This article has been accepted for publication in The Translator, published by
Taylor & Francis (Author’s Original Manuscript version)
Published article: https://doi.org/10.1080/13556509.2021.1964217
Metatranslational Discourse in Poetry Translators’ Prefaces
Tanya Escudero, Tallinn University, Estonia
If we consider paratexts as a place for finding traces of metatranslational discourse (Hermans, 2014,
p. 287), those preceding poetry translations may be one of the best examples of this practise, as they
tend to be more frequent and long that those introducing other genres. From a corpus of 54
translatorial prefaces to Shakespeare’s Sonnets into Spanish published between 1877 and 2018, we
will see how, in order to account for decisions, translators often base their arguments on
commonplaces or memes such as fidelity, equivalence or the superiority of the original. The
significance of these ideas in the metatranslational discourse is such that it clearly shows their value
beyond a mere explanation of the translation process. This papers interprets these recurrent ideas by
resorting to the notion of ‘symbolic capital’ coined by Bourdieu (1984), and considers that they
function as a mechanism to grant prestige and respectability to a given translation both for translators
paratexts, poetic translation, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, symbolic capital, translation memes, fidelity
Translation Studies and Paratexts
Drawing on the notion of paratexts introduced by Gerard Genette ─ understood as “what
enables a text to become a book and to be presented as such to its readers, and more generally
to the public” (1987: 7) ─, numerous scholars, particularly in the field of literary studies,
have turned to these elements to explore various practices. This influence has also reached
Translation Studies, where an increasing number of publications dealing with the empirical
analysis of texts surrounding translations (Tahir Gürçaglar, 2011) have explored, among
other issues, the role of paratexts in translators’ activism (Samah, 2018), views on
retranslation (Ziemann, 2018) or and paratexts as a tool for the study of translation history
(Pym, 1998). For Herman, paratexts are the place where metatranslational discourses occur
and where translators discuss their decisions and strategies. Paratexts, such as Translator’s
Notes, help the translator’s voice to be “directly and forcefully present when it breaks
through the surface of the text speaking for itself, in its own name” (Hermans 1996: 27). He
later claims that “paratextual interventions are frequently metatranslational in nature,
reflecting on the problems of translation in the texts in question” (2014: 287). While paratexts
such as footnotes tend to be more specifically related to a particular expression or segment, in
prefaces, the writing is more general, more broadly reflecting the translator’s perspective on
the translation activity. This might explain both their usefulness and, consequently, why they
have become the most studied type of paratext in translation studies (Batchelor 2018, 26;
Tahir Gürçaglar 2013, 91). And as we will see in this paper, it might be fruitful material to
study the poetry translator’s voice.
In what follows, I will focus on the metatranslational discourse present in the “translatorial
prefaces” (Deane-Cox, 2017, p. 29) preceding translations of Shakespeare’s Sonnets into
Spanish and deal particularly with some recurrent ideas that seem to be used to justify certain
decisions or add some kind of value to the actual translation. To that end, I will depart from
Chesterman’s concept of “translation meme” or “meme of translation”. Chesterman describes
a meme as “simply an idea that spreads” (1997: 2), a kind of commonplace or topos. In this
context, a translation meme is a meme that expresses an idea about translation as an activity
or about the theory of translation. Some of them, such as the “fidelity” or “unstranslatability”
memes, have been around for centuries and, as we shall see, have not yet been overcome.
These and other memes can be found in the prefaces preceding the translations of
Shakespeare's Sonnets to different degrees and with varying levels of (“positive” or
Prefaces and Poetry Translation
Although it is not common to find translatorial prefaces to translated works, especially when
it comes to fiction (Letawe, 2018), this practice is more common in translations of poetry,
where “the translator's identity may be more prominent in paratexts such as a translator's
introduction” (Jones 2011: 46). This distancing from other literary genres presumably takes
place because fewer external agents, such as publishers, tend to be involved in the translation
process and decisions about the final product are generally made by the translator (Jones
2016: 63). Indeed, the great influence exerted by translators on aspects that go beyond the
translation itself is manifest in their forewords, where some translators claim to have made
decisions concerning the type of edition ─ bilingual or monolingual ─ including Pérez Prieto
(2008), or the layout of the texts on the page, as is the case with Capriata (1999a), Mujica
Lainez (1963) and Pérez Romero (1987).
