The Linguist


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This can only be exacerbated by the inherent properties of the genre. 2 One way to think of some of the more obvious properties of poetry, from a translator's perspective, is as a series of constraints which must be met as nearly as possible to produce an adequate translation. Arguably, any attempt to translate a poem accurately equates to an attempt to recognise and match all its constraints, which is to say everything that marks it out as a piece of poetry as opposed to a prose text. Primary constraints The formal elements of a poem, including such things as syllable count, rhyming pattern, alliteration, patterns of stress and intonation, stanza format, and perhaps even grammatical tense and mood, constitute primary constraints. 3 Different translators may wish to honour any or all such primary constraints. I will argue that there is no authoritative basis for the selection of formal constraints to be respected in the course of any given translation of a poem beyond the translator's idiosyncratic – albeit culturally informed – interpretative intuition. 22 The Linguist Vol/57 No/5 2018 FEATURES A translator must interpret a poem before a translation is even attempted, argues Steven Jefferson I n a moment of arch rascality, the literary theorist Stanley Fish had his religious poetry class attempt an interpretation of an alleged poem – in reality a list of authors' names he had written on the blackboard for his previous class. Their ingenious interpretations led him to conclude that interpretation "is not the art of construing but the art of constructing. Interpreters [i.e. readers] do not decode poems: they make [i.e. interpret] them." 1 This assessment has obvious implications for translators, as the interpretative reading of a poem takes place before the translation is begun. Lest this anecdote should appear to suggest that every reading of a poem is a unique and valid interpretation in its own right, Fish goes on to stress that although the reader creates the poem s/he does so with the help of "interpretive strategies that… have their source in a publicly available system of intelligibility". As a matter of convention, poetry elicits a creative response on the part of the reader and is, therefore, fundamentally open to multiple interpretations. This means that any translation of a poem is an interpretation by definition, but also that a translator's understanding of a poetic source text must, unavoidably, be interpretative. Poetry elicits a creative response on the part of the reader and is, therefore, fundamentally open to multiple interpretations Poetic concerns

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