Coleridge's Art of Translation

By Burwick, Frederick | Wordsworth Circle, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Coleridge's Art of Translation


Burwick, Frederick, Wordsworth Circle


With his English version of Friedrich Schiller's Wallenstein in 1800, Coleridge established himself as translator early in his career. Throughout the following years he continued in his role as interpreter and commentator on German literature and philosophy. Mays's edition of Coleridge's Poetical Works identified over a hundred translations among Coleridge's poems, half of them from the German. (1) Some of the translations are no more than a couple of lines, a brief distich or epigram. Some, like the The Piccolomini and The Death of Wallenstein, are several thousand lines. Counting lines is easy; counting poems, however, is difficult. Determining the boundaries separating a translation from a variation on a theme is complicated when there is more than one source, or when a borrowed poem is integrated into the poet's own work. Coleridge himself suggests that we distinguish what is "translated" from what is "transferred." He introduces this distinction between "translated" and "transferred" in talking about the importation of oriental tales into European literature during the period of the Crusades. (2) By "transferred" Coleridge means a re-telling, such as was presumed to be at work in the transmission of folk tales and ballads.

During his walking tour of Wales in 1794, Coleridge became interested in Welsh popular ballads, and recorded this "translation":

  If, while my Passion I impart,
  You deem my words untrue,
  O place your Hand upon my Heart--
  Feel how it throbs for You.
  Ah no!--reject the thoughtless Claim
  In pity to your Lover!
  That thrilling Touch would aid the flame
  It wishes to discover! (PW 1:124)

As Mays points out, "It is possible that C[oleridge] heard it sung [...]. But it is more likely that he worked from the translated version in Edward Jones's Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards" (1784; 2nd ed. 1794). In other words, the poem may not be translated but rather adapted from a translation. In terms of Coleridge's distinction, not "translated" but "transferred." In 1800, when Coleridge noted his intent to produce "Translations of the Volkslieder of all countries," including "Welsh poets" and a "Series of true heroic Ballads from Ossian," it was likely that he had in mind poetic retelling rather than strictly literal "word for word" renditions ("Memoranda for a History of English Poetry" 1800; SW & F; 1:108).

In translating Wallenstein, Coleridge claimed a strict fidelity to the original: "In the translation I endeavoured to render my Author literally wherever I was not prevented by absolute differences of idiom; but I am conscious, that in two or three short passages I have been guilty of dilating the original; and, from anxiety to give the full meaning, have weakened the force" (PW 3:205). Mays's dual-language edition shows that Coleridge's claim is more than his actual practice reveals, and rightly so. Indeed, the merit of Coleridge's translation is that he is not strictly bound to the original. Coleridge himself calls attention to the liberties he takes with Thekla's song (II.vi) and offers a prose translation as a footnote to his verse translation (PW 3:378-381).

When Coleridge claimed in the Biographia Literaria to translate "as nearly as possible, word for word," his purpose was to refute Abraham Cowley's advice against attempting a literal translation of a Pindaric ode: "If (says Cowley) a man should undertake to translate Pindar, word for word, it would be thought that one madman had translated another; as it may appear, when he, that understands not the original, reads he verbal traduction of him into Latin prose, than which nothing seems more raving." (3)

Upon hearing lines from Cowley's translation of Pindar's "Olympian Ode 2," Coleridge's audience agreed "that if the original were madder than this, it must be incurably mad." Coleridge then gave his own literal translation of the same lines, "and the impression was, that in the general movement of the periods, in the form of connections and transitions, and in the sober majesty of lofty sense, it appeared to them to approach more nearly, than any other poetry they had heard, to the style of our bible in the prophetic books. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Coleridge's Art of Translation
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.