Literary Translation – Part III

Published 4th November 2011
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Literary Translation – Part III

Of all the types of translation that are out there I’d argue that literary translation, be it novels, poems or short stories, is probably the one where it is the most important to constantly bear in mind the intention of the author. The message the text carries. But to also, simultaneously, bear in mind the emotive effect the language has on the reader. And that’s just for starters! For instance, when it comes to poetry, the translator has to bear in mind the style, syntax, rhythm, meaning, form. The list is endless.

Scott Esposito, a reviewer of literary translations, recognises the fact that the translator’s job in the field of literature is ‘an incredible balancing act. Wherein so many things are considered at once. A different language, a different culture, a different writer, a different public, a different set of editorial and publishing standards, just to name a few.’ (from his article ‘On reviewing translations’ on the website

But how can the translator seamlessly weave cultural context into the paragraphs without resorting to blocky footnotes? Or indeed shifting the focus of the text and rendering it too far from the original? This is one of those ‘contentious’ issues I mentioned in a previous post! This is a tricky question and one with as many answers as there are translators. It only takes one unsuitable adjective, badly rendered verb or inappropriate metaphor to jar the reading of a translation. No matter how high the standard of the surrounding text.

Should literature be translated?

Can/should literature even be translated? How free can/should a translation be? Should an author lay a heavy hand on the translated text or stand back and let a talented translator take the reins? I am very interested to hear what the readers of this blog think and how they feel about works of fiction, poetry and even philosophy in translation. (It has been argued that philosophy is nigh on impossible to translate…) Let me know what you think!

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