Since my corpus comprises poetic translations only, the number of editions that include a
preface is exceptionally high. For this study, I have considered both the prefaces included in
books and the notes preceding the translations published in journals, all of which have been
written by translators (although, to illustrate some cases, I will perhaps consider a statement
taken from forewords written by an external agent). While it is true that a few of them do not
contain significant metatranslational discourse – for instance, Maristany (1918) essentially
talks only about the poems collected in his anthology and Basileo Acuña (1999b) and Adúriz
and Adúriz Bravo (2000) focus on biographical aspects –, most of these paratexts discuss, at
least to some extent, the translation of poetry and usually devote several pages to justifying
their decisions. The corpus consists of 54 translatorial prefaces and introductory notes
preceding translations of Shakespeare’s Sonnets into Spanish published in Spain and Latin
America between 1877 and 2018, either as books or as articles in journals or periodicals
(listed in the bibliography as “Primary sources”).
Drawing on this corpus, I have undertaken a qualitative analysis, in which I study the most
frequent topoi or translation memes found in the prefaces and provide examples of each of
the interpretations located within them. In addition, I provide a quantitative analysis, included
as a table, in which we can observe the frequencies of these and other frequent memes, their
time frames and which translators use them in their discourse.
Translation Memes in Prefaces to Shakespeare’s Sonnets
Superiority of the original
One of the most widely spread ideas about translations is that they are always a faulty copy, a
poor version of the original (Venuti, 1995, pp. 6–7; Bassnett, 1998, p. 2, 2018, p. 333). The
belief that the original is, by default, superior to subsequent renderings was accepted by both
readers and scholars for a long time; it still is, more often than not. Enrique Díaz Canedo, in
his foreword for Maristany’s book, defends translators against this reasoning, claiming that
although some believe that translators are in an inferior position, it is sometimes forgotten
that it is thanks to them that foreign forms and voices can enter our poetry (1918, vi).
The idea of the superiority of the original is reported frequently – or at least acknowledged –
by translators, especially when the source text is authored by such a prominent figure as
Shakespeare. The task is regularly seen as a process implying loss, with few translators
mentioning improvements; Ingberg (38) is one exception. Nonetheless, according to Rupérez,
“every translation is a transfer with losses”1 (53) and Pérez Romero considers the process
both difficult and unrewarding due to the frustration one inevitably feels upon realising the
impossibility of reproducing all of the beauty and the feeling (9). And this frustration is
understandable if we consider how Shakespeare is described in certain prefaces. For Astrana,
he is not only “the greatest playwright in the entire universe” or “the most prudent, the wisest,
the most conscious and the most harmonious of poets” – which could be arguable ─, but also
“the most serene and free spirit”, and owner “of the most privileged brain and heart of
Humanity” (XIII) ─ which seems excessive, considering Astrana could hardly have known
how “privileged” Shakespeare’s heart was or how “serene” his spirit. According to Scott,
Shakespeare was a “gigantic solar mirror, a galaxy, an inexhaustible mother ship that once
invented and defined our tragedy and our song” (10), while Marrufo suggested, cathartically,
who, as his spokesman, does not find a sensual delight in pronouncing his lines and is
not sensitive to the voluptuousness of feeling the syllables falling off one by one of his
lips, who does not experience almost an aural orgasm listening to the beauty of a
speech that underpins a deep and legitimate emotion, cannot reach the top of the artistic
mountain that the playwright-actor has designated for his best performers (26–27,
In addition to the challenge of translating any poem, Shakespeare’s prominence can
apparently convert the arduousness of the task into a declaration of defeat. Santamaría López
asserts that, after years of experience, he likely discovered the “least bad” way of transferring
a poem into another language (17), clearly implying that there is no good way of doing it,
while Law Palacín explains that, when trying to recreate the literary language of the original,
the translator can only come second after Shakespeare; still, the competition must take place,
even if it is already lost (10).
Elsewhere, Mujica Lainez argues that the translator “is hopelessly defeated, even before
starting the task, if he/she aspires to preserve, in the new bottle, one by one, the qualities that
the perfume showed in the old one” (7─8). However, he later admits that, given this goal is
impossible, the translation must become something else, the result of interpretation and
1 All translations are my own.
adaptation, a recreation. Because Mujia does not need to confront defeat before an impossible
goal, his aim is different and perfectly feasible. However, many other translators – as we have
started to see – tend to focus on what they could not achieve; this is not lost on Montezanti,
who alludes to such defeatist thinking:
Elsewhere I have written against the justification given by the translators, who seem to
suffer from a guilt complex because of what they have not been able to do (even though
it is thanks to them that world literature is read). Therefore, I will not try to justify my
choices, but rather, to explain my problems. (2003, 20)
Montezanti could very well be referring, for example, to Méndez Herrera, who depicts the
difficulties inherent to poetry translation as the liquid that is inevitably lost when it is poured
from one vessel to another. That is for this translator “a pain that can be neither cured nor
forgiven” (1976, 54). This idea of defeat and unforgivable loss led him to entitle the section
of his preface explaining the translation process as ‘MANDATORY APOLOGY’. But
Méndez Herrera was not the only one to include some sort of apology in his discourse.
