English R1B

Reading and Composition: Translating Poetry: Imitation and Interpretation

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
17 Spring 2018 Thow, Diana
Note new time: MW 11-12:30 Note new location: 305 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

A course reader will include a selection of essays on translation and writing workshop materials, in addition to excerpts from the following collections of poetry:  Dante Alighieri, The Inferno; The Poet’s Dante: Twentieth Century Responses; John Ashbery, Selected Poems; Collected French Translations; Don Mee Choi, Hardly War; Anxiety of Words: Contemporary Poetry by Korean Women; H.D., Collected Poems; Choruses from Iphegenia in Aulis; Langston Hughes, The Collected PoemsCuba Libre (Nicolàs Guillèn); Robert Lowell, Life Studies; Imitations; Ezra Pound, New Selected Poems and Translations; Kenneth Rexroth, The Complete Poems; Jack Spicer, After Lorca; Rosemarie Waldrop, Another Language: Selected Poems; The Book of Margins (Edmond Jabès)


Translating a poem is somewhat like solving a puzzle, but also somewhat like writing a poem.  If the rhyme, meter, and rhythm of a poem are rooted in the sounds of the language in which it was composed, how do translators decide to render these poetic qualities in a new language? What effects do these choices have on us as readers?  What happens when the translator in question is also a poet?  Is there a difference between a translation and an imitation?  In this class we will examine translation as a creative process that bears meaning from one language to another, but also as an act of interpretation by which the translator communicates their reading of a foreign text.  To help us navigate the puzzle of poetry in translation we will read foundational statements about poetic translation alongside influential 19th- and 20th-century translations of poetry into English. 

This is a writing-intensive course, with an emphasis on critical thinking and the process of revision.  Over the course of the semester we will read many poems in translation and perform close comparative analyses of various versions of the same translated passages.  In performing these comparative analyses we will think about translation as a model of close reading, a way of getting to know the text from the inside out. Since our focus in this class will be to hone our analytical reading and writing skills, translation will also provide us with a model of how to make interpretative claims about the meaning of a text in an engaged, creative, and productive way.  Students will be asked to complete short writing assignments as well as one midterm essay and one longer research paper.  Students will also work on their own creative translation-based projects throughout the semester as a counterpoint to the analytical writing skills developed in this course.

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