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Poetry, (Un)Translatability, and World Literature

Poetry, (Un)Translatability, and World Literature

(p.213) Chapter 10 Poetry, (Un)Translatability, and World Literature
Poetry in a Global Age
Jahan Ramazani
University of Chicago Press

Questions of translatability have figured prominently in recent debates over world literature. On the one hand, David Damrosch emphasizes translatability in defining world literature as “writing that gains in translation.” On the other hand, Emily Apter and other critics dispute the world literature paradigm by arguing that certain kinds of words are untranslatable. Seeking to develop a more nuanced position than either the translation-friendly or the hard untranslatability thesis, this chapter focuses on poetry to disaggregate the facets of translatability and untranslatability. Exploring a ghazal of Rumi’s, it examines translation’s losses of what Ezra Pound called poetry’s melopœia and logopœia. But it also looks closely at a ghazal by Simin Behbahani to check polemical arguments about poetry’s “untranslatability,” showing how phanopœia and other aspects of lyric can survive in translation. Other works examined include a sound-centered poem by Christian Morgenstern in German, a syntax-stretching ode by Horace in Latin, a Hmong-English code-switching poem by Mai Der Vang, a globe-trotting poem by T. S. Eliot in French, and a translation-focused ghazal by Agha Shahid Ali in English about Arabic. The chapter concludes that “world literature” must incorporate comparative literary specificity to be adequate to varieties of lyric poetry.

Keywords:   lyric, poetry and translation, untranslatability, world literature, ghazal, Rumi, Simin Behbahani, T. S. Eliot, Agha Shahid Ali, Ezra Pound

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