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Linguistic and Translatological Aspects of Poetry Translation

Joseph Brodsky’s Texts in Russian, English and Latvian


Jānis Veckrācis

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.

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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...

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