Is There Any Purpose?

The Guardian‘s James Buchan has asked the question, in all seriousness, “Is there any purpose in translating poetry?” Which is akin to asking the following questions:

  • Is there any purpose in listening to someone outside my socioeconomic strata?
  • Is there any purpose in venturing outside Manhattan? After all, New York is the center of the universe.
  • Is there any purpose in sampling different food when I am comfortable with the bland meals I eat at home?
  • Is there any purpose in trying out another sexual position besides missionary?

(In case it wasn’t clear, the answer to all these questions is a resounding YES!)

(via Bookninja)


  1. The argument is that the thing that is lost in translation is THE thing. A poem is inextricable from its language. So when you translate a poem, what you get is a new poem, not the original one in any meaningful sense.

    Often that new poem is interesting and worthwhile on its own merits, though. So, sure, translate away. Just don’t think you’re eating sushi when it’s actually marzipan. Or, hm, raw fish pie.

  2. So true though. I mean, no one ever got anything out of Homer, Horace, Rilke, Neruda – certainly nothing from Pound, that translation-happy fool.

    I need a drink.

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