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Problems in Translating Poetry

Sugeng Hariyanto (
(originally published in

ABSTRACT Basically, poetry translation should be semantic translation for a poem is typically rich with aesthetic and expressive values. The translator may face the linguistic, literary and aesthetic, and socio-cultural problems in translating it. The linguistic problems include the collocation and obscured syntactic structure. The aesthetic and literary problems are related with poetic structure, metaphorical expressions, and sounds. While the socio-cultural problems arise when the translator translates expressions containing the four major cultural categories: ideas, ecology, behavior, and products. This article shows some basic considerations on how to solve them.

Key words: translation, aesthetic values, expressive values, collocation, poetic structure, metaphorical expression, sounds.

Translating literary works is, perhaps, always more difficult than translating other types of text because literary works have specific values called the aesthetic and expressive values. The aesthetic function of the work shall emphasize the beauty of the words (diction), figurative language, metaphors, etc. While the expressive functions shall put forwards the writer's thought (or process of thought), emotion, etc. And the translator should try, at his best, to transfer these specific values into the target language (TL). As one genre of literature, poetry has something special compared to the others. In a poem, the beauty is not only achieved with the choice of words and figurative language like in novels and short stories, but also with the creation of rhythm, rhyme, meter, and specific expressions and structures that may not conform to the ones of the daily language. In short, the translation of poetry needs 'something more' than translating other genres of literature. This simple writing will present in brief some considerations in translating poetry.

SOME POSSIBLE PROBLEMS IN TRANSLATING A POEM About translating problems, Suryawinata (1982) finds that in general a literary translator faces linguistic, literary and aesthetic, and socio-cultural problems. In translating a poem, one of the literary genres, the translator are also likely to face similar problems.

location. like make a speech (not say a speech). Linguistic Problems In term of linguistic factors. This consists of words belonging to the same semantic field or be semantic opposite. the useful procedure is to find the logical subject first. air are exactly the same as tanah. for example: I find you in every woods and gardens. Something to remember is in different languages the collocates tend to be different. the translator must find and use its equivalent in the TL if it exists. The first step to deal with this problem is to find the deep (underlying) structure. etc. The clear examination can only be done if the translator understands the contextual meaning. Whatever the reason is. And these aesthetic values have no independent meaning. Besides. but different meaning. if the translator destroys the word choice. the collocates in this class may be the same for several languages. the structure of each phrase or clause should be examined clearly also. area. etc. according to the writer. word order. See this line. and the Indonesian equivalents are very similar. It may mean taman. The other class of collocation is pragmatic or vertical. Even the form is very much similar. and then the specific verb. he impairs and distorts the . Literary or Aesthetic Problems Aesthetic values or poetic truth in a poem are conveyed in word order and sounds. Different from the first class. and the sounds. The word "collocation' used here refers to words or word groups with which a word or words may typically combine. sea. laut. Hence. 2. garden is not always the same as kebun. hutan and kebun. the translator must examine first whether the meaning is the same. where there is an accepted collocation in the SL. The combination may by syntagmatic or horizontal.1. But a closer attention should also be paid to the collocation with similar form in the SL and TL. Land. If the two important elements are discovered. Hence. udara. According to Newmark (1981: 116). After that the translator can reconstruct the structure in the TL as closely as possible to the original structure. As it is known. Such kinds of structures may be intentionally written in a poem as a part of the expressive function of the text. the rest will fall into place. as well as in cognitive sense (logic). In addition. The words woods and garden are collocates. at least there are two points to consider: collocation and obscured (non-standard) syntactical structures. but they are correlative with the various types of meaning in the text. run a meeting (not do a meeting). The second point to consider in term of linguistic matters is obscured (non-standard) syntactic structures. such structures should be rendered as closely as possible. The Indonesian phrase for run a meeting is not melarikan rapat but mengadakan rapat. the word woods in US is not exactly the same as hutan in Indonesia in term of the characteristics.

