January 16, 2007

Robert Bly's Eight Stages for Translations

Salvador Dali

Robert Bly’s approach to translation includes eight stages:

1. Creating a literal version of the poem.
2. Unpacking the meaning of certain foreign words and phrases, ensuring that these are understood properly.
3. Making the poem the best it can be in the English language.
4. Translating the poem into American English or spoken English: “the desperate living tone or fragrance that tells you a person now alive could have said the phrase”.
5. Ensuring that poem, changed as it is, is still true to the mood and of the original.
6. Paying attention to sound. (Bly recommends learning the poem by heart).
7. Ask a native speaker to assess your translation.
8. Providing the final draft and making final adjustments.

If you are writing a translation this week, would you add any other stages to Bly’s process? What stages would you suggest for writing an imitation or version of a foreign-language poem?

- 3 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Michael Wilson

    I like the way there is an anti-spam question that you have to answer in able to reply – lol.

    I did an imitation of Allen Ginsberg’s Paterson as I cannot speak any foreign language. Any attempt to translate foreign poetry always leads to writing down phonetic equivalents, it provides interesting results but probably isn’t what this exercise was all about!

    When translating Ginsberg’s Paterson I kept largely to the original poem re-wording various lines and phrases. I tried to give a direct and shocking approach as is intended with the original. I think the result is ok but it is currently far too similar to the original to really go anywhere independently, another draft may see improvements though :).


    17 Jan 2007, 17:12

  2. This sounds really interesting, Michael. I look forward to seeing it later. It sounds as if you wrote a kind of pastiche and that there is a battle of personalities going on. How can you put your own stamp on a poem generated by another poet’s personality and style?

    18 Jan 2007, 08:13

  3. Also, I just found this essay about translation by Don Paterson whose work we looked at last week. It’s on the New Statesman website: http://www.newstatesman.com/200610230044

    18 Jan 2007, 08:25

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