For example, although Casillas de Alba hopes the reader enjoys reading the poems he has
translated, he apologises in advance in case the goal has not been met, explaining that his is
just the “humble work by an enthusiast of the Elizabethan poet’s work” (15); elsewhere,
Tomas Gray apologises for the boldness that trying to transfer these literary gems implies
(13). Again, the problem does not seem solely to be attributable to the apparent loss that
translation necessarily entails, but rather that it is that it is Shakespeare’s work that is lost in
the process. Thus, Falaquera asks Shakespeare himself to forgive his failings (12).
Nonetheless, the apology and the idea of defeat are not always so obvious; instead, they are
formulated as somewhat ‘utopian’ wishes. For example, Gannon would feel blessed if he had
been able to reflect the beauty of just one of the sonnets he had translated (41); Vives wishes
to have transferred their force, intelligence and charm (80); Ospina hopes that some of
Shakespeare’s endless mystery has reached his pages; and Marrufo invokes a most
unfortunate paronomasia to conclude his preface: “I would be infinitely flattered if I had been
able to reflect something of that craft and spiritual grandeur in these sonnets, and let it not be
said of this work Traduttore, Traditore” (30; emphasis added).
As Eysteinsson and Weissbort recognise, “the notion of betrayal is also very much a part of
the history of the concept of translation, the proverbial truth being that the translator is a
traitor (“traduttore, traditore”), that he or she is constitutionally incapable of delivering the
original” (2006, p. 3). However, this meme, which has haunted translators for centuries (Cf.
Borges, 1997; Pym, 2010, p. 159), does not seem to have been banished from their prefaces.
Although it usually manifests as irony, the pessimistic tone characterising some of the
passages surrounding these depictions helps to revitalise the aforementioned cliché and to
perpetuate the idea of betrayal associated with translation. For instance, Rodríguez López
admits that “the quality of betrayal inevitably associated with translation, thanks to the
Tuscan language’s ingenuity, is now a commonplace in Western culture”, and; he persists
with the idea, explaining that, “after the battle”, that is the translation process, the potential
traitor will have to reveal some of the wonders of the betrayed text (6). Elsewhere, Luciano
Garcia shares this identification as traitor, calling himself a “translator-traitor” (2013b, p. 34).
For Gutiérrez Izquierdo, the label ‘traitor’ might be the result of a faulty translation; he
explains that, if the translation is obscure and unintelligible, the reader will be convinced of
the “traditore’s malice” (20; emphasis in original).
The use of this cliché, however, is not restricted to translators. Even Hamilton Ross (who
wrote the preface to Basileo Acuña’s 1968 translation) stresses the idea of betrayal, referring
not to the work he is introducing but to previous translations which he contends are so
unfortunate as to justify the well-known adage.
Linked to view of the translation process as one of irreparable loss is the idea of
untranslatability. Although less common in these prefaces, it constitutes a burden that
translation – and particularly poetry translation – has long carried; for Chesterman (1997, p.
199), one of the ‘parasitic memes’:
One likely candidate for parasitic (and hence risk-increasing) status is the idea of
untranslatability, or perhaps I should say the myth of untranslatability. […] [A]s a
meme, it is extremely parasitic to its hosts, since if all translators believed it there
would soon be no translators. Less absolutely, it breeds a pessimistic and defeatist
attitude, a willingness to give up trying. It also affects the professional self-image of
translators: “Ah well, translations inevitably lose something, so what the hell... Poetry
can’t be translated, so why bother...” (1996, p. 65).
This is most certainly a widespread notion. Martínez de Merlo, a poet and translator, half-
ironically and with an air of resignation, proclaims: “Let us repeat once and for all: the
translation of poetry is impossible” (1997, p. 44). Although fortunately, most translators have
not surrendered to the pessimistic attitude described by Chesterman and emphasised by
Martínez de Merlo, the notion is still found embedded in certain paratexts. Gray considers his
translations as ‘interpretations’ because, as is well known, it is very difficult, “if not
impossible”, to translate (11). However, his definition of ‘translate’ describes a literal
translation with the same syllable count as the source text (11). Ospina, in contrast, attributes
the untranslatability of these sonnets to their “moving and enigmatic plenitude” (14) and, for
Mujica, a poem “is impossible to translate” because the translator cannot recreate all of the
qualities of the original poem (1963, 7─8).
