Lost in Translation

Some Writers on Translation

The Ideal

I believe that a poem ought to be translated in the way the poet himself would have composed it, had he belonged to the nation for which he is being translated. (Henrik Ibsen)

The Difficulty

Translations (like wives) are seldom strictly faithful if they are in the least attractive. (Roy Campbell)

The original is unfaithful to the translation. (Jorge Luis Borges, on Henley’s translation of Beckford’s Vathek)

Poetry is what gets lost in translation. (Robert Frost)


Great successes that are not always “strictly faithful”

These pearls of thought in Persian gulfs were bred,
Each softly lucent as a rounded moon;
The diver Omar plucked them from their bed,
Fitzgerald strung them on a English thread. (James Russell Lowell)

(Click on the image to read Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam, the poem to which Lowell refers. It is an almost perfect poem in English, but apparently a very imperfect translation!)


Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most holy place; that removeth the cover of the well, that we may come by the water. (The translators of the Authorised Version of the Bible, 1611)

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s