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The Value of a Good Literary Translator

Posted by Arc, 11th May 2015

In the literary world it can be difficult to distinguish between a good translator and a bad one. An 'ideal' translator would preferably be a poet or writer - possessing a poet's ear, and having the ability to look for the instinctual patterns which language so often presents. Both author and translator share common ground; a familiarity with the footprints of language.

Despite the author aching for perfection throughout the composition process, spending hundreds of hours sweating, sobbing and disposing of endless drafts - I think it's important to note the huge responsibly placed upon the translator. They are responsible for keeping intact the original spark and the vision that the author had intended. (How daunting!) The material must not be stifled but unravelled and enhanced, not converted but conducted. It must breathe.

Some translators may merely translate, where content is conveyed but little else. Others may take more risks, be daring with the material and some may interject their own poetic touches. Finding the correct match for a word or line which expresses not only the same meaning but similarly engages the emotions is no easy task. Translations can suffer from a serious case of flatness, drained entirely of all initial rawness. Some may feel like the expiry date in a relationship, tainted with diminished passion. It becomes a one-way relationship for the translator and requires tremendous effort, continual analysis and vast generosity. To some extent, the translator must now deliver for them both.

A good translator will take the time to consider the original rhythm, sound repetition, phrasing and cadences. Meaning will be carried though without being chipped, dented or fractured. They will tap into the mood and tone of a poem and adjust the atmosphere accordingly. A good translator will take no short-cuts.