity, it must be possible.

1 comment:

andy fuller said...

i subscribe to jorge luis borges's comment: 'the original is unfaithful to the translation'.
i'm quixotically translating the poetry of an indonesian poet, afrizal malna.
my translations can be found here: