Linguistic and Translatological Aspects of Poetry Translation

Joseph Brodsky’s Texts in Russian, English and Latvian

by Jānis Veckrācis (Author)
Monographs 402 Pages


This essentially academic book and its author are daring companions of poetry translators in their dance on a rope while searching for the best solutions and shifting boundaries between the possible and impossible, and the insights have at least three main directions: first, the artistic and aesthetic nature of the activity; second, those specific skills which are necessary to complete the task; and third, the pre-requisites of failure or acclaim.
The artistic and complex nature of both poetry and its translation suggests the necessity of specific inclusive approaches though, whatever the technique, there always remain some blurred, inaccessible zones of inexplicable elements. The book aims at studying the linguistic aspects of poetry translation theories and practice in order to define the main theoretical principles of an integrated approach to poetry translation.
Practical insights are based on an analysis of the translation of Joseph Brodsky’s poems into English and Latvian. While under way, we experience all the cause-effect aspects of poetic texts representing author’s intention both to express and to hide, to intensify/highlight and to disguise. At times, we really feel – similarly to poetry translators themselves – like investigators either in the complex networks of theoretical insights or in even more risky endeavours to discuss and outline the practical aspects of poetry translation. A balance of theoretical and practical aspects is one of the main features and main benefits of the study. A detailed analysis of Brodsky’s poetic and philosophical heritage is another contribution. A unique opportunity for the international audience to gain insights into the Western/Russian/Latvian approaches to poetry translation theories and practices by also observing their mutual impacts and interaction, provides more added value.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • I. Modern theoretical background for studies of poetry translation
  • 1.1 Development of literary translation theory
  • 1.1.1 Emergence of the literary translation theory
  • 1.1.2 Translation and text: implications of linguistic pragmatics and textuality for poetry translation
  • James Holmes’ legacy in the poetry translation theory
  • Implications of linguistic functionalism for poetry translation
  • 1.1.3 A brief insight into the development of poetry translation approaches and theories in Latvia
  • 1.1.4 A brief insight into the development of literary translation and its theory in Russia
  • 1.1.5 Studies of Joseph Brodsky’s authorship and translations of his poems
  • 1.2 Bridging target text and source text: theories of text cognition and interpretation
  • 1.2.1 Text linguistics – a new perspective of researching systemic and functional aspects of language
  • 1.2.2 Poetic text: the aspect of text typology
  • 1.2.3 Towards functional and semantic reading of poetic texts
  • 1.3 Towards an integrated framework for poetry translation
  • 1.3.1 Contemporary approaches to poetry translation assessment
  • 1.3.2 Theoretical principles for an integrated poetry translation framework
  • II. Integrated analysis of translations of Joseph Brodsky’s poems
  • 2. Single-text approach
  • 2.1. Poem May 24, 1980
  • 2.1.1 Contrastive processing of the source text and its translation: cross-linguistic component
  • Contrastive lexical analysis
  • Contrastive syntactic analysis
  • 2.1.2 Contrastive processing of the source text and its translation: cross-cultural and interpretative components
  • 2.2 Poem Sonnet
  • 2.2.1 Contrastive processing of the source text and its translation: cross-linguistic component
  • Contrastive lexical analysis
  • Contrastive syntactic analysis
  • 2.2.2 Contrastive processing of the source text and its translation: cross-cultural and interpretative components
  • 2.3 Poem Christmas Ballad
  • 2.3.1 Contrastive processing of the source text and its translation: cross-linguistic component
  • Contrastive lexical analysis
  • Contrastive syntactic analysis
  • 2.3.2 Contrastive processing of the source text and its translation: cross-cultural and interpretative components
  • 2.4 Poem That evening, sprawling by an open fire
  • 2.4.1 Contrastive processing of the source text and its translation: cross-linguistic component
  • Contrastive lexical analysis
  • Contrastive syntactic analysis
  • 2.4.2 Contrastive processing of the source text and its translation: cross-cultural and interpretative components
  • 2.5 Poem Encyclopedia Entry
  • 2.5.1 Contrastive processing of the source text and its translation: cross-linguistic component
  • Contrastive lexical analysis
  • Contrastive syntactic analysis
  • 2.5.2 Contrastive processing of the source text and its translation: cross-cultural and interpretative components
  • 3. Multi-text approach: notes on the English and Latvian translations of A Part of Speech
  • 3.1 The title and its translation
  • 3.2 Poem No. 1: I was born and grew up in the Baltic marshland
  • 3.3 Poem No. 2: The North buckles metal, glass it won’t harm
  • 3.4 Poem No. 3: From nowhere with love the enth of Marchember sir
  • 3.5 Poem No. 4: A list of some observations. In a corner, it’s warm
  • 3.6 Poem Nr. 7: You’ve forgotten that village lost in the rows and rows. The issue of phraseological units
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Appendices


Poems only exist in the imminently subtle commerce they maintain with the diversity of their versions, which by no means lessen them, but rather infuse them with new vigor.

(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

“Impossible, of course, that’s why I do it”

(Willard Trask)

This book presents a daring attempt to discuss poetry translation. The focus of the area of studies, though apparent, is, however, at least dual in many respects, including author/translator, source/target dimensions, word/text, translation as process/translation as result, linguistics/literary/cultural studies, translatability/untranslatability, to mention just some of the aspects. More generally, studies about poetry and poetry translation deal with two “magics”. This may sound non-academic and emphatic but it reveals the very essence of our enterprise: the challenges of discussing, deconstructing and uncovering, first, poems as mysterious embodiments of original creation and, second, translation as the art of “reseeding”.

In a conversion Pēters Brūveris, Latvian poet and translator, called poetry writing a dance on a rope: endless search for the best solutions while shifting boundaries between the possible and impossible. This metaphor would indeed also suit poetry translation: first, it highlights the artistic and aesthetic nature of the activity, second, it emphasises the necessity to possess specific skills in order to complete the task, third, the risk of failure is recognised and, finally, whenever somebody hits the target, acclaim is guaranteed.

The artistic and complex nature of both poetry and its translation suggests the necessity of specific inclusive approaches though, whatever the technique, there always remain the blurred, inaccessible zones of inexplicable elements which mean natural obstacles on the way towards a potentially perfect theory (or, at least, a practical guide) of what poetry translation is or should be. First, similarly to Terry Eagleton’s claim in ←9 | 10→his famous Literary Theory. An Introduction that literary theory is an illusion (Eagleton 2008 [1983], 178), efforts to devise theories of literary translation may be a similar trap of producing nonsense. Second, doubts regarding usefulness and quality of any studies on poetry translation are similar to those raised over feasibility of poetry translation itself which has been a long-standing debate. Nevertheless, as discussed further in this book, we support the idea of translatability of poetry. In a word, among other arguments, poetry translation practice itself and readers who continue to use (and accept) the translations confirm its necessity. Here the interplay of poem’s spirit and “materiality”– in broad terms – is a significant aspect which both ensures and determines translatability. We also adhere to the view that seeing poetry translation as loss and distortion means simplification; it may also bring new insights into the poem. The phenomena of translatability and coexistence of the original text and its translation and the associated communication networks are, at least to some extent, similar to our experience of linguistic/cultural diversity and of coming to terms with the respective barriers. What is the reason why so many languages still exist despite the apparent pressure to accept “economic value” of language as the decisive criterion in language-related policy making. Is the idea of a relationship between language and the way of thinking and worldview a throwback? Could monolingualism become a reality? When we speak a foreign language or when a foreigner speaks to us in our native language – do we lose or gain something? Why are national cultures and languages considered to be treasure while, on the other hand, isolationism is believed to mean backwardness? Can cross-cultural communication really be “complete”? These seemingly secondary questions, though not discussed and not answered here, highlight the general context of literary translation due to its interlingual and intercultural aspect. New ideas about the nature of this specific activity may also provide answers regarding the upper-level issues. Meanwhile, no “final” views are possible at any level and, again, the emotional word “miracle” may come to one’s mind in various phases of the discussion. The same applies to research efforts in the respective areas, including poetry translation: we may not expect a result (model, approach, theory) which would be satisfactory and “final” in explaining the artistic and material aspects of poetry translation. At this point our book could become one of those whose authors start with a detailed explanation why the effort itself is senseless. Instead, our initial point of departure and general aim of this study is a focus on productive thinking which brings insight and ←10 | 11→encourages understanding of the subject, potentially leading, in direct and indirect ways, to additional poetry translation resources.

