Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Poetry Translation: An Intertextuality Approach

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Poetry Translation: An Intertextuality Approach

Article excerpt


The theory of intertextuality holds that symbols in any works are all related with other symbols not appearing in the present works. In light of intertextuality, translation process can be regarded as a cross-language intertextual activity. Poetry is a valuable legacy of a certain culture, in which intertextual signals are pervasive. It is imperative that intertextuality be introduced into poetry translation. In the present paper, the manifestation of intertextuality in poetry is concentrated on from two aspects of rhetorical intertextuality and non-rhetorical intertextuality. Finally, the translation techniques are explored in details.

Key words: Intertextuality; Poetry translation; Rhetorical intertextuality; Non-rhetorical intertextuality; Translation techniques

Wu, J., & He, Q. (2014). Poetry Translation: An Intertextuality Approach. Studies in Literature and Language, 9(1), 43-50. Available from: DOI:

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The end of 1960's witnessed the western society stepping into the postindustrial stage. The entire western cultures evolved from the classical stage into the modern stage, and then the so-called "post-modern" stage. In such a background, the western literary theory began to gradually transit from Structuralism to Post-Structuralism. 1970's saw the transition extensively entering the whole areas of the humanities. As a trend of theoretical thought or a way of thinking, Post-structuralism has so far profoundly exerted great influence on the western academy and thought, among which the theory of intertextuality boasts itself as a prominent one.


The origin of intertextuality can be traced to the theory of Saussure, Bakhtin and T. S. Eliot, Julia Kristeva, the French semioticist, first puts forward the term intertextuality. She defined the term as the following:

Horizontal axis (subject-addressee) and vertical axis (text- context) coincide, bringing to light an important fact: each word (text) is an intersection of word (texts) where at least one other word (text) can be read. In Bakhtin's work, these two axes, which he calls dialogue and ambivalence, are not clearly distinguished. Yet, what appears as a lack of rigour is in fact an insight first introduced into literary theory by Bakhtin: any text is constructed as a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another. The notion of intertextuality replaces that of intersubjectivity, and poetic language is read as at least double. (Allen, 2000, 39)

She defines the dynamic literary word in terms of a horizontal dimension and a vertical dimension. In the former "the word in the text belongs to both writing subject and addressee"; in the latter "the word in the text is oriented toward an anterior or synchronic literary corpus" (Allen, 2000, p.39).

Kristeva stresses that intertextuality consists in not only the syntagmatic relations between texts in space but also the paradigmatic relations between the present text and the previous text in time. It manifests the unification not only between space and time but also between diachronic relationship and synchronic one.

The theory holds that symbols in any works are all related with other symbols not appearing in the present works, that any text interweaves with other texts and that every text is the refraction of other texts. It is the absorption and transformation of other texts. They consult each other, involve each other, forming an opening network with limitless potentiality, which forms both an enormous radiating system of the text in the past, at present and in the future and an evolving process of literary symbols.

Literary works are constructed by codes, forms and systems deposited by previous works. The codes, forms and systems of culture as well as of other art forms function as guidance to the meaning of a literary work. …

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