Nonetheless, untranslatability or the impossibility of translation is not always addressed in
such explicit terms. Although Gamen wonders whether translating a poet faithfully – note
that faithfulness is always a present concern – might be impossible, he asserts that provoking
a similar aesthetic pleasure in the target-language reader as that experienced by the source-
language reader is indeed possible, however difficult (31). For others, the sentiment and the
human feelings conveyed in the sonnets makes the task possible, with Rupérez explaining
that “the more unique experience there is in a poem, the more universal and translatable it is”
Elsewhere, Méndez Herrera devotes two pages to the possibility or impossibility of
translating poetry, referencing other authors who have considered poetry untranslatable, –
e.g., Paul Valéry – to conclude that “translation is the closest thing to ‘pure poetry’” (1976).
Unfortunately, Valéry was not the only poet to make such observations, as Bassnett wittily
notices while pointing to “Robert Frost’s immensely silly remark that ‘poetry is what gets lost
in translation’, which implies that poetry is some intangible, ineffable thing (a presence? a
spirit?) which, although constructed in language cannot be transposed across languages”
(Bassnett, 1998, p. 57, emphasis in original).
Some translators draw attention to the sustainability of this defeatist attitude, which has been
repeated over the centuries by poets and scholars alike (cf. Chesterman, 1997). For example,
although Scott refers to poetry as a genre always perceived as untranslatable (2018, 9), he
does not seem to share such a view. The same is true of Rupérez: ‘[an] unjustifiable sense of
loss has favoured the development of a radical pessimism towards this ancient practice and
now voices are heard unequivocally denying any viability of translating poetry (unlike novels
or theatre)’ (50). Rupérez crucially compares poetry translation with translating other literary
genres, posing questions about the cynical view of poetry and why it is perceived as less
translatable than other types of texts. This might be answered through the widely held notion
of poetry as the indissoluble union of content and form (Levý, 2011; Jones, 2012; Quilis,
2013), a bond that cannot be transposed to another language. This view is easily contravened
by the recognition that every text comprises signs combining content and form (signified and
signifier). But while form might be more critical in poetry than in other genres, the use of
rhetorical elements that exploit the full potential of language (such as puns, metaphors,
repetition elements, and so on) is not exclusive to poetic texts.
For our translators, it would appear that the task’s feasibility is less about recreating the
poems in the target language and more about their understanding of the term ‘translation’.
Translation is frequently understood as a kind of mirror image or a carbon copy;
consequently, this study’s translators often escape the burden of poetry’s possible
untranslatability or their potential act of betrayal by resorting to notions of fidelity.
It should come as no surprise that the topos of fidelity appears in the corpus’ paratexts, as it
might be the most recurrent topic in reflections on translation. Moreover, being this the work
of an author as revered as Shakespeare, allusions to fidelity seem inevitable (see Hersant,
2018, pp. 26–27, on how French translators of Shakespeare allude to this idea). Although
many translators claim to have been faithful, the results of the translation process are rarely
similar, perhaps this chapter’s most obvious cliché; as Levý suggests, “although fidelity to
the original is a declared programmatic principle, the requirement of fidelity has not been
closely defined or analysed” (2011, p. 83). Nor is fidelity defined in these prefaces, despite its
being regularly cited using a variety of terms such as fidelidad (‘faithfulness/fidelity’) or fiel
(‘faithful’) lealtad (‘loyalty’) or leal (‘loyal’), fidedigno (‘reliable/trustworthy’), and
literalidad (‘literality’) or literal (‘literal’). Additionally, whereas some translators simply
argue their having sought fidelity – for example, Gray describes aiming to produce “a shadow
as close as possible to the original” and “writing sonnets that seem to be the most respectful,
reliable and well-made approximations of these inimitable praises of love” (13) – this concept
is usually related to notions of content and form (a frequent dichotomy in this corpus).
Perhaps what is expected, especially when discussing other genres, is a relationship between
fidelity and the transfer of meaning. Astrana Marin points to this link when he states that “a
literal translator is preferable to an unfaithful translator” and that it is easier to succumb to the
former (1929: xxv). And Gallardo Ruiz notes that his work respects the original text to the
fullest, while making minimal alterations to reflect “as faithfully as possible” the living
images of these sonnets (2007a: 10). Both of them translate the sonnets into prose, something
that Santamaría López highlights in his prologue as a feature of certain translators who want
to remain completely faithful to the meaning; furthermore, he does so after dismissing the
rhyme as “too rigid a corset” for expressing the meaning accurately (2010: 18). They are not
the only ones who see rhyme as an obstacle to fidelity; Falaquera feels that blank verse is
“the only way to be faithful to the original” (2007b: 12).