Translation Studies which is a relatively new field of linguistic research has established itself as a valuable and independent perspective for looking not only at the process and product of translation but for ensuring a broader insight into the very nature of language itself. Research in Translation Studies is harmoniously aligned with the general development of the modern world and its features: dynamic existence, cross-border activities and experience (thus, the necessity for contrastive case studies remains high), interdisciplinary research and expertise, environment of doubts and relativity, constant deconstruction of the former dogmas and axioms. Various areas of research tend to unite efforts and results of studies in order to ensure full scenery and promote the positive effects of synergy. This is also true regarding the humanities: for instance, linguistic insight is a well-established approach in philosophy, and linguistic aspects have recently become an area of interest in literary science and vice versa.

Similarly, the focus of research in linguistics and specifically in Translation Studies has also changed substantially. Today we can hardly imagine linguistic studies which would ignore the pragmatic functions of language and the most natural frameworks of its vibrant existence – speech and text. The cornerstones of this development have been the new interpretations of culture and communication in philosophy and semiotics. Umberto Eco in his fundamental work “A Theory of Semiotics” takes over and further develops the concept of culture as communication (Eco 1976, 22), an idea which has been circulated before. Later he claims that “culture, art, language, manufactured objects are phenomena of collective interactions governed by the same laws. Cultural life is not a spontaneous spiritual creation but, rather, is rule-governed. These rules represent an object of investigation, since they probably are something deeper and more universal than their transitory and superficial instantiations” (Eco 1984, 167). These positions are seminal, first, to align culture and culture-related phenomena and processes with pragmatic aspects of human communication, second, to provide the context for the next-level conclusion that culture is a text (cf. Fay 1996), and, third, to admit that culture may be analysed, interpreted, explained.

The above ideas form the context in which text linguistics has developed. Considering the fact that the development period only covers a few decades, the timeline of comprehensive linguistic studies of literary texts is even shorter: being unaware of the nature of language and of ←11 | 12→the connections, for instance, between poetic texts and natural language, linguistics could not develop the respective tools for analysis.

In this respect an essential breakthrough is ensured by Roman Jakobson (for instance, see Jakobson 1956; Jakobson 1959; Jakobson 1960) whose ideas regarding the functions of language, however, are integrated into the emerging theories of text linguistics a few decades later, and Yuri Lotman (for instance, see Lotman 1977, Lotman 1990; Лотман 1994). Lotman defines the most significant functions of the text, and one of them is creative function which follows from the artistic potential in language as such (cf. Lotman 1990, 13–18). Further, on the basis of distinction between two communication models – interpersonal communication and autocommunication – Lotman rightly claims that poetic texts as a text type are in conflict with the laws of natural language; however, their communicative function ensures that they are perceived as a text in a natural language (29, 33). The communicative nature of poetic texts, their cultural integration and dynamic existence are essential points of departure towards a poetry translation theory. A study of poetic texts or their translations, irrespectively of the research focus, becomes a cultural study in view of the rules governing these texts: “The laws of construction of the artistic text are very largely the laws of the construction of culture as a whole” (33).

