Saturday, January 31, 2009

A. E. Stallings on rhyme

Here's an energetic manifesto about rhyme
by a favorite poet of mine!

(A. E. Stallings, that is.)

The best bit:

"Translators who translate poems that rhyme into poems that don’t rhyme solely because they claim keeping the rhyme is impossible without doing violence to the poem have done violence to the poem. They are also lazy."

I would not say they are lazy, but it would just bore me to translate rhymed verse as unrhymed verse.


Joseph Hutchison said...

My only objection to Ms. Stallings's statement is that rhyme has different effects in different languages, and preserving rhyme may in fact do worse violence to other dimensions of the poem, especially when one is attempting to bring over a poem in an end-vowel rich Romance language into English. I suppose one could argue that translation always does violence to the original—except that the original always remains unmarred and available if ever the reader gets around to learning the language in which it was written.

Donald Brown said...

I agree translation always "does violence" -- so I don't see how one can justify one form of violence over another except by what "gives pleasure." I don't know how many times I've heard complaints of rhymed translations of Goethe's Faust because the rhymes in English sound so "juvenile." To render rhyme in English is risky, esp. as Hutchison says, when the original language is much richer with rhymes than English. A poet who chooses to rhyme in their native tongue already knows that there is something untranslatable happening. Which I respect. Since every poem is also a meditation on the language one speaks, that's between the poet and the language. The translator can only attempt to create a poem that dialogues with the new language, and that may require choices that do away with rhyme.

I don't think "lazy" has anything to do with it, because that asks us to believe that, if you work harder, you'll find a successful rhyme in the new language that conveys the rhyme in the original.

Andrew Shields said...

Well, like I said, when I translate a rhymed poem I like to produce a rhymed poem in the translation just because I am not really interested in producing an unrhymed one.

One poet I have translated, Ulrike Draesner, told me that one of the first people to translate her poems was Glyn Maxwell, who turned her unrhymed free verse into rhymed metrical quatrains!

Jonathan said...

Yes, but only if the use of rhyme is as rigorous and effective as in the original. No padding allowed. No cutting corners with half-rhymes and off-rhymes. No half-hearted approximations or mere gestures in the direction of rhyme. No rhymes that introduce extraneous elements into the translation. Just rhyming is what is lazy. See Millay's Baudelaire for an example.

J.H. Stotts said...

whatever it takes to make a good poem in english, translation is direct inspiration (breathing in) of the original, which then shapes the expiration. not being changed by the breath is what's lazy.