Even for translators who use a regular meter and sometimes rhymed verse, the idea of fidelity
seems to be more closely related to the transfer of meaning. For example, both Santano
Moreno (2013a: 8) and Pérez Romero (1987: 9) claim to have pursued fidelity to the content
or the text within the formal pattern chosen for their translations. In the same vein, Rupérez
considers that a good translation is that which combines “a dedicated and zealous fidelity [...]
with a convincing sonority” (2000: 53). This last is actually a visible concern for translators
who choose rhymed verse, such as Ospina, who admits to having privileged, out of two
possible versions, the one that seemed to him to be “more pleasant-sounding and, we might
say, more beautiful”, instead of the most faithful (2016a: 14)
Yet this view of fidelity as a correspondence between the meaning of the target text and that
of the source text is not unanimous. Montezanti, in connection with the recurrence of
“fidelity” in the metatranslational discourse, wonders “fidelity to what?” For the Argentinian
translator, “the answer to this question implies a definition of poetry, and necessarily a
segmentation of it” (2003: 21), whereas Marrufo, contemplating this potential bifurcation of
the notion of faithfulness, explains that “sometimes you have to choose between being
faithful to the word or to the music” (2002a: 23–24). Both cases seem to contain the
possibility of being faithful to different elements of the source text. Examples of fidelity
linked to form are not uncommon, whether it be fidelity to the structure of the sonnet or to the
meter being used. De Vedia y Mitre claims to have translated the sonnets while “faithfully
preserving Shakespeare's strophic combination” (1954: 206), while Luciano García concludes
that imitating the Elizabethan pattern, despite introducing a foreign body into our poetry,
means greater fidelity to the target text (2013b: 37). For Garcia Calvo, the meter and rhyme
seem to be more of a requirement than a wishful decision, as he claims to have complied
reluctantly with the hendecasyllable and rhyme to be more faithful (1974: 27).
While for most translators who mention fidelity, this statement acts as a translating purpose
or ambition, a few reject this approach. Gamen criticises translators who, due to their
reverence for Shakespeare, “end up sacrificing almost everything for the sake of faithfulness
to the text” and only translate the meaning (2009: 10). Gannon, on the other hand, disdains
“faithful” translations, especially those in prose, as they lose their resemblance to the original
by being stripped of rhythm, rhyme and meter (1940: 38–39). Moreover, Insa categorically
maintains that he has not searched for faithfulness: “I have never intended this to be neither
his most faithful translation nor his homage: nor do I believe in that faithfulness, nor did
Shakespeare seem to believe in posthumous tributes” (2016b: 10).
Sometimes translators reject the idea of fidelity as literality, as is clearly the case when
Méndez Herrera claims to have taken “the path of infidelity”, it being the only way to transfer
the rhythm and style of the source text (1976: 53), or when Pellegrini quotes Paul Celan ─
”Apostate only am I faithful” (Apostat, je suis fidel) ─ to illustrate the image of a faithful
translator despite the infidelities he commits against the original text and explains that the
licenses taken “belong to that spirit of the faithful and loving apostate” (2006: 14). Some
translators go as far as to deny the possibility of fidelity in poetic translation. Such is the case
with Pujol, who holds that “any literal obedience to the English text necessarily leads to
absurdity” (1990: 10) and Armas y Cárdenas, who believes that “strict fidelity does not
belong in verse translations” (1915: 73). In these prefaces, therefore, it seems clear that
fidelity is typically linked with closeness to either the content or the form of the source text.
That fidelity is often understood as ‘literality’ might explain why it sometimes confronts
notions of creativity and freedom. In principle, the more liberties translators take and the
more they see the target poem as a recreation, the less faithful their translation will be
considered. However, as demonstrated, that fidelity – or, conversely, that liberty – can only
be measured by subjective means. This dichotomy simultaneously rests on the more
frequently cited and deeply rooted translation-studies dichotomy, that of source text
(/language/literature) against target text (/language/literature). This traditional opposition and
the perception of the translation process as an action moving towards one of these two poles
are present in many reflections about translation over an extended period ─ Shcleiermacher’s
alienating and naturalising translation, Newmark’s semantic and communicative translation
(1988), Nord’s documentary and instrumental translation (1997), House’s overt and covert
translation (1997), Toury’s adequacy and acceptability (1995) or Venuti’s foreignization and
domestication (1995). Sometimes categorised according to these two poles, the term
‘equivalence’ has been disseminated in the field ─ often in search for an accurate and ideal
translation ─ and is also mentioned by translators in the paratexts analysed.
Since translation studies as a discipline began – and perhaps even earlier – the concept of
‘equivalence’ has generated heated debate, having accrued a range of meanings and, hence,
no universal agreement regarding its definition (cf. Halverson, 1997; Pym, 2014). Still, most
contemporary scholars would probably agree that the concept of equivalence does not
usefully explain the practice of translation or aid evaluation (Chesterman, 1997; Hermans,
2007). In this study’s corpus, interpretations of the term vary, even within the same prefaces;
translators use it to allude to apparently different phenomena, especially when compared to
notions drawn from translation theory. Nevertheless, consideration of statements featuring the
term (in various forms: equivaler, equivalencia, equivalente) reveals three main approaches:
restricted to form, restricted to meaning and function-oriented.
