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Translation: Poetry vs. Prose

Translation: Poetry vs. Prose

marian.bechtel's picture

Caleb and I talked together about poetry vs. prose, translations, and Rilke's role in the novel. To start off, here is what our barometer statement would have been - I'm curious to see what people would say to it:

Poetry conveys a more raw experience than prose.

What led us to this statement was talking about how writing is a form a translation - it is a way of taking a personal experience that may not have even involved language at all, and translating it into words for another person outside the self to read and interpret. We then talked about what it means to "convey a raw experience." Is the "raw" experience the exact motions that occurred, bereft of emotion and bias, or is it simply the bare emotions that were involved in the experience, regardless of the exact motions that occurred? If we think about this question of "raw experience" in terms of writing then, we thought that prose is much more about conveying the motions of what happens while poetry is more about the bare emotions (with exceptions of course becasue there are so many different ways of writing prose and poetry).

A further question we asked then was, Is poetry more or less translated than prose? Poetry may use more metaphors, more indirect language to convey an experience, but then again, prose, in writing about the motions, leaves less room for interpretation. The metaphor we came up with to visualize our thoughts here better was imagining a room full of people, all who speak different languages. A word that none of these people know and is from none of their languages is dropped in the middle, and they are each left to interpret that word. Depending on their own language, culture, and experience, each person would interpret the meaning of that word differently. In this case, that word hasn't been translated at all, but left up to the interpretation of the individual. In many cases, poetry is like that word. You drop poetry in the middle of a room of different people, with different backgrounds and views, and because of its indirect language (the language that only the poet used to portray their "raw experience"), the meaning is left up to the interpretation of each individual. It is not run through any sieves of translation before being presented to people.

We thought perhaps this notion of poetry as less translated or perhaps conveying a "more raw experience" is why Rilke is used in the novel. It is ironic that the poetry is translated, when the idea we were getting at here is that peotry is less translation and more raw. But maybe, despite being translated, Rilke's poetry was a way of inserting a (translated) untranslated voice into the novel - a voice that we did not connect with our own biases for or against characters in the novel, but one that was dropped in the middle of us and in the middle of the other characters, to interpret individually and find meaning on our/their own.

I don't know exactly where I land on the barometer for this question...hence why we were going to give it to the rest of you to talk about further! Any thoughts on all this??

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this is a VERY layered description of poetry as the "(translated) untranslated voice." so my reaction is very layered, too....




I guess I’ll start with the barometer statement. It’s hard to place myself on that scale because even now as we’re talking about the slippery nature of language, there are, as you mention, many ways that we can envision what “poetry” looks like and what “prose” looks like. Some prose is intensely poetic, and some traditional verse is little more than exposition. That said, if this were class, I would have to take a stance, so I’m going to stand fairly far on the disagreeing side of the barometer.