Sentinel Poetry (Online) Magazine Monthly...Since December 2002   ISSN 1479-425X
JUNE 2003, ISSUE #7



We believe that some of the most poignant poems
are local, national, regional and untranslatable…
…We believe that poetry of the highest order
is that which survives translation.
         - William Cookson and Peter Dale (Agenda, Vol.28 No 2)

The benefits of translation of a literary work from one language to another have a special place in the continuing internationalisation of cultures and ideas for the better nurturing of human minds. Where it has been possible to transpose sounds and meanings from one language to another, the experience of reading, enjoying and understanding such works of art has been as mentally and spiritually exhilarating as any successful formation of a normal social friendship with a person from another race and culture - a friendship that enriches through the unravelling of inexplicable similarities in what were initially perceived as differences. Differences which at the end of the day are differences.

The fact that many aspects of a literary work can never be translated by anyone to a level of unquestionable exactitude continues to present an obstacle to the appreciation of many great works to their fullness.

In "On The Art Of Translation" Hugo Friedrich states that "The art of translation will always have to cope with the reality of untranslatability from one language to the other" This statement would have been totally correct if Friedrich had qualified untranslatability, because translations are happening, they are helping people from different parts of the world enjoy fantastic writings that  they otherwise would never have had a chance to enjoy. However translations are still simply not always accurate or wholesome. This is clearly demonstrated on the web site of Matthew John Williams ( There is for example this translation of Ikemefuna's Song from Chinua Achebe's
Things Fall Apart:

Eze elina, elina!
Eze ilikwa ya
Ikwaba akwa oligholi
Ebe Danda nechi eze
Ebe Uzuzu nete egwu

King, do not eat, do not eat!
King, if you eat it
You will weep for the abomination
Where White Ant installs king
Where Dust dances to the drums

This translation is not credited to anyone. It is possible that it was done by Matthew Williams himself, allowing for the possibility that he had studied the Nigerian Igbo language from which the translation has been made into English.

The translation above tends to vindicate Sapir-Whorf's hypothesis outlined by Henry Schogt in his article, "Semantic Theory and Translation Theory" which suggests that communication between two people who do not share the same language is impossible, even if one of them has learnt the language of the other.