The aesthetic values. metaphor. and sound. rhythm. near the tale of the masts and riggings. the shape and the balance of individual sentences in each line. Delicacy and gentleness. maintaining the original structure of the poem may mean maintaining the original structure of each sentence. assonance. and taste. Poetic Structure The first factor is structure. 1990: 4) 1. touch.b This time there's no one looking for love among the sheds. the problems in translating a poem is how to retain the aesthetic values in the TL text. Try to compare which one is better? (Do not consider the semantic aspect for this stage. 1990: 13) . The simple examples below show one stanza of Chairil Anwar's Senja di Pelabuhan Kecil and its two translations: the first is done by Boen S. (Kasbolah. onomatopoeia. rumah tua. So. it does not have to relate directly to the sentential structures or grammar of a language. for instance. Metaphor is related to visual images created with combinations of words. While sound is anything connected with sound cultivation including rhyme. Thus. will be ruined if the translator provides crude alliterations for the original carefully-composed alliterations. 2.1. even in fact it is very much affected by the sentential structure.a Ini kali tidak ada yang mencari cinta di antara gudang.) 1. menghembus diri dalam mempercaya mau berpaut (Kasbolah. A translator cannot ignore any of them although he may order them depending on the nature of the poem translated. which may also evoke sound. etc. So. pada cerita tiang serta temali. Oemarjati and the last is by Burton Raffel. Poetic structure includes the plan of the original poem as a of the original poem. smell. the shape and the balance of individual sentence or of each line. old houses. kapal. according to Newmark (1981: 65) are dependent on the structure (or poetic structure). perahu tidak berlaut. Ships (and) boats (that) have not gone to sea are puffing themselves (out) in the believe (they) will be united. It is important to note that structure meant here is the plan of the poem as a whole.

a prau without water puff and blows. which is in many cases figurative but not metaphorical. the better we can catch the importance of maintaining the structure as an attempt to maintain the beauty of the poem. And finally we may agree that the second translation is more successfully in maintaining the poetic structure. The first procedure is reproducing the same image in the TL if the image has comparable . is not the same as metaphor meant by Newmark. and all figurative languages.2. thinking there's something it can catch (Kasbolah. it is advisable to understand the following terms: object. and taste images.1. in the make-believe of poles and ropes. touch. the sense is (a) eliminate. the writer does not use the term metaphor in the sub-heading since it has different meaning for some people. for example. direct comparisons without the words "like' and "as if". image. 1990: 12) The translations of the first line both are good in the sense that they put the adverb. mean any constructions evoking visual. And finally. Metaphorical Expressions Metaphorical expressions. as the second factor. is the item which is described by the metaphor. In the expression "rooting out the faults". called also topic. Metaphor here means the word(s) taken from the image. metonym refers to one-word image which replace the object. A boat. the object is 'faults'. The further we read the lines. It is also called vehicle. What is generally known as (traditional) metaphor. "this time" first. To understand the meaning of metaphor as proposed by Newmark. It is figurative and a metonym. metaphor.c This time no one's looking for love between the sheds. and metonym. and the metaphor is 'rooting out'. the old house. Image refers to the item in terms of which the object is described. sense. (b) with tremendous effort. Object. Newmark (1981: 88-91) proposes seven procedures to translate metaphors in general. the traditional metaphors. refers to the point of similarity between aspects of the objects and the image. The expression 'the seven seas' referring 'the whole world' is not metaphorical. 2. but the translation of the main clause in the second translation is better for it tries to maintain the "poetic structure" of the line. the image is 'rooting out weeds'. The next term. Intentionally. for example. sounds. sense.

