On M. Sakran’s blog of and about poetry and poetry relate things there are bilingual poems. These are poems written in English and in Spanish.
M. Sakran is not bilingual. M. Sakran writes the poems in English and then translates them into Spanish using, generally, an English/Spanish dictionary and by looking up verb conjugations.
Translating poems poses some difficulties which are the subject of this essay.
In translating anything, there are the two sides of literal translating and translating something so that the meaning is persevered.
When translating something literally, effort is taken to write exactly what was written, but in another language. The idea is to translate something as close as possible to word for word, even if the meaning or sound does not make sense in the new language.
In translating so the meaning is persevered, the idea is to get the same message across, even if it means that the exact words are changed.
The dichotomy between these two ideas can pose a difficulty. Which is more preserving of the original: a literal translation or a meaning translation? A person could make an argument for both sides. A poet who translates their own poems will have to make a decision on which way they will lean. (For the translated poems on this blog, M. Sakran generally tried to preserve a literal translation when possible, but changed the words to reflect the meaning, if an exact match for words could not be found, or to make the poem sound correct in Spanish, when it was necessary).
In translating poems specifically, there are additional difficulties.
First, words that rhyme in one language might not rhyme in another. For example, love and dove rhyme in English. They don’t however rhyme in Spanish (love = amor (among other possible translations), dove = paloma). This can make a translated poem sound different from the original.
Second, words can have different syllable counts in different languages. Using one of the words above, dove has one syllable in English, but three in Spanish. This can change the meter and sound of a poem.
Third, in some languages word order is changed. For example, in English an adjective comes before a noun. In other languages, the noun comes before the adjective. This can change the sound of a poem.
Fourth, some poems rely on wordplay for effect. For example, rain and rein sound the same in English. This might be used for effect in a poem. In Spanish though, rain is lluvia as a noun, but rein is rienda. These words don’t sound the same. This can affect the presentation of a poem.
Fifth, word counts can change in a translation. If a poet is translating for meaning, it can take more or less words to get an idea across. This can change the form of a poem.
Sixth, for some words there is not a translation in another language. There are words in some languages that can’t be translated with just one word in another language. They are too complex to find one word to match the meaning. This can pose a difficulty for a poet looking to translate a poem.
Translating poems can be a good thing to do. It can help the poet learn a new language, it can teach a poet more about word usage, and it can expand the audience a poet has for their work. Given this though, the difficulties above can make a translated poem different from the original. A poet should consider this as they translate the poems they write.