When used in a purely formal sense, equivalence describes a relationship that exists between
an element of the source text – or, rather, the source literature – and an element of the target
text – or the target literature (e.g., pentameter and endecasílabo or quatrain and serventesio) –
which might fit Koller’s notion of ‘formal equivalence’, an equivalence conveying the
“aesthetic properties of the source-language text” (Koller 1979, in Reiss et al., 2014, p. 120).
According to Pérez Romero, “the English meter nomenclature prefers to refer to both of the
stanzas containing four verses that we differentiate as quatrain (even though there is an
equivalent for serventesio)” (17), while Rutiaga explains choosing the hendecasyllable
because “it is not only the appropriate equivalent for the original iambic pentameters, but also
the meter which has been traditionally linked to the Spanish sonnet” (11). Elsewhere,
Marrufo concedes that “since English is mainly monosyllabic, one can say much more in a
five-feet line than in its Spanish equivalent of ten syllables” (28).
In other cases, equivalence is restricted to meaning and used to define expressions or terms
that have the same sense as a segment from the original in a particular context or time period;
see, for example, Newmark’s ‘synonym’ or ‘near equivalent’ (1988, pp. 82–84) or Koller’s
‘denotative equivalence’. Specifically, Montezanti explains that “setting forth […] is
equivalent to ‘editar’ but also to ‘partir’” (7), and Santano Moreno describes looking “for
equivalents which enable the transmission of Shakespeare’s text’s sense” (8). Other
translators use the term to refer to synonyms within the same language; for example, Astrana
Marín asserts that “kind is equivalent to favourable, gracious” or that “in the archaic
language, other was equivalent to the current others”.
Finally, less frequently the term is used pragmatically to allude to the poetic effect a text
might have or to the expectations of readers. For example, Pérez Prieto claims that “the
translation must be equivalent and acceptable in the target language” with regard to “both the
content and the form”, recalling Nida’s ‘dynamic equivalence’ – which “aims at complete
naturalness of expression, and tries to relate the receptor to modes of behaviour relevant
within the context of his own culture” (1964, p. 159) – or Popovič’s ‘stylistic equivalence’,
which describes a “functional equivalence of elements in both original and translation aiming
at an expressive identity with an invariant of identical meaning” (1976, p. 6).
Despite often being present in translators’ discussion of the translation process, equivalence
is not always seen as a positive (or even a possible) outcome. For Méndez Herrera, a
restricted application of equivalence is discarded because the translation can never be the
same as the original (53). Elsewhere, Astrana Marín rejects preposteramente as the
equivalent of ‘preposterously’ because the result would not sound natural to contemporary
readers, and Capriata dismisses formal equivalences as, among other things, absurd
Ultimately, references or allusions to equivalence by translators are often very vague, as are
definitions and examples provided by certain scholars. The multitude of theories might have
resulted, at least partially, from the complexity of defining this term in such a way that it can
be applied to the practice of translation. However, in these prefaces – as in the theoretical
field – the concept seems almost unavoidable, possibly because of its frequent quotidian
usage or the transparency it apparently conveys.
Other memes and topics
Throughout these prefaces, there are other recurrent memes and topics of discussion, such as
the ‘dichotomies’ content/form, prose/verse or translation/adaptation, so common in the
discourse on poetry translation. Some translators explain the translation process relying on
well-known metaphors; translating is not only compared to pouring a liquid from one vessel
into another (Martínez Howard, 1961 and Méndez Herrera, 1976), but also to crossing a
border (Pérez Romero, 1987) and reassembling a dismantled clock (Pujol, 1990); while
translators are seen as transmitters of the current (Rupérez, 2000) or medium level chess
players competing against grandmasters like Kasparov (Rodríguez López, 1997). A few
paragraphs in this corpus are also devoted to explain the decision to add a new translation to
an already long list, but, perhaps needless to say, most such discussion has concerned the
addressee of the first 126 sonnets ─ the ‘fair youth’ ─ and, by extension, their romantic or
friendly tone and potentially autobiographical nature (Cf. Escudero, 2020).
Frequency of Translation Memes in the Prefaces
Despite not being described in the same depth, Table 1 includes allusions to all the memes
and topics previously discussed. It should be noted, however, that the lengths of these
forewords differ greatly. For example, while the introductory note to Rivas’s translation
barely fills a paragraph, Gannon’s preface extends over 33 pages (somewhat surprising,
considering his translation includes only ten sonnets). This results in significant variation in
the number of topics covered in them and the thoroughness with which they are discussed.
