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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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I. Modern theoretical background for studies of poetry translation


1.1 Development of literary translation theory

I conceive it a vulgar error in translating Poets, to affect being Fidus Interpres; let that care be with them who deal in matters of Fact, or matters, of Faith: but whosoever aims at it in Poetry, as he attempts what is not required, so he shall never perform what he attempts; for it is not his busines alone to translate Language into Language, but Poesie into Poesie; Poesie is of so subtile a spirit, that in pouring out of one Language into another, it will all evaporate; and if a new spirit be not added in the transfusion, there will remain nothing but a Caput mortuum […].

(John Denham (1656))

Translation Studies have seen a remarkable and rapid development in the 20th century. Up to the end of 1970s this academic discipline was attentively following the trends in linguistics where for a long time translation and translated texts were seen as an area of secondary interest. Today Translation Studies are able to set an independent agenda and have a strong position within the system of different areas of linguistic research. Though a new field of research, Translation Studies, when seen in a broad context, have experienced several significant turns. A general trend is movement towards integration of various approaches (cf. Snell-Hornby 2006). The ideas of this research discipline are relevant for the entire domain of language-related research, stretching beyond linguistics: literary theory, cultural studies, cognitive sciences...

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