Unit 7

In Russia, poetry is respected because it gets people killed. In Professor Ewington’s unit, we read two translations of “Requiem,” a poem by Anna Akhmatova, and discussed with our AT groups which translation we preferred. Akhmatova’s poem recounts the suffering felt nationwide under Stalin’s Terror. All members of my AT group preferred the Anderson translation over the Thomas translation. Published in 2004, the Anderson translation contains more modern language than Thomas’s 1976 version. I argue that it is also easier to identify the subject throughout most of Anderson’s piece. For example:

Anderson- The word fell, dropping like a stone

Thomas- Then fell the word of stone

I could not help but wonder which is more important in translation: conveying the message simply or preserving some of the feeling and language found in the original. It seems that Anderson believes the former and Thomas believes the latter. Thomas’s poem struck me as “more poetic,” which I thought was interesting. Perhaps it is because all of the poems that have been in my past curriculum have more closely resembled his translation.

During Dr. Robb’s unit, Professor Ewington presented alongside Professor Denham and Professor Jankovic during a faculty panel on translation. She reminded us that translations, just like conceptual schemes, are ubiquitous but invisible. Translators are faced with multiple dilemmas, such as those displayed below.

What can fidelity really do for the rendering of meaning?

Is harmony better than fidelity? Is it more important to capture the tone of the original, or should I rather translate word-for-word?

Why retranslate?

Is a work dead if there are no new translations?

Is translation a creative, interpretative, or imitative act?

Notes from Professor Ewington’s Discussion on Translation

Translators make multiple choices, but we rarely talk about and often even fail to recognize this fact. Translators often do not know the poet’s intention, for we all have different frames of reference.