Poetry is said to be the hardest thing to translate.
I definitely agree and I would never even attempt to translate poetry, there are too many elements to preserve to avoid the famous “lost in translation”. However, I believe poetry is also a magnificent tool to approach a new language and culture.
When I was 13, I decided I would teach myself Spanish. After a while, the books for ELE learners started to bore me. I wanted to read the real thing, something that was conceived not for someone struggling with the subjuntivo but for native Spanish speakers. So, I turned to poetry. I had the original and the translation side by side, and even though there wasn’t a perfect correspondence between the two, I got to learn an immense array of words. Flowers, plants, natural phenomena, adjectives…I had been lucky enough to choose a very straightforward poet as my personal Virgil (oh look, another poet!) into the world of Spanish, Pablo Neruda. His language is simple, but never plain nor trivial. Only now I begin to appreciate the struggle of a translator trying to convey such minimalist beauty into another language.
Thing is, language and concepts have been shaped through poetry, throughout the history. Think of Homer (ok, he did not exist, but the Iliad was my favourite in high school), of Dante for my own native language, of Shakespeare for English, of Pushkin in Russian…the list could go on and on. They all introduced new words into their mother tongues and skillfully molded the language to express their deepest, inner thoughts, which reflected the spirit of a whole nation.
Most of these feelings and emotions and thoughts, however, happen to be universal. That’s the wonder of poetry: it is personal and intimate, yet it speaks to everyone. It might be complex and abstract and hard to translate, but it will find its way to resonate with someone who is open to listen. Poetry never gets old. Poetry is there for you, ready to express any of your moods, because the author may have had something in mind when writing it, but then what he or she wrote is there to be interpreted through your own personal lens.
So don’t believe those who say poetry is boring, obscure, too culture-bound, too hard to decipher. Poetry will open up for you a universe of emotions and you will soon realise that, to quote a popular hashtag on Twitter, life with poetry is so much better.
Since today is World Poetry Day, I will leave you with an extremely famous Spanish poem about what poetry is. I am sure you all have a personal answer to this question…
¿Qué es poesía?, dices mientras clavas
en mi pupila tu pupila azul.
¡Qué es poesía! ¿Y tú me lo preguntas?
Poesía eres tú.
(Gustavo Adolfo Becquer)
Please feel free to share a poem in the comments & share the poetic love!
(Photo Credits: Pascal Maramis)