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Challenges Encountered in Translating Poems

Rahmanbaba Poem
Challenges Encountered in Translating Poems
on June, 02 2014
Rahmanbaba Poem

Image credit: Rahmanbaba-Poem taken by احمد-نجيب-بياباني-ابراهيمخېل under Public Domain.

Translating poems and other literary works in general is difficult. This is true relative to the difficulty in translating other types of texts. Specifically, poems are even harder to translate for so many reasons. There are a lot of factors to be considered including the choices of words, figurative languages used and metaphors. At the same time, the translator must also be able to transfer the emotions and thoughts of the poet.

To add up more to the difficulty of translating poems, there are other characteristics that are unique to a poem such as rhymes, meter, rhythm and expressions that are not found in other literary pieces. Most words are not even used in daily conversations. Hence, this poses an even bigger challenge to anyone who dares to translate poems.

Potential Challenges to Consider in Translating Poems

  • Linguistic issues. When translating certain words from one language to another, there might be some issues with regards to the appropriate words to be used. In some cases, there are words that have no literal translation to another language. There are even some languages in which one short word in English is equivalent to 3 or more words in another language. It could be the other way around. An entire verse in an English poem could be just a single word in another language. The differences in the choice of words not only make it difficult for the poem to be translated, it could also destroy the other elements in a poem.
  • Literal versus figurative translation. Poems contain deeper meanings. There are words used but they serve as symbolisms or metaphors only. The underlying thought behind those words is what makes the entire poem beautiful. Thus, translators now have the dilemma of whether or not they are to translate the verse literally and make everything sound or awkward, or translate the figurative meaning and limit the readers’ opportunity to be more critical in reading the verses.
  • Socio-cultural issues. There are also some words in a poem that may not sound good when translated to another language. The words could also be very offensive or inappropriate. They might be seen as vulgar even if in the original language, the word used is just right. Thus, the translator now has to choose the more appropriate word to use or find a more culturally sensitive equivalent of the word used in the original text.
  • Sound. This is another element of poetry that makes it beautiful and engaging. Due to these rhyming words or attractive sounds, readers are glued to the poem. Sadly, there might be no word in another language that could retain these sounds. The translation of the words might have extremely different sounds that don’t make sense when forced to sound alike.

In short, there are a lot of things to be considered when translating poems. They might just be a few lines or stanzas, but it could take an even longer time for poems to be translated. It also helps a lot that the translator understands the thoughts of the poet and the cultural background of the people in which the poem will be translated for.

Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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