Interpreting Poems, Interpreting Worlds – on Poetry Translation


Li Bai’s poems are appreciated and enjoyed by people all over the world, which shows the universal aspect of language and mind. However, as the physical being and environment of a poet are often very different from those of his/her translator(s), one can not but wonder if the translation can really be embodied with the same message as that the poet tries to transmit to his/her fellow countrymen. My investigation into six English translations of Li Bai’s poem Yue xia du zhuo (“Drinking Alone in the Moonlight”) reveals that the poetic images in these translations are quite different from what we Chinese perceive while reading his poem. Although theoretically poems are assumed untranslatable, translators have been practicing translating poems for centuries and readers enjoying reading translated poems and appreciating exotic cultures through them for hundreds of years. This motivates me to rethink about various issues related to language, mind and culture, especially those concerning the disparity of physical beings and environments between the poets and the translators, as well as their impacts upon the poets’ creation of the poems and the translators’ interpretations. The process of translation of poems is thus seen as one that goes well beyond text transfer and cultural adaptation. Instead, it is a process of interpreting the poet’s world view, namely, his/her comprehension of the relationship between his/her physical existence and his/her spiritual outlook.

Author Information
George Ho, Wenzao Ursuline University of Languages,Taiwan

Paper Information
Conference: NACAH2014
Stream: Humanities - Literature/Literary Studies*

This paper is part of the NACAH2014 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon