Translating poetic songs: An attempt at a functional account of strategies
University of Canterbury, New Zealand
Poems have often been turned into songs, notably as German Lieder. Classical singers use translations of these in several different ways: as cribs for themselves, in printed programmes for their audiences, as singable versions, etc. Since no single target-text is ideal for all of these purposes, the Skopostheorie of Hans J. Vermeer may help translators to match their strategy with the particular skopos (“goal or purpose”) of their translation. The author identifies five specific functions which a song-translation may serve, and proposes a range of five translation strategies intended to match these particular skopoi. A demonstration is given of how these strategies produce different English versions of a few lines from a Baudelaire poem.
This article concerns the translating of those poetic texts which have come to be used as “Art Songs”. Some well-known examples are the poems of Goethe which Schubert turned into Lieder and the Verlaine poems set to music by Debussy: these have been presented many times as songs to audiences of different languages. The texts’ authors intended them to stand alone as poems in their own right, and published them as words without music. Hence they can be distinguished from song-lyrics, which are texts written by song-writers or lyricists for the express purpose of being set to music. Although this distinction is not always a clear one—there exist gray areas and cross-overs—it can be made easily in most cases, particularly in European works after 1800. A song-lyric is born into the song genre; a poem, born as poetry, may later “acquire [ p. 92 ]dual nationality” by being used as a song-text, in a different part of that language’s cultural polysystem, and perhaps even in a different period (as for example when sonnets by John Donne were set to music by Benjamin Britten).
1992In other words. London and New York: Routledge 1992.
ed.1998Routledge encyclopedia of Translation Studies. London and New York: Routledge.
1970The interpretation of French song. London: Gollancz.
ed.1960The poem itself. New York: Holt, Rinehart.
1990 “Polysystem studies”, special issue of Poetics today 11:1.
1977The Fischer-Dieskau book of Lieder. New York: Knopf.
1989 “A new look at recital song translation”. Translation review 29. 31–37.
Holmes, James S.
1988Translated!: Papers on literary translation and translation Studies. Amsterdam: Rodopi.
Le Van, Timothy
1991Masters of the French Art Song. Metuchen NJ: Scarecrow.
[ p. 110 ]
1975Translating poetry: Seven strategies and a blueprint. Assen: Van Gorcum.
trans.1941The Odes of Horace. London: MacMillan
trans.1993The Flowers of Evil. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
1963.The ring of words: An anthology of song texts. New York: Norton.
1982Approaches to translation. Oxford: Pergamon.
1988A textbook of translation. New York: Prentice Hall.
Nida, Eugene A.
1964Toward a science of translating, with special reference to principles and procedures involved in Bible translating. Leiden: Brill.
1997Translating as a purposeful activity. Manchester: St Jerome.
1979Lieder line by line, and word for word. London: Duckworth.
1988The art of translating poetry. Pennsylvania and London: Pennsylvania State University.
Reiss, Katharina and Hans J. Vermeer
1984Grundlegung einer allgemeinen Translations-theorie. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
Stokes, Richard and Graham Johnson
1999A French song companion. Oxford: O.U.P.
Vermeer, Hans J.
1989 “Skopos and commission in translational action”. Lawrence Venuti, ed. The Translation Studies reader. London and New York: Routledge 2000: 221–232.