What is, then, your description of a good translator?

That depends on what kind of translation is involved. Let us suppose that we are not talking about the literal translator nor about the free adapter, but of the translator who wishes to bring across to another language, as well as he can, the entire poem as an entity with as much impact in his own language as that which the poem makes in the original language. He must then, I believe, try to be as faithful as he can to the aura and intent of the poet. If the poet has more talent than he (as is often the case), he should keep as close as he can to the original work, congruent with a transposition that is nothing less than the best possible English.

If the poem is written in meter, I strongly believe that it should be translated in an analogous meter, for rhythm is an essential part of meaning; they cannot be separated. The problem is that very few translators of poetry are expert in traditional metrical techniques. If it comes easily, the translator should also transpose into rhyme, but not if in so doing he finds he has to pad or distort unduly. On the whole he should, in all humility, serve the poem and the author as best he can, and not try to “improve” the poem, but keep it as it is, blemishes and all. Because modern poetry is “difficult,” the translator must not in arrogance simply guess at the poet’s meaning in various phrases, clauses, sections or the whole, confident that only he is capable of understanding the poem, but should avail himself of help from others and from sources. Best of all, of course, would be to work in close collaboration with the poet, ferreting out implications of which even the poet himself may not have been aware. Much nuance will be lost; that is inevitable. He must bear inmind that he must try to bring across the suggestive meaning of an entire phrase or clause, and in so doingmust often translate not from word to word but from concept to concept. He must keep this delicate balance throughout the poem. But there are many other problems; this but skims the surface.

Read the full interview here: http://translation.utdallas.edu

Featured Image: “Kimon Friar in Athens (1955),” WUSTL Digital Gateway Image Collections & Exhibitionshttp://omeka.wustl.edu/omeka/exhibits/show/merrill-poetry-mss/black-swan/merrill-interview