The Beauty of Poetry in Translation

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In this week’s blog, we look at poetry in translation. Across the globe, every culture recognises the beauty and richness of poetry. Whether your bookshelves are brimming with poetic anthologies or you haven’t opened a poetry book since GCSEs, there’s no denying the important and meaningful place poetry has in our society.

The Power of Poetry

The poetry we enjoy isn’t just limited to our native tongue, either – thanks to the powers of translation, we’re able to appreciate beautiful poems from all over the world. From Pablo Neruda to Rabindranath Tagore, so many amazing poets’ work has been made accessible to English-speaking audiences thanks to the work of translators.

But just how do translators take on the challenge of conveying the complex and carefully chosen words of a poem in a completely different language? When the language and form of a poem is so key to its character, how can it be replicated in a brand new way?

Differing Opinions

There are plenty of strongly-held views on the topic in the literary world. Some would say that accurate translation of poetry is practically impossible, and that translated poems are nothing more than poor imitations of the original.

Others argue that translated works actually are useful and effective renditions of the original. If we were to limit poetry to its original language, as some pessimists may prefer, we’d be robbed of the vast menagerie of amazing poetry written in languages other than our own.

The Best of Both Worlds

Another view, however, exists somewhere in between these two extremes. While a translator may not be able to replicate the exact intentions and emotions of the original poet in their work, they are able to express their own emotional response and feelings towards the poem through their translation.

In this way, we can see translated poems and other works of literature as new and exciting evolutions of the original work. Translation can breathe new life into poetry, offering different perspectives. As readers, we can be exposed to beautifully imaginative forms of poetry, widening our outlook on poetry and the arts as a whole.

Transformative Translations

Looking at things this way highlights the essential relationship between poetry and translation. Translators help us to broaden our horizons and introduce new ideas into our cultural landscape. Being able to embrace and understand different cultural identities through poetry can also help to create a more diverse and welcoming society.

Our translators at Atlas Translations have had plenty of experience with developing creative new forms of poems in different languages.

We’ve worked with organisations and charities such as ‘Poems for…the wall’, an arts charity that distributes free poems to GP waiting rooms, schools and individuals across the UK. We translated a selection of poems for their bilingual collection,‘Poems for…one world’, from Greek, Lithuanian and Somali. Besides the element of difference in language, the collection introduces other frontiers for poetry to seek to cross and open.

A quote from French-American literary critic George Steiner sums it up rather well – ‘without translation, we would be living in provinces bordering on silence’. Translation opens up our minds and cultures to new thoughts and viewpoints. Really, translation can make the world a more vibrant and beautiful place – and what better way to do that than through the power of poetry?

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