Posted by: patenttranslator | June 17, 2022

Poetry and Order Is What Gets Found In Translation

Poetry is what gets lost in translation.

Robert Frost

            Of course, much more is lost in translation, although some things that are gained through translation would be lost forever without it. The meaning of what was said or written in one language to people who don’t know that particular language, which in every case is the majority of people on this planet, for starters.

But it is true that poetry is untranslatable. Most poetry in most European languages is supposed to rhyme if it is true poetry. At least I believe so. In classical Japanese, on the other hand, poetry does not rhyme. Depending on the form of the poem, it is supposed to have a certain number of syllables per line and for good measure it is also supposed to have hidden allusions to motives used by ancient masters of Chinese or Japanese poetry that only true connoisseurs of classical verse (classical culture vultures?) will recognize. How the hell do you translate something like that?

In every language, poetry is more a kind of music rather than a kind of text that transfers the meaning from a piece of paper to the perceptive brain and the beating heart of a reader. How the hell do you translate something like that into a different culture that was developing over millennia under different rules of a very different language?

You shouldn’t even try, unless you are insane, because you have a giant ego. Which some people, called translators, of course are, even though not all of them realize that the actual results of their effort will vary.

But just like poetry is not the only thing that is not exactly translatable, other kinds of written texts that most people would not think of as poetry, are not really translatable either. All good translation contains its own poetry. Even technical articles and patents, which is what I have been translating, mostly by necessity to be able to earn a living as a translator, for more than 30 years.

I believe that a good translation, or all translation that makes sense, in itself contains or is a certain kind of poetry. I am of course talking only about human translation, untouched by machines pretending that they can think.

It was Carl you who said “In all chaos, there is a cosmos, in every disorder, a secret order.”

And that secret order is what a good translation, defined as translation that makes very good sense, is helping to discover.

Translators are like detectives who try to figure out whodunit. Except that instead of looking for a murderer, we are trying to discover a secret order of what appears as total, incomprehensible disorder to most people on the planet.


  1. It was good to hear from you again after a couple of years. Are you still in the Czech Republic? (I think I may be using an outdated name, sorry.)
    Your blog was comforting to me as I saw the translation business fall apart. You assured me that I wasn’t losing my mind! Best regards from a fellow former San Franciscan


    • Yes, still here in what nowadays is called Czechia. Hate that word!


  2. ¡Gracias! Thank you, missed you Patent Translator! Hoping you and loved ones are in good health and joy. I look forward to reading your commentaries.

    Be well, E Pujals

    “In every human being there is a special heaven, whole and unbroken.”~ Paracelsus


  3. Thank you!


  4. translation is poetry (tulkojums ir dzeja) – thank you for that!


  5. Great music picks – as usual.


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