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This article is taken from PN Review 132, Volume 26 Number 4, March - April 2000.

Two Modes of Translation Clive Wilmer

According to Dryden, there are three types of translation. He calls them 'metaphrase' (meaning literal translation), 'paraphrase', and 'imitation' (meaning free variation, as in Pope's Imitations of Horace). I find this a useful distinction, so long as the types are understood to be broad, theoretical categories. In practice there is likely to be a good deal of overlap between them, and anyone who has worked on a long translation project will know that no two poems yield to the same method. It is obvious that some poems and poets yield more readily than others. Everyone seems to agree, for example, that Zbigniew Herbert in English is still as tremendous a poet as his compatriots tell us he is, though no doubt there are losses. The same is not true of the poems of Paul Celan (though personally I find Michael Hamburger's versions moving). They involve an element of paraphrase, by which I mean that Hamburger has sought out English analogies for his author's peculiar kind of verbal reflexiveness. One should also remember that there are different motives for translation and different goals to aim at. All translation is partial. No translation is perfect. But once these axioms are recognised, the way is open to the special satisfactions of the art. For the inescapable imperfections lead to unique perspectives and points of emphasis. These do not supplant the original poem, but they can have a fascination of their own. At any rate, since they cannot be avoided, it is surely ...


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