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Thoughts on translation

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n approaching Hugo, it is important to recall that we are dealing with a master. He knew all the forms, and not only used them but invented new ones. He was aware that rhyming couplets (AABB) break a poem into little units, interlaced couplets (ABAB) make it march forward and embrasures (ABBA - the As enfold the Bs) encapsulate meaning in a larger poetic unit. His rhyme schemes form part of the meaning because they tell the reader how the ideas progress or inter-relate. This comes through when one reads aloud because there is a slight tension until the rhyme is made, a sense of expectation then satisfaction. The verse translator is therefore, in my view, stuck: Creating a faithful poetic rendering requires adhering to the structure since, for example, replacing and ABBA rhyme scheme with an AABB rhyme scheme would turn one involved thought into two little thoughts, and the listeners would to some degree miss the connection since the first idea seemed to resolve too quickly - and incompletely. Consider:
A bird flew out across the moor
Like many a bird before,
The bird was bright, the bird was gay,
The bright bird turned and flew away.
A bird flew out across the moor,
The bird was bright, The bird was gay,
Like many a bird before,
The bright bird turned and flew away.
A bird flew out across the moor,
The bird was bright, the bird was gay,
The bright bird turned and flew away,
Like many a bird before.
 

Each of these poems has the same elements, indeed the same lines, yet there is a slightly different feel to them. While the lines - my own, created for this exercise - are simplistic, there is nonetheless in the third version a slightly meditative quality the other two lack. Leaving it out - if it belongs - or putting it in - if it doesn't - can change the feel dramatically over the length of the poem. Getting back to the Fable, we note that it use an AABB rhyme scheme. So does the translation.

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Page 5: In conclusion, some vocabularic choices