From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"It would appear that Western civilization has endured two millennia of consecrated sexual neurosis simply because the authors of Matthew and Luke could not read Hebrew [and mistranslated the word almah]" --The End of Faith by Sam Harris
Poetry is what gets lost in translation --Robert Frost
Translation is the interpretation of the meaning of a text in one language (the "source text") and the production, in another language, of an equivalent text (the "target text," or "translation") that communicates the same message.
Views on the possibility of satisfactorily translating poetry show a broad spectrum, depending largely on the degree of latitude to be granted the translator in regard to a poem's formal features (rhythm, rhyme, verse form, etc.). Douglas Hofstadter, in his 1997 book, Le Ton beau de Marot, argued that a good translation of a poem must convey as much as possible not only of its literal meaning but also of its form and structure (meter, rhyme or alliteration scheme, etc.).
The Russian-born linguist and semiotician Roman Jakobson, however, had in his 1959 paper "On Linguistic Aspects of Translation", declared that "poetry by definition [is] untranslatable". Vladimir Nabokov, another Russian-born author, took a view similar to Jakobson's. He considered rhymed, metrical, versed poetry to be in principle untranslatable and therefore rendered his 1964 English translation of Alexander Pushkin's Eugene Onegin in prose.
Hofstadter, in Le Ton beau de Marot, criticized Nabokov's attitude toward verse translation. In 1999 Hofstadter published his own translation of Eugene Onegin, in verse form.
Gregory Hays, in the course of discussing Roman adapted translations of ancient Greek literature, makes approving reference to some views on the translating of poetry expressed by David Bellos, an accomplished French-to-English translator. Hays writes:
- "Among the idées reçues [received ideas] skewered by David Bellos is the old saw that "poetry is what gets lost in translation." The saying is often attributed to Robert Frost, but as Bellos notes, the attribution is as dubious as the idea itself. A translation is an assemblage of words, and as such it can contain as much or as little poetry as any other such assemblage. The Japanese even have a word (chōyaku, roughly "hypertranslation") to designate a version that deliberately improves on the original."
- Traduttore, traditore
- Index Translationum
- Translation theory
- Words hardest to translate