Originally Posted by Roger Slater
To use rhyme is to sacrifice poetry? I generally understand that sort of comment to mean that the translator is not skilled in writing rhyme in English so has rationalized away her own deficiency by asking us to believe that the original poet just threw in some rhyme for the hell of it and didn't think it was an important element of the poem that anyone should notice or care about. It's an attitude that seems to be based on the notion that a poem is entirely made up of content and only incidentally packaged in form, and that all the fun is not in how you say a thing but only in saying the thing.
I think that most people who say this kind of thing would agree that the "how" of saying a thing does matter. It's just that they are averse to the idea that this kind of "how"
should matter in any substantive way. Or at least, not so much so as to make it worth bothering over in translation. People who aren't accustomed to writing rhymed verse themselves often have a harder time of it, and so may be more susceptible to arguments about its inconsequentiality, though there's a bit of a Chicken vs. Egg thing going on there.
The real issue I think is that English-speaking readers of poetry have been effectively trained not to care about formal features like rhyme, and to aestheticize other things. To a degree this is true in many other languages spoken by the mandarinate of Western Europe, but it is I think less true of Spanish or Dutch, and it is not at all true in Russian, Welsh, Yiddish or Arabic.
I wrote a thing (forgive me for quoting myself) about this problem re: the translation of Classical Chinese verse.
One basic point of mine is that these kinds of belief about rhyme etc. are part of an ideology about what matters in poetry. A reason why I think of, and treat, it as an ideology is that it is so readily read into nature. People will say "oh rhyme just doesn't work in English, English is hard to rhyme in" which would be news to Bob Dylan, Don McLean and Eminem (which connects with another point: that disdain for rhyme, and/or disdain for those popular verse forms that retain rhyme, is also class-inflected to a degree among modern Anglo literary elites).
The reason I translate in form-conscious ways is because the form is often a component of what made the thing worth reading. I'm very aural, and I appreciate things aurally. I think distaste for formally-conscious translation is the flipside of that, one way or another. To translate in a way that connects with formal artistry is to tell the reader — one way or another — that form is worth being aware of, thinking about, thinking with, and thinking through. The problem is that some people don't really like being told that, which I am convinced is part of what fuels complaints about rhyme being a "distraction" that "calls attention to itself". Form that doesn't call too much attention to itself goes down a lot better, often. People don't seem to mind blank verse so much.