The Complementarity of Chinese Translation Methods of English Metrical Poetry

By Chongyue, Li | Translation & Interpreting, July 2010 | Go to article overview

The Complementarity of Chinese Translation Methods of English Metrical Poetry


Chongyue, Li, Translation & Interpreting


1. Introduction

The Chinese introduction of English metrical poetry dates back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1908), and various Chinese translation methods have emerged. Up to now, poetry translators still hold conflicting opinions about the Chinese translation method to render English metrical verse, and their attitude towards other translation methods is usually negative. Some translators even claim that early-emerging methods are becoming 'outdated' and will be replaced by late-emerging ones, just as what happens in biological evolution (Huang, 2001). However, the fact exists that Chinese renditions adopting different methods, including the so-called outdated ones, are popular with many readers, and that some translators still prefer the 'outdated' methods to render English metrical verse.

2. Disagreement of Chinese translators on the poetry translation standard

The focus of attention of most Chinese poetry translators is how to handle the paradox between form and spirit. From the treatment of form-spirit relationship, they fall into two schools: one school gives priority to formal resemblance, and the other one to spiritual resemblance.

Not a few poem translators in China (Cheng, 1923; Liu, 1996; Feng, 1978; Wang, 1962) put their major emphasis on conveying the original poem's spirit instead of the form. According to them, an ideal rendition of a poem should be a poem itself which transmits the original emotions, conveys the original content, and retains the original form, but in practice the exact reproduction of form is impossible, and the essence of poetry translation is the transference of spirit instead of form. Whether a translated poem resembles the original lies in conveying the spirit, not in transferring the form, and the first thing that must be preserved is the spirit and meaning. For the sake of the transfer of spirit, some sacrifice of the form is inevitable and justifiable, and pursuing the form instead of the spirit is attending to trifles while neglecting the essentials. A translation is only an approximation to the original poem, and the first and foremost concern is spiritual resemblance.

Other poem translators (Bian, Ye, Yuan & Chen, 1959; Huang, 1999; Jiang & Xu, 1996) think that form and spirit are inseparable, and formal resemblance is the premise for spiritual resemblance. Much concerned about the reproduction of literary form, prosody, and so on, they try to imitate or transplant the formal aspects of the original. They think that formal resemblance goes before spiritual resemblance and spiritual resemblance can be achieved only by formal resemblance, and there has never been a successful poetry translation that discards formal resemblance but pursues spiritual resemblance. They claim that the poetic form, from which we can judge the nationality, the time, the content orientation, and the style of a verse, is the most prominent feature of a poem; that the language used in metrical verse is quantified; and whether a translation is faithful to and to what extent it follows the original can be observed from its outer form. Huang (1999) proposed a system for the evaluation of the quality of poetry translation. The extent of formal resemblance of a translation to the original can be judged from four levels or perspectives, with each level containing three grades.

It is exactly such disagreement on poetry translation standard or guiding principle that leads to different Chinese translation methods of English metrical verse.

3. Chinese translation methods of English metrical poetry

Generally speaking, there are three Chinese translation methods of English metrical poetry: sinolisation, liberal translation and poetic form transplantation.

3.1 Sinolisation

Any translation from other languages into Chinese is, in a sense, some kind of sinolisation. Here, sinolisation is used in a narrower sense, referring to the practice of translating English metrical verse into Chinese traditional poetic forms, such as siyan, wuyan, qiyan, ciquti, (1) and other Chinese traditional forms.

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