e. is done by John. If the expressions are very expressive in term of the originality. ray of hope. sense. is a universal expression for every culture sees the sun as the source of light. which literally means "menunda (setiap jawab)". for example. The English metaphor 'my life hangs on a thread'. are not considered appropriate for poetry translation. is written by Sapardi Djoko Damono and the translation in 2. Therefore. Engkaulah matahariku. here the translator reproduces the same image in the TL.b. ricik air yang membuat setiap jawaban tertunda (McGlynn. retaining the image in the SL. can be translated into Indonesian 'hidupku di ujung tanduk'. 2. matahari yang berteduh di bawah bunga-bunga. and translating metaphor with some metaphors combined with sense. with this procedure. Honolulu inikah ketentraman? Sebuah hutan kecil: jalan setapak yang berbelit. and the metaphor. See the example below. there are two kinds of expressions: universal and culturally-bound expressions. can be translated into 'hidupku bagai tergantung pada sehelai benang'. source of life. The next is translating a metaphor by simile. 1990: 100) . the expression can be simply transferred into 'You are my sun'. And the rest of the procedures. H. the expressions should be kept as close as possible to the original. This procedure can be used to modify any type of metaphor. in terms of object. The 'my life hangs on a thread'. This procedure is usually used for oneword metaphor. The poem in 2. conversing metaphor into sense. translating metaphor (or simile) into simile plus sense. source of energy.g. Universal expressions are the ones which consist of words having the same semantic field with that of most cultures in the world. image.a Taman Jepang. The expression "ricik air yang membuat setiap jawaban tertunda" is modified slightly. deleting unimportant metaphor. but does not transfer it directly. The second procedure is replacing images in the SL with a standard TL image within the constraints of TL cultures. The expression "matahari yang berteduh di bawah bunga-bunga" can be transferred directly. The possible question arising now is 'how far a translator can modify the author's metaphorical expressions?' It depends on the importance and expressiveness. Ray of hope can be simply translated into sinar harap. The metaphor "membuat (jawaban) tertunda" is changed into "postponing (each and every answer)". McGlynn. And then what about the culturally-bound metaphors or expressions? As it is known. with this procedure.frequency and currency in the appropriate register.a.

if the translation is faced with the condition where he should sacrifice one of the three factors. alliteration or rhyme) is likely to recede in importance -.g. Sound The last of literary or aesthetic factors is sound. the translator cannot ignore the sound factor. he should sacrifice the sound.b Japanese Garden. assonance. structure. the sun resting beneath the flowers. Can a translator ignore the rhyme and assonance? In this case. whilst of the three aesthetic factors. Honolulu is this peace? A small glen: a winding footpath. semantic truth is cardinal [meaning is not more or less important. See the following part of a poem written by Effendi Kadarisman (example 3.2. and sound. the translator should balance where the beauty of a poem really lies. A translator must try to maintain them in the translation.a).3. it is important!]. folks Poems are serious jokes Just say those nonsense words And sing with the mocking birds . On the other hand. As stated before. If the beauty lies more on the sounds rather than on the meaning (semantic). 1990: 101) 2. (McGlynn. sound (e. rhythm. he has to maintain the two.a Are you the bubble-bubble gum? Are you the jumble-jumble hum? Are you the rumble-rumble drum? Well. "In a significant text.rhyme is perhaps the most likely factor to 'give' . reproducing line is sometimes doubly so. sound is anything connected with sound cultivation including rhyme. rippling water postponing each and every answer.rhyming is difficult and artificial enough in one language. onomatopoeia. etc. As Newmark (1981: 67) further states. 3." In short. metaphor.

naturalization. The result is 'loan word'.b In your body. reduction. he should try to maintain them first in the TL before he decides not to transfer the sound into the TL. and ecology (Said. In literal translation. classifier. a translator does unit-to-unit translation. namely: ideas. he . or sentences containing word(s) related to the four major cultural categories. note.b. addition. The translation unit may range from word to larger units such as phrase or clause. behavior. The "ideas" includes belief. I searched for certainty but what's left was only memory Whispers soon faded away Nothing's noted. a translator may apply one or some of the procedures: Literal translation. Socio-cultural Problems Words or expressions that contain culturally-bound word(s) create certain problems. clauses. In example 4. In translating culturally-bound expressions. 1994: 39). This means he should try to keep the beauty of the sound where possible. He applies 'transference procedure' if he converts the SL word directly into TL word by adjusting the alphabets (writing system) only. couplets. description equivalent. 1993: 200) 4.a Dalam tubuhmu kucari kepastian tapi yang tertinggal hanya kenangan Bisikan-bisikan segera fana Tak sedikit pun tercatat. plains. cultural equivalent. deletion. values. the translator tries to maintain the rhyme but still he puts meaning in the first consideration. When he does not only adjust the alphabets. product. "products" includes art. componential analysis. meski hanya kata-kata (Rosidi. like in other expressions. but also adjust it into the normal pronunciation of TL word. winds. and institution. The socio-cultural problems exist in the phrases. and synonymy. transference.In other cases where sounds is not such important. glosses. 4. fauna. Hariyanto) 3. music. and artifacts. and "ecology" includes flora. functional equivalent. and weather. even words only (translation. "behavior" includes customs or habits.

