Lost in Translation

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Poems have the ability to bring readers to a new place and to challenge their thinking. In a few words and often less than a page, poems expose readers to emotion and meaning in a limited space. With the presence of translation, readers around the world are able to dissect and discover the writings of authors in countries other than their own. However, different readings of a poem provide audiences with a different understanding of the poem, for one language does not translate directly into another. Sometimes, the rhyming scheme is lost. Other times, a common saying or phrase is understood too literally. Though translators of poems put forth great effort to allow foreign audiences the opportunity to read international literature, it is impossible to directly translate a poem in the manner the author originally intended. Utilizing Boris Pasternak's poem, “Hamlet,” one translation by Joanna Radwanska-Williams and another by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France allow readers to see the differences in translations of this wonderful work of Russian literature.

Within the initial stanza, evidence of differences between each translation of Pasternak's famous poem not only appear evident, but also somewhat change the tone. In the first line, Radwanska-Williams' translation begins “The roar is stilled;” however, Stallworthy and France's opening remarks state “The buzz subsides” (1,1). The two translations of “Hamlet” begin immediately with different tones, for the word “roar” contrasts greatly with the word “buzz.” If an actor enters the stage to a roar decreasing, readers deduce that numerous people must be present, thus the author establishes a sense heightened anticipation and stress. On the other hand, the word “buzz” seems t...

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...es present between two translations. However, it is important to notice that analysis on stanza two and stanza four are not present in this paper. These two stanzas, though different between each translation, do not dramatically differ in terms of the speaker's mood, characteristics, or ideals. When analyzing foreign poems, it is important to notice the translator and to compare multiple renditions of the same poem. Audiences may learn and pick up on details that appear hidden in only one translation. With the nature of language barriers, it proves close to impossible to transpose a poem accurately into another language while maintaining the intended meaning of the author. However, comparing and contrasting different translations allows scholars to look deeper into a piece of literature and to more accurately surmise the initial concepts of the original author.
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