In 1997 two of my poems (written in Swedish) were translated into Slovakian and published in a magazine called Revue Svetovej Literatúry. Being a writer and translator myself, but not able to understand a word of Slovakian, this was both exciting and kind of odd: after all, I couldn’t understand a word of the translations. And even today, Google Translate isn’t that good when it comes to stuff like poetry…
Poetry has to be one of the most difficult things to translate: so much hangs on the sound and rhythm of a word, as well as its actual meaning. I’ve quoted Edward Hirsch on the subject before:
Strictly speaking, total translation is impossible, since languages differ and each language carries its own complex of linguistic resources, historical and social values. This is especially true in poetry, the maximal of language. It is axiomatic that in a poem there is no exact equivalent for the valences of sound, the intonations and sequences of words, the rhythm of separate lines, the weight of accruing stanzas, the totality of musical effects.
Yet, it was a wonderful thing: that someone read my words and then wanted to interpret and translate them into their own language. It feels like a huge compliment, and I am very grateful to Milan Richter for translating my poems.
The translated poems are Naken (“Naked”) from my third collection of poetry, Den Tredje (The Third); and Dräparna (“The Killers”), from my second collection of poetry Honung (Honey).
Right now, I’m considering translating all my own poems that were originally written in Swedish into English, and I’m hoping to get that project finished sometime soon (if I finally get around to starting it!), but I’m under no illusions: it won’t be easy. It makes me think of another quote about translation, this one by Anne Michaels:
Translation is a kind of transubstantiation; one poem becomes another.
That sounds kind of exciting, actually.