Certainly, where the preface is extremely dense with metatranslational discourse, several of
these topics are usually addressed, the most common being questions of fidelity and the
distinction between content and form.
Furthermore, it seems evident that the voices of those producing Spanish translations of
Shakespeare’s Sonnets have been much more present in recent decades. Of the 46 translations
in this corpus published since 1982, 41 have included a translatorial preface, and, although
some only consider biographical issues or opinions about poetry in general – such as Álvarez
(1999), Blanco y Freijo (1999), Adúriz y Adúriz Bravo (2000) and Insa (2016) – most tend to
discuss poetic translation, its purpose, its values and the most accurate approaches, likely
explaining the higher density of the memes referred to in this chapter, rather than these ideas
having become more widespread or influential.
Table 1. Frequency of memes in prefaces
In his study of the prefaces preceding Dostoyevsky’s translations into Swedish, Ulf Norberg
observes that some of the translators admit – although only rarely – the difficulty of the
translation and suggests an interpretation of this surprising confession “as both unusually
brave and honest, as well as an expression of a certain role distance” (2012, p. 109).
Following the results discussed in this chapter dealing with prefaces to Shakespeare’s
Sonnets, we can observe that not only are statements of this kind not rare, but some of the
examples provided here go far beyond revealing an obstacle and enter the realm of declaring
defeat. However, as Norberg suggests, such remarks might also represent honesty and
bravery, or they may, derive from (true or false) modesty, the desire to avoid accountability
or an expression of devotion, given that, after all, most of these translators have chosen to
translate the sonnets. Whatever the underlying reason, the frequency of such utterances and
their similarities indicates a commonplace that is even identified by some translators.
It is rather evident that these memes often serve as an opportunity to explain the decisions
made during the translation process and the strategies employed. According to Hermans, “the
choice of one mode of reproduction in preference to other existing or available modes [...] is
typically stated in the translator’s preface, and it is enacted in the translation itself” (2007, p.
41). However, doubts remain about such a straightforward relationship between preface and
translation. Paratexts have been considered by some scholars as unreliable resources for
research; for example, Toury describes extratextual elements as a potential source in the
search for translation norms but warns of the risks that such research might entail, given that
the discourse and the translations are often contradictory (1995, p. 65). Meanwhile, Koster
describes this discordance between intra and extratextual dimensions as “one of the problem
areas of descriptive translation studies” and asks how ‘the difference between the two
[would] have to be assessed”; although he admits to having no answer to this question, he
believes that the study of this extratextual dimension might prove useful (2000, pp. 50–51).
In these prefaces, we observe specific statements on particular practices, such as the choice of
meter, that do not always correspond to the result (for and in-depth analysis of the outer form
of Shakespeare’s Sonnets translations, see Escudero forthcoming). This lack of
correspondence, however, may simply reflect the need to explain the general criterion used in
translations, which might not always be met. After all, translators write their prefaces once
their work is concluded, and therefore, although they precede the translations in space, they
are not so much an explanation of the criteria to be used, but rather a justification of the
results obtained. However, translation practice is extremely complex, especially when it
comes to verse translation, and sometimes what is reflected in the foreword is simply a
homogeneous criterion that fails to address the obstacles or difficulties encountered during
the process. It is clear, then, that such paratexts cannot be the only sources used by the
researcher to explain this process. Tahir-Gürçağlar, who also refers to the possible
contradiction between both types of material, claims that research focusing exclusively on the
study of paratexts can only “reveal the mediational features of the paratexts and show how
translations are presented, but not how they are” (2011, emphasis in original). In fact,
contradictions between the results of the two analyses can provide significant value to the
researcher. Ultimately, behind the discord between both elements, there exists a set of values,
expectations and conceptions about poetic translation that concern both the translator and the
reader, rather than an arbitrary incoherence or attempt to deceive.
Whilst notions such as fidelity and equivalence have lost weight in theoretical reflections on
translation, although to a lesser extent when these reflections deal with the translation of
poetry, the fact that translators keep relying on them to justify their decisions leads us to
believe that these ideas, which are very often devoid of any meaning, have a certain value.