Moreover, Lotman addresses the issue of forming a relationship between an author and a reader, between authorship and readership. The current development of literary translation and poetry translation in particular and the brand-new approaches, including decoding stylistics and the Relevance Theory discussed in this study, show that Lotman’s ideas are ahead of his time:

The author’s text enters into a complex system of extra-textual connections; by virtue of the hierarchy of non-artistic and artistic norms […], these connections create a complex code that permits us to decipher information contained in the text. […] the code of the receiver always differs to some degree from the code of the sender. The differences may be comparatively slight, based on the individual’s cultural experience […]; but they may also be profound, socio-historical, cultural differences which either prevent or reinterpret the artistic perception of the text. The reader tries to confine the text to familiar conceptions, selecting those extra-textual structures from his artistic experience that seem to him to be most appropriate for the given instance. […] among those textual or extra-textual structures that determine the forms of art, some are more in the “interests” of the audience’s position in the act of communication, others are more in the “interests” of the author. ←12 | 13→[…] those principles governing the construction of an artistic code which are closer to the structural principles of the natural language are more “convenient” for the audience; those farther from the natural language are more convenient for the author. (Lotman 1977, 295)

Though the amount of linguistic research on poetry translation has grown rapidly, the current situation can still be described as an early stage of development. Linguists typically analyse narrow and highly specific linguistic issues of poetry translation while not hesitating to express doubts concerning the so-called interdisciplinary studies and jealously looking down on “intruders” from outside. A wider perspective may be observed in studies on poetry translation by literary scholars but they usually overlook the linguistic aspects. It is also characteristic to focus on the assessment of translations without a deep contrastive analysis of the general setting of the source text (ST) and its translation.

Poetry translation has long been an issue for translators themselves contributing substantially to the development of translation philosophy and general approaches to poetry translation. However, these comments are often of literary character containing remarkable ideas and showing mastery of expression of their authors without providing systematic research insight into the respective problems. On the other hand, their perspective ensures a necessary balancing effect against a tendency which is noted by Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz also known for his outstanding translations: “These last few years, undoubtedly due to the imperialism of linguistics, there has been a tendency to minimize the eminently literary nature of translation.” He maintains that “The operation of translating poetry is analogous to poetic creation. Each translation, to a certain degree, is an invention, and constitutes a unique text” (Paz, in Estaban 2001). Xavier Lin (2007, 336), a student of Susan Bassnett, observes that poetry translation criticism can be dealing with anything in the target text except what makes it a compatible poem to the source text though a crucial issue should be: what makes poetry poetry. The specific nature of poetry translation is made explicit by the specific terminological marking of the Latvian term “atdzejošana” which is a derivation (“at+dzejot” (“re+create poetry”)) and provides a morphological emphasis on the re-creative nature of poetry translation (term “atdzejošana” is likely to be introduced, through a calque from German “Nachrichten”, by Teodors Zeiferts). We also adhere to the view advocated by Helen R. Lane, an acclaimed English literary translator, that “a text is not kernels of “information” enveloped in some sort of ←13 | 14→stylistic husk” and that contemporary discussion moves away from the dualism of “content” and “form”1. Instead, she proposes to explore translation in terms of “tangents being more or less carefully drawn to a circumference that, because of the nature of language itself, can never be totally circumscribed by any one translator or any one translation, no matter how careful the craft, no matter how consummate the art” (Christ 1980).

In view of the above considerations we essentially adhere to the pragmatic approaches and socio-cultural theories of translation; to the hermeneutic model of translation; to linguistic functionalism, the manipulation approach and the Leipzig School and their focus on texts (and, more specifically, target texts), reader’s role and the respective functional and communicative implications of literary translation, as well as to the recent Relevance Theory. The theoretical context and poetry translation practice shows that poetry translation – its linguistic and extra-linguistic aspects which derive from the properties of the textual and artistic “space” of poetry itself – would require a multi-dimensional approach whenever any related theory or practice is modelled.

The above considerations and problems similarly apply to the studies of translations of poems written by Nobel Prize winner Russian-Jewish poet Joseph Brodsky2. His case is, however, unique due to some special circumstances.

