“Poetry is very hard to translate because no poem means just one thing,” writes George Szirtes, an English poet and translator from the Hungarian.
Or rather, if two of you read a poem you might agree on a lot, but you’d take away some impressions that were different. That might be because your experiences were different – one reader might like spiders and enjoy being reminded of them because of the delicacy of their webs in the sunlight, while another might hate them and prefer not to think of their scuttling on the floor. So one reader thinks about webs, the other about scuttling.
I usually focus on Chinese poetry, of any time period, on this blog, though from time to time that will involve raising questions of translation. Less often will I draw attention to writing on translation per se, regardless of the language it comes from. But this is one of those times.
Part of why I’m linking to George Szirtes’s “attempt to categorise translated poetry” is that Szirtes is translator of László Krasznahorkai, who won the Best Translated Book Award two years in a row (including for Szirtes’s translation of Satantango last year), and I’ve become very curious about Krasznahorkai’s life and works (click here for a 3% podcast about László’s relationship with New Directions). But mostly it’s because Szirtes’s categories–“Translations that look and sound much like their originals,” “Translations that are vigorously reinvented and re-imagined so we see them anew,” “Translations that introduce us to poems from less known languages,” etc.–are so accurate and worth repeating.
And in case you absolutely insist that what I post here have something to do with China, know that Krasznahorkai’s wife is evidently a sinologist, and the time he’s spent in Asia has been very important to his developing work (particularly Seiobo There Below, translate by Ottilie Mulzet, as well as much of his yet untranslated oeuvre). Also, Szirtes mentions Du Fu 杜甫 in “Brian Holton’s translation from Classical Chinese into Scots, re-titled ‘Spring Sun on the Watterside Clachan,’” in his mention of “poems that are not translated into standard English.”