The Nuances of Poetry Translation

Can a poem be translated without letting its meaning and emotion slip away?

That was the question to be answered on a recent meeting of 15 poets from around the world. They were brought together by the Goethe-Institut for the program “Poets Translating Poets.”

If a poet translates, the final product doesn’t have much in common with the original, and if a professional translator does it, it lacks a soul, requiring that poets and interlinear translators combine forces.

Read more about this topic in an article by Dennis Abrams.

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I was hired to care – translated into Spanish

The original poem was written by kStan(ly), from whose page it was reblogged (see below). And Fabio Descalzi performed its translation into Spanish, which you can read now. Both poems include the same phrase in several languages, “This means nothing”:

ME BUSCARON PARA CUIDARLO

El debilucho empeoraba rápido,
me buscaron para cuidarlo
y buscar si tenía el aquejado
un familiar por algún lado.
En español nada me hablaba;
qué le preguntase, no importaba,
todo lo respondía en otro idioma;
y yo, que la cabeza me carcoma.
“Ça ne signifie rien”, me decía,
las pocas veces que balbucía;
“això no vol dir res” le vino,
que para mí era como chino.

Pregunté por su parentela
que de visita venir pudiera,
mientras busqué fotografías
por si alguien se me aparecía
que alguna respuesta me diera,
pero nada, ni siquiera una nuera.
El hombre frágil apenas miraba
con una mueca de desagrado.
Por ahí también se especulaba
con una hermana en el poblado.
“Das bedeutet nichts”,
decía, y “dit betekent niets”.

Hoy falleció el anciano,
no sé por qué estoy llorando.
Hace tiempo que en esto ando,
viéndolos morir a desgano.
Recién vuelvo del café,
para los dos pedí capuchino;
pregunté si tenía amigos,
“non significa niente”, lo sé.
Me imaginé inmune a la muerte,
la experiencia me anestesiaba;
pero él, con su último suspiro,
susurró “esto no quiere decir nada”.

kStan(ly) kSays

the frail man was declining fast,
i was hired to care
and try to find out if he had
some family somewhere.
he didn’t speak in english;
whatever i would ask,
he’d answer in some foreign tongue,
intensify my task.
“ne signifie rien”, he’d say,
the few times he would speak to me
or “δε σημαίνει τίποτα”
which only sounded greek to me.photo memories-407021_960_720

I asked about relations
who might come in for a visit
while searching for some photographs
whose subjects might elicit
some response that i could use
to find his long-lost kin.
the frail man only watched me
with a small off-putting grin.
there had been speculation
of a sister in Nevada
“das bedeutet nichts”
he’d say, and “no significa nada”

the old man passed away today
can’t figure why i’m crying.
i’ve been at this far too long,
seen so many dying.
i’d just got back from…

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