Translating Poetry and Drama

Spanish literary translation itself is a niche field, and in it the art of translating poetry and drama is even more specialized. This is borne out by three facts: firstly, a lot has been written about translating poetry and drama; secondly, there are no definite conclusions regarding the best translation practices in these two fields; and finally, all translation in these two fields is perpetually accompanied by the debate about whether poetry and drama are at all translatable. But why are so many questions being asked and so much debate being carried on about the techniques of translating these two literary forms and the nature of the final product? The answer to this question can be found in the nature of the literary forms that go by the name of poetry and drama.

Deciphering The Meaning

Apart from the actual language, the words before our eyes in which poetry is written, all poems have a sub-language of their own. The method of translating poetry is something like this: reading the poem in the source language, deciphering its true meaning, translating the true meaning into prose into the target language, and converting the target language prose into target language verse. The conversion of prose into verse introduces us to the primary difficulty of translating poetry: not every one–in this case, not every translator–is a poet. And unless one is a poet, or has at least some aspirations towards poetry, the task of rendering poetic features such as rhythm, rhyme, meter, onomatopoeia, etc., can appear very daunting, if not impossible.

The problems of translating poetry can be partially resolved by accepting a compromise. The compromise will be in the nature of a trade-off: the target reader will get the opportunity to read a foreign poem in his or her own language, but it will not be a complete experience. The translation will satisfactorily render either the aesthetics of the source language poem, or its true meaning, or its intellectual insights, or its technical aspects, or some combination of the aspects that go into the making of a poem, but rarely all the aspects together. It is only under such an understanding that it is possible to come up with a somewhat acceptable translation of a poem.

The Spanish translation of drama is fraught with similar problems. Drama, too, has its own sub-language. Some features of the sub-language are the same as that of a poem´s, especially in the case of dramatic verse. There are some additional features too like intonation, pitch, loudness, body language, gesture, scenery, etc. As the problems are similar to those of translating poetry, the techniques or methods are also approximately the same. Translating poetry and drama can therefore be described as a double form of translation, and translators have to arrive at a compromise between free and literal translation if they are to achieve success in communicating the purpose and the effect of the source text.

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