First, his specific poetic techniques, intensity of intellectual and metaphysical ideas3 arguably unprecedented in Russian poetry which are embodied in classically designed poems alongside the impacts of the political context make outlining a literary profile of Brodsky (and of his ←14 | 15→generation of Russian poets in general) a complicated task. He stands alone and “the sense of being alone as a poet pervades his work to an unusual degree” (Reisman 2012, 54). Even more so, despite Brodsky’s endeavours to prevent this, the specific context, the fact of political exile and the status of Soviet “martyr” did, at least to some extent, shift the focus from literary work of Brodsky toward his persona as noted by David Earl Rigsbee (1996, 20): “Since the 1980s, it has become an increasingly acceptable shift […] to focus attention on the “meaning” of Brodsky, rather than the meaning of the poet’s work. This shift in focus has become even more strikingly the case since the poet’s 1987 award of the Nobel Prize for Literature.”.

Second, Brodsky’s love for the English language and his exile in the United States of America results in his unprecedented efforts to write essays and, most surprisingly, poetry in author’s second language. Brodsky made equally enormous endeavours to prepare his self-translations into English, and almost all other English translators of Brodsky’s poems (most of them are remarkable poets and translators themselves) had to accept his close and passionate supervision.

Third, Brodsky’s heritage includes rich ideas concerning the philosophy of language, poetry and poetry translation. In view of his uncompromising absolutist approaches acclaim and adoration have often been accompanied with tough critique4, including Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (for instance, cf. Солженицын 1999). Peter Porter claims that the translations supervised by Brodsky produce “unease and lack of conviction in the reader”. Michael Schmidt calls Brodsky “his [own] worst translator”. Christopher Reid criticises Brodsky for “un-English” quality of Brodsky’s performance, his “grammatical unorthodoxy,” his lack of understanding of English idiom, his “tone-deafness” and lack of ear in the language. (cf. Ishov 2008) To some extent Brodsky and his critics might have also become victims of a “trap” which can be understood in the context of Aleksey Losev’s5 (Лосев 1980, 53–54) note that authors handle both linguistic material and cultural experience ←15 | 16→of the whole nation and can only be writers in their native language, thus even when they write in (or translate into) a foreign language, the respective texts still belong to the native culture of the authors. This means that, however “English” might the translations of Brodsky’s poems or his poems originally written in this language be, they still represent the Russian culture and these texts may only be considered as such.

More broadly, some of the critical comments which may seem confusing in view of Brodsky’s own high standards should be considered in the context of two important aspects: (i) as discussed further in our study, self-translations by Brodsky or translations under his supervision have frequently been analysed and assessed by applying inadequate initial criteria, and (ii) in many cases Brodsky’s translations have been dismissed due to his own views which set inflexible and, in many cases, contradictory rules. However, in the context and for the purposes of this study, the translations of Brodsky’s poems represent a valuable source material which, though with certain limitations, may be used for the elaboration of an integrated poetry translation model.

Moreover, Brodsky’s “case” is characterised by a number of other representative and illustrative features which serve our purpose. His essays and comments include fundamental ideas covering the main areas of concern regarding the essence of poetry, poetic (artistic) nature of language and the fundamental principles of poetry translation, mainly relating to the so-called classical poetry, that is, verse which corresponds to specific metrical and rhythmic requirements. Thus, Brodsky contributes to the development of the philosophy of poetry translation with invaluable implications for the general subject of our study. In fact, his remarks provide distinct and individualised, personal answers to the main issues indicated in the previous paragraphs.