Pym, referring to the notion of equivalence and others derived from it, states that, despite
being idealistic, “their operational functions correspond to some very widespread ideas about
what a translation is” and claims that equivalence operates as a “functional social illusion”;
therefore, “what people believe about equivalence may be more important than any actual
testing of its existence” (2014, p. 24). This idea could perhaps be extended to other notions
repeated in the prefaces. Many of them may serve a purpose, albeit an illusory one, for both
the translators and their readers. If, in order for a translated poem to be accepted by readers, it
must be faithful (to content or form or both), if it must not be a paraphrase or adaptation, if it
must be equivalent, and so on, then presenting the translation in these terms serves a purpose
and has a definite value, no matter that these ideas are not clearly defined and may be
understood differently by translators and readers. To explain this somewhat intangible value,
the notion of “symbolic capital”, coined by Bourdieu in the field of sociology and applied
widely to other fields in recent decades, may prove useful. Defined by Bourdieu as “a
reputation for competence and an image of respectability and honourability” (1984, p. 291),
in translation studies, this concept has been used to explore, among other concepts, the
agency in allographic prefaces ─ Tahir-Gürçağlar (2013) asserts that prefacers, who have a
“high degree of symbolic capital”, play an essential role in mediating translated texts ─ or
the translators' visibility ─ Georgiou (2018), for example, analyses the role of poetry
translators as “bearers of symbolic capital” due to their extratextual visibility and their
significance not only as translators, but sometimes also as writers, academics and critics. In
addition, some scholars have developed this concept to examine the relevance of certain
translated literature and the hierarchy of languages, including Sapiro (2015), who studies the
symbolic capital of French literature in the United States. Therefore, this notion has been
applied not only to individuals who may enjoy a good reputation, but also to other elements,
such as languages and literature, that have achieved high statuses within a system. I believe,
therefore, that this notion may be valid in describing widespread ideas, such as those found in
our translators' prefaces and enunciated in the first chapter. These ideas have not only defined
translation in a theoretical manner for a long time, but they are still present in today's
understanding of translation. Statements in prefaces based on these kinds of topoi or memes
may be used as a mechanism to grant prestige and respectability to a given translation and
therefore have symbolic capital for translators and readers alike.
Gardini, C. (2004) Veinte sonetos de Shakespeare, Ideas, 1(2), pp. 45–75.
Maristany, F. (1918) Las cien mejores poesías (líricas) de la lengua inglesa. Valencia: Cervantes.
Rupérez, Á. (2000) Antología esencial de la poesía inglesa. Madrid: Espasa Calpe.
Santamaría López, J. M. (2010) Tiempo de Shakespeare: Vuelta de tuerca a la traducción de sus sonetos. In R.
Rabadán, T. Guzmán González, & M. Fernández López (eds.), Lengua, traducción, recepción: En
honor de Julio César Santoyo. León: Universidad de León, pp. 13–38.
Shakespeare, W. (1915) Varios Sonetos de William Shakespeare (J. de Armas, Trans.), Cuba Contemporánea,
Año III, Tomo IX(1), pp. 73–77.
Shakespeare, W. (1929) Obras completas (L. Astrana Marín, Trans.). Madrid: Aguilar.
Shakespeare, W. (1940) Diez Sonetos de Shakespeare (P. Gannon, Trans.). Buenos Aires: Francisco Colombo.
Shakespeare, W. (1954) Los Sonetos de Shakespeare (M. de Vedia y Mitre, Trans.). Buenos Aires: Guillermo
Shakespeare, W. (1961) Doce sonetos de Shakespeare (M. Howard de Martínez & A. Martínez Howard,
Trans.). Buenos Aires: Burnichon.
Shakespeare, W. (1963) Cincuenta Sonetos de Shakespeare (M. Mujica Láinez, Trans.). Buenos Aires:
Ediciones Culturales Argentinas.
Shakespeare, W. (1974) Sonetos de Amor (A. García Calvo, Trans.). Barcelona: Anagrama.
Shakespeare, W. (1976) Sonetos (J. Méndez Herrera, Trans.). Barcelona: Plaza & Janés.
Shakespeare, W. (1982) Sonetos (E. Sordo, Trans.). Barcelona: Los Libros de Plon.
Shakespeare, W. (1987) Monumento de amor: Sonetos de Shakespeare (C. Pérez Romero, Trans.). Cáceres:
Universidad de Extremadura.
Shakespeare, W. (1990) Sonetos (C. Pujol, Trans.). Granada: Comares.
Shakespeare, W. (1999a) Canciones y poemas de amor (J. R. Blanco & G. Freijo, Trans.). Bilbao: Muelle de
Shakespeare, W. (1999b) Los sonetos y Un lamento amoroso (J. Capriata, Trans.). Lima: Hueso Húmero.
Shakespeare, W. (1999c) Poemas y Sonetos (J. Basileo Acuña, Trans.). Lima: Pontificia Universidad Católica
Shakespeare, W. (1999d) Sonetos (J. M. Álvarez, Trans.). Valencia: Pre-Textos.
Shakespeare, W. (2000) Treinta sonetos (J. Adúriz & A. Adúriz Bravo, Trans.). Buenos Aires: Ediciones del
Shakespeare, W. (2002a) Sonetos (F. Marrufo, