Rendering Iconicity in the Translation of Poetry (From Russian into English)

Karina Ross, Ohio State University

The purpose of my investigation is to examine the interaction of iconic devices in poetry and to demonstrate how these devices are captured in an interlinguistic translation. Peirce's division of signs into icons, indices and symbols provides the framework for this research. Symbolic expressions in literature, particularly in poetry, are usually anticipated, while iconic signs are detected less often or even remain unnoticed.

According to Peirce, icons are divided into three subtypes: images, diagrams and metaphors. In my paper I investigate diagrammatic iconic devices more extensively than images and metaphors. However, the focus of my paper is on interaction of iconic dimensions. I am interested in those instances where several types of iconic devices work together to achieve a certain effect.

In the first part of the paper I examine how the interaction of several iconic devices creates a unique artistic effect by analyzing two poems by Lermontov and one by Xodasevich. Each of the three poems contains examples of spatial diagrams and diagrams of motion. Additionally, Xodasevich's poem also contains onomatopoeia along with a spatial diagram and an intentional morphological violation, all of which work to produce the impression of muttering, the effect desired by the poet.

In the second part of the paper I examine three poems and their translations into English. The originals by Leonid Martynov, Aleksandr Pushkin and Iosif Brodskij all possess combinations of several iconic devices. The translation of such poems poses tremendous difficulties. In my paper I suggest that since iconic devices can often be based on language-specific elements, such as language-peculiar syntactic organization or morphological features, it is not always possible to render them faithfully in the translation. Thus, the translator does not always need to convert all aspects of iconic devices and mirror their arrangement in the original, but to detect and convert those that work in the target language and compensate for the ones that cannot be translated. For example, in his poem "Osennij krik jastreba" Brodskij uses numerous verbless sentences, which is permissible in Russian syntax. In the absence of verbs the narrative is not perceived as a sequence of actions and events. This technique enhances the reader's visualization of the pictorial images in the poem. However, this device cannot be applied in the translation as English generally does not allow sentences without verbs. Instead, the translators employ participial and gerundial constructions to weaken the prominence of verbs.

The interaction of iconic devices can be the crucial factor for shaping the effect of a poem. Rendering iconicity is a challenge for the translator who must possess the talent of capturing this effect and be able to apply these devices with the highest degree of similitude in the target language.