The essay In the Shadow of Dante includes poet’s definition which links the humanity, culture and the continuous state of being translated: “Civilization is the sum total of different cultures animated by a common spiritual numerator, and its main vehicle—speaking both metaphorically and literally—is translation” (Brodsky 2011). This is an essential viewpoint which recognises that everything is linked and integrated, or, as Paz suggests, “[w];hen we learn to speak, we are learning to translate” and texts are, in fact, translations of translations of translations (Paz 1996, 152, 154). Human communication is a continuously translated text which we either understand or do not understand, and the reasons of any misunderstanding remain vague, however clear and ←16 | 17→strict rules we might develop. Moreover, the interpretative component of any piece of art leads to the special situation of several acceptable “readings”6. Poetry which is an epitome of human expression through language also represents texts with the highest content of extra-linguistic information, including culture-specific backgrounds. In fact, poetry is human aspiration to express what remains beyond language. Brodsky adds: “Poetry after all in itself is a translation; or, to put it another way, poetry is one of the aspects of the psyche rendered in language. It is not so much that poetry is a form of art as that art is a form to which poetry often resorts. Essentially, poetry is the articulation of perception, the translation of that perception into the heritage of language—language is, after all, the best available tool. But for all the value of this tool in ramifying and deepening perceptions—revealing sometimes more than was originally intended, which, in the happiest cases, merges with the perceptions—every more or less experienced poet knows how much is left out or has suffered because of it. This suggests that poetry is somehow also alien or resistant to language […], and that the human psyche because of its synthesizing nature is infinitely superior to any language we are bound to use.” (Brodsky 2011).

Therefore the level of integration of these texts into the system of the respective language and culture makes their translation, that is, their re-integration into another system of a foreign language and culture, one of the most complicated tasks faced by translators.

Significantly, Brodsky’s poems and their translations are also selected for this study due to his commitment to classical forms. Even his free verse is usually endowed with some formal features, for instance, rhymes. However, when the notion “classical” is used in respect to Brodsky, this calls for some additional remarks. The way he handles tradition is a relationship of compromise, of an innovator who both accepts and overcomes tradition by accommodating new themes, new poetic techniques and structures. In many instances “new” is also related to the integration of foreign poetic features into the host culture: at first Brodsky ←17 | 18→starts using elements of Anglo-Saxon poetics in his Russian poems but later, during the exile period, his English poems and translations feature, sometimes in a forced way, poetic devices typical for Russian poetry. When analysing Brodsky’s cycle A Part of Speech, Michael Kreps (Крепс 1984, 251) calls his style “psychological {im|ex}pressionism”7. Moreover, the way Brodsky combines form and content is also unique in terms of how they complement each other. The formal “body” of the poem is important, but masterfully unimposing as illustrated by conversations with Brodsky’s readers. When rhymes were mentioned as a typical feature of Brodsky’s poetic technique, some people were truly surprised: “Do you really mean Brodsky uses rhymes?” The poet states in his essay The Child of Civilization: “A poem is the result of a certain necessity: it is inevitable, and so is its form” (Brodsky 2011). He is convinced that poem’s form should by all means be preserved. This, however, leads to one of the main contradictions with his aspiration to create translations which are poems in their own right in the target culture Poetic form is frequently culture-specific bearing culture-specific implications. Preservation of the form and the culture-specific features of the ST while also creating a poem which exists independently in the target culture may sometimes be a task beyond translator’s skill and genius. Therefore, an integrated approach to poetry translation also suggests that integration means comprise, that is, any absolutist approach should be reasonably “streamlined” in view of the actual circumstances. Another dimension of compromise is the inevitable limits of the “equivalence” between a potential model for poetry translation and assessment of translations and the respective empirical analysis: on the one hand, it is essential to minimise model’s remoteness from poetry translation practice, on the other hand, it would be undesirable to directly align and limit the model according to the specific empirical evidence. Thus, any direct “correspondence” of the framework to the results of an empyrical analysis should not be included among the valid criteria for framework’s quality.

Further, translations of Brodsky’s poems, though extensively studied8 by linguists, are still not put within a more general framework; only a ←18 | 19→number of specific aspects (for instance, syntax, lexical units; idioms, metrical features) are analysed. More integrated studies are devoted to Brodsky as a self-translator. (Some essential research papers on Brodsky’s poems and their translations are discussed in Subchapter 1.1.4.) However, they are limited by the focus on Brodsky as poet and as translator without devising poetry translation rules of general applicability. Where a specific poet is translated, the respective translation strategies and approaches should certainly be aligned with the case-specific requirements. However, no poet is isolated in his idiostyle and personal and cultural backgrounds; similarly, no poetry translation situation is so specific that it would have no connection with a broader context and general rules.