It is understood that "summer" is very beautiful for temperate countries. These different procedures may be used at the same time.28) and compare it with Newmark (1981: 30-32)). It depends on the situation. one-to-three. often one-to-two. If the expression is very important seen from the whole meaning of the poem and very expressive seen from the originality of the expression. And summer's lease hath all too short a date. he uses synonymy. In componential analysis procedure. the translator splits up a lexical unit into its sense components. The writer does not assert that one procedure is superior to the others.applies naturalization. In addition. Considering the aesthetic and expressive functions a poem is carrying. 5. Sometimes a translator provides a generic or general or superordinate term for a TL word and the result in the TL is called classifier. neutralize or generalize the SL word to result 'functional equivalents'. the translator may find the cultural equivalent word of the SL or.a Shall I compare thee with a summer's day? Thou are more lovely and more temperate Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May. Moreover. for example. a translator should try to find the cultural equivalent or the nearest equivalent (synonym) first before trying the other procedures See the first stanza of Shakespeare's Sonnet XVIII below. consider each expression carefully in term of the importance and expressiveness. see Said (1994: 25 . and it implies distinguished beauty. or -more translation. When he modifies the SL word with description of form in the TL. once again. a translator sometimes adds some information. 1981: 50). The current example is the Indonesian word "mal" as the naturalization of the English word "mall". whether he puts it in a bracket or in other clause or even footnote. But the cultural equivalents or near equivalent of "summer" does not mean so for Indonesia. there is no reason not to supply the cultural or near equivalent in the TL (See Newmark. (For further discussion and examples of the procedures. . the result is description equivalent. or even deletes unimportant SL words in the translation to smooth the result for the reader. And to translate any expression containing such words. Such a procedure is called couplets. if he cannot find one. the translator should. And when he just supplies the near TL equivalent for the SL word.

Peter.. and trans. 1982. Reaske. 1990. are blossoming everywhere in England. the reader will learn the beauty pictured with "summer" or "musim panas" when he notices that the poem was written by an Englishman. Associated University Press. Unpublished Thesis. Unpublished paper. ed. Peter. Translation Studies. NY: Mathuen & Co. Edinburgh: The English Universities Press Ltd. Translation: Literary and Philosophical Perspectives. Meanwhile.. Jakarta: PT. BIBLIOGRAPHY Aminuddin. Newmark. Jakarta: Lontar Foundation. 1980. 1993. 1969. ed. William. Analisis dan Evaluasi terhadap Terjemahan Novel Sastra the Advanture of Huckelbery Finn dari Bahasa Inggris ke Bahasa Indonesia. Pengembangan Penelitian Kualitatif dalam Bidang Bahasa dan Sastra. Unpublished Dissertation. DEPDIKBUD. Rosidi. the rice fields crack all over.In the above case the translator does not have any choice. A. Linguistics and Literature: a Translation Analysis of "Senja di Pelabuhan Kecil. Savory. Teach Yourself Books: Translating. the Indonesian "musim panas" means agony of life where irrigation channels are dry. How to Analyze Poetry.. Oxford: Pergamon Press. Yogyakarta: Penerbit Kanisius. Ian. Wolfram. 1980. Suryawinata. especially the sweet-scented roses. ed. Mashadi. IKIP Malang. Let the reader learn and understand what a certain word means for others in the other part of the globe. Approaches to Translation. Cristopher C. Terjemahan: Pengantar Teori dan Praktek. Dunia Pustaka Jaya. Frawley. Terkenang Topeng Cirebon. Widyamartaya. Later. Ajip. Suryawinata. Seni Menerjemahkan. Socio-cultural Problems in the Translation of Indonesian Poems into English (A Case Study on "On Foreign Shores"). he has to supply the cultural equivalent in the TL. Oxford: Pergamon Press. Monarch Press. The Art of Translation. McGlynn. 1989. 1990. Kasbolah. John H. Malang: YA3 Bassnett-McGuire. Finlay. 1981. 1988. 1982. Wills. Z. Kasihani. however. The Science of Translation. 1971. Newmark. Ltd. Textbook of Translation. 1953. 1990. Said. F. and the dust scatters everywhere.. Jakarta: P2LPTK. London: Jonathan Cape Ltd. Gunter Narr Verlag Tubingen . Z. IKIP Malang. Theodore. 1994. "Summer's day" is a day when the sun shines brightly and the flowers. 1989. On Foreign Shores.