Waka Translation: Syntax, Intertextuality and Image

This workshop will explore approaches to the translation of classical Japanese poetry, with a particular focus on the tanka form. Classical Japanese poets operated in a generally conservative literary environment, where knowledge of, and adherence to, the themes, expressions and images used by the poets of the past was viewed as positive and the mark of superior poetry. This attention to precedent enabled the development of a substantial number of conventionalised expressions relating to, for example, locations, which added set meanings to poems. Simultaneously, the substantial number of homonyms in the language also allowed extensive opportunities for word-play, and the usage of dual meanings to extend the range of senses conveyed by individual works. How, then, is the translator to deal with the conversion of such poems into English, where in the majority of cases, the target readership will lack the cultural and literary background knowledge to grasp the poets’ intended meanings? There is, of course, no single correct answer to this question, but this session will examine how prioritising different aspects of the source texts’ contents can produce successful English poetic texts.