THE ART OF POETRY IN
We believe that some of the most poignant poems
are local, national,
regional and untranslatable…
…We believe that poetry of the highest
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
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
(www.poetropical.co.uk). There is for example this translation of Ikemefuna's
Song from Chinua Achebe's Things Fall
Eze elina, elina!
Eze ilikwa ya
Ikwaba akwa oligholi
Ebe Danda nechi eze
Uzuzu nete egwu
King, do not eat, do not eat!
if you eat it
You will weep for the abomination
Where White Ant installs
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