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Poetry translation

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Douglas Hofstadter

Poetry presents special challenges to translators, given the importance of a text’s formal aspects, in addition to its content. In his influential 1959 paper “On Linguistic Aspects of Translation”, the Russian-born linguist and semiotician Roman Jakobson went so far as to declare that “poetry by definition [is] untranslatable”.

In 1974 the American poet James Merrill wrote a poem, “Lost in Translation”, which in part explores this idea. The question was also discussed in Douglas Hofstadter’s 1997 book, Le Ton beau de Marot; he argues that a good translation of a poem must convey as much as possible not only of its literal meaning, but of its form and structure (meter, rhyme or alliteration scheme, etc.).[1]

Notes

  1. ^ A discussion of Hofstadter’s otherwise latitudinarian views on translation is found in Tony Dokoupil, “Translation: Pardon My French: You Suck at This,” Newsweek, May 18, 2009, p. 10.

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