Finally, one more personal benefit from this study is the opportunity to approach Brodsky’s poems in surgical detailization. For some poetics this would certainly mean losing a part of its magic. Instead, Brodsky’s poems do not lose anything; they may even need this method in view of the fact that his texts are not only intellectual but, in terms of technique, they are also precise to the slightest detail.

In view of the given context, this book aims at studying the linguistic aspects of poetry translation theories and practice by taking account of the main properties of poetry which is a specific sub-category of literary texts, to define the main theoretical principles of an integrated framework of poetry translation and to propose an integrated approach to poetry translation. It should, however, be emphasised that the aspect of integration is the main emphasis. The integration has several dimensions: (i) integrated analysis of poetry translation as a process and as a result; (ii) integrated analysis of poetry translation according to the complex features of poetry which is a specific sub-category of literary texts as a text type; (iii) integration of the various systems and models of text’s existence: “author reader”; “author translator”; “translator reader”; (iv) integration of poetry translation practice and its assessment. Meanwhile, a translation model is mainly designed with the aim of putting the discussion into a structured framework while being well aware of the objective limitations and necessity to apply case-specific changes.

Part I is primarily an overview of theoretical (both linguistic and translatological) ideas concerning poetry translation. Subchapter 1.1 ←19 | 20→presents general notes on the background of the current understanding of what is text, literary text (and, more specifically, poetry) and the respective implications in a translation situation. An important aim is to also illustrate and strengthen awareness of the truly interdisciplinary nature of poetry translation studies. We further analyse the ideas of Walter Benjamin’s (Benjamin 2004 [1923]), Ernst-August Gutt (Gutt 2010), Jiří Levý (Levy 2011 [1963]), Christiane Nord (Nord 1991), Katharina Reiss (Reiss 2000) and George Steiner (Steiner 1975), as well as the hermeneutic model discussed by Mohamed Abdel-Maguid Barghout (Barghout 1990).

In a broader sense the respective theoretical points mark, first, an apparent and strong shift towards the textual dimension in translation theories, second, source texts and target texts produced by translators are not seen in isolation from the full cycle of text’s life where the recipient audience, readers, play a distinct role. The hermeneutic model adds important ideas regarding text’s readership and production of meanings and interpretations being essential for a poetry translation theory.

In Subchapter 1.1.2 we focus on two major developments – the pragmatic approach and emergence of text linguistics as a logical result of linguistic pragmatics. Key references and authors include Itamar Even-Zohar (Polysystem theory), Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology, Wolfgang Iser (Iser 1978) and his aesthetic response (Rezeptionsaesthetik) theory, Albrecht Neubert (Neubert 1985), Ludwig Wittgenstein’s linguistic philosophy (although appeared earlier in the 20th century), postmodernism (Derrida et al), the Gestalt-concept into translation theory (Paepcke 1986, Stolze 1982), Bassnett, Theo Hermans, Andre Lefevere, Gideon Toury and the German functional approach or Skopostheorie (Christiane Nord, Katharina Reiss, Hans Vermeer).

A framework that links the textual world with the modern translation approaches and is relevant for the advancement of poetry translation theory is developed by Mohamed Abdel-Maguid Barghout (Barghout, 1990). Though presented for the purpose of translation quality assessment, it contributes considerably to the purpose and consists of three main approaches. Significantly, as a general setting this framework is applied and further developed in this study.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (November)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 402 pp., 2 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Jānis Veckrācis (Author)

Jānis Veckrācis, Dr. philol., is Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Translation Studies of the Ventspils University College, Latvia. He is the author of three volumes of poetry and co-editor of the Latvian literary and history magazine Domuzīme.


Title: Linguistic and Translatological Aspects of Poetry Translation