Top 3 Common Problems in Translating Poetry

Problems in Translating Poetry

Poetry is one of the most intimate, subjective, and creative forms of expression. As such, the ultimate goal of poetry translators is to convey the original poem’s intent, meaning, and style as faithfully as possible. In some cases, the task may sound impossible since the poems are complex in rhymes, meter, rhythm, metaphors, and many other factors that could pose various problems in translating poetry. Here are some typical challenges to anyone who dares to translate poems.  


One of the major challenges is the devices and nuances that make poetry what it is. Nearly every culture has rhyming words that are put together in some form. Rhyme is catchy and lends a sense of wholesomeness to words that are strung together. However, the practical and critical task of a translator is how to keep the original meaning and expression but still can describe it with rhymes in the new language. To come up with a natural translation, translators will need to choose a corresponding syllable that can create a similar effect on the listeners.  

Rhythm and meter  

Rhythm in poetry is related to the matching number of syllables in each line and linguists have to find meaningful words that fit in terms of rhythm and rhyme. There is a high chance that a simple change in the meter can lead to adverse impacts on the flow of a poem, and to avoid such situations, translators will use their expertise to find a decent word that perfectly fits in the place. To capture all the meaning and expression of the original, the translator’s mind should be able to digest the source and produce the result that contains the equivalent structure.   


One of the biggest problems when translating poetry is metaphors. Metaphors are specific to a particular language base on the culture, interests, behaviors, lifestyles, and many other factors. For this reason, they are not easy to be translated into a different language. For example, the phrase “as quick as a flash” cannot be literally translated, using a relevant alternative in the source languages would be a proper choice. Metaphors are capable of forming images and deliver underlying thoughts in the mind of readers; hence, translators also have to create the same effects for the new audience by using the target language. This adds an extra level of difficulty for translators as they have to be fluent in the target language, understand the culture, interests, behaviors, lifestyles, and various other elements to come up with the same impact.    

Problems in Translating Poetry

Who’s best-placed to translate poetry?  

As mentioned above, you have to satisfy various standards to come up with a decent poetry translation. Most of the criteria are related to poetic knowledge and experience, hence, only poets should translate poetry. Only poets are armed with the cultural and technical skill to comprehensively digest the original text and create a decent poetic output. General translators may understand every single word in the source content but how to keep the special expressions, meanings, and structures intact is the main barrier that they can hardly overcome.  

In short, there are many other problems in translating poetry that certainly make it not as easy as many people might think. All kinds of translation can be tricky and have their own difficulties, but poetry translation proves even more exacting due to all the stylistic features that come together to form its beauty. Although it may take time, experience, and mental effort to create an equivalent quality translation, the final result can be truly brilliant and make mesmerizing effects just like the original poems.   

Read more: What Are the Problems in Translation?


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