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...
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 JOHN WOODSWORTH
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"Meaning & musicality:
striking a balance in poetry translation"
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Paper presented at the
Fifth Interdisciplinary Conference
entitled
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The "EYE / I"
in Canadian research
and Canadian art

sponsored by the Graduate Students Association of the University of Ottawa, 15-17 February 2002
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(page updated 18 June 2010)
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"Meaning & musicality: 
striking a balance in poetry translation"


 Summary

The paper approaches the question of meaning versus musicality through a not-entirely-facetious exploration of the possibilities suggested by the theme of the whole Fifth Interdisciplinary Conference, namely: The Eye / I in Canadian research and Canadian art.  An initial labyrinth of word-play (which Graphic #1 below may help you make sense of as you listen) eventually leads to the application of the "EYE / I" theme to the phenomenon of poetry translation, in this case between Russian and English. 

In adopting the genre of metred, rhyming poetry (as opposed to 'free verse'), the poet is making a conscious decision to let her expression, her choice of words, be governed not by semantic considerations alone but by the sounds, syllables and stress-patterns they happen to contain.  This might be termed the 'musical' (or 'artistic') dimension of the poem, which in this particular genre is as integral to the poem as its semantic meaning.

In translating such poetry between languages there is an inevitable trade-off between the two criteria, and the balance in many cases seems to be weighted in favour of meaning and against musicality.  But if the poetic translator is to be faithful to the whole range of dimensions of the original, he must apply the same principles governing word-selection to the translation as the poet applied to the original work and choose his words with as much respect to their sounds, syllabic content and relation to other words in the poem as to their semantic signification; otherwise his translation will be only partial and unfaithful to the original genre.  (Graphic #2 summarises the key points of the discussion.)

Given the discrepancy in the meaning-musicality relationship from language to language (very rarely do bilingual semantic equivalents share the same syllabic, stress and rhyming properties), the poetic translator's challenge is to strike a just balance, so that neither dimension suffers undue loss in the translation.  The paper will be accompanied by examples of translation of an Anna Akhmatova poem into English (the overhead slides shown during the presentation are reproduced below for illustration purposes only -- see Graphics ##3-6).

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Unfortunately, this sound file is no longer available.  Parts of this talk, however, have been incorporated into another presentation by JW, entitled "The poetry of music & the music of the spoken word -- a poet-translator's view", given for the Alumni Writers' Group at the University of Ottawa, 24/4/06.
Please click here for a video recording of that presentation in Quick Time format.  For comparative translations of one of Anna Akhmatova's poems, see below. 

Note 18/6/2010: This paper has now been posted on-line on JW's Academia web-page at the following address:
http://uottawa.academia.edu/JohnWoodsworth/Papers

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Graphic #1: 'EYE / I' WORD-PLAY
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Graphic #2: KEY PHRASES FROM DISCUSSION
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Graphic #3: ORIGINAL POEM "TVORCHESTVO"
by Anna Akhmatova
(in Russian and a literal English translation)
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Graphic #4: TRANSLATIONS OF POEM
by McKane & Hemschemeyer
(photo-image for illustration purposes only)
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McKane translation in: Selected poems - Anna Akhmatova, trans. Richard McKane (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK: Bloodaxe, 1989), p. 139; //  Hemschemeyer translation in: The complete poems of Anna Akhmatova, trans. Judith Hemschemeyer (Somerville, Mass., USA: Zephyr Press, 1990), p. 155.



 
 
 
 
 
 

Graphic #5: TRANSLATIONS OF POEM
by Davies, Arndt & Roy
(photo-image for illustration purposes only)
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Davies translation in: Jessie Davies, Anna of all the Russias (Liverpool: Lincoln Davies, 1988), p. 69 //Arndt translation in: Selected poems - Anna Akhmatova, ed. & trans. Walter Arndt (Ann Arbor, USA: Ardis, 1976), p. 95 //  Roy translation in: Poems - Anna Akhmatova (Moscow: Raduga, 1988), p. 151.


Graphic #6: TRANSLATIONS OF POEM
by John Woodsworth
(in literal prose and in verse)
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Woodsworth translation on site (click here).
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For John Woodsworth's translations of several other Anna Akhmatova poems please click here.
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...
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"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you... 
Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."

-- John 14:27
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E-mail : <jw[at ]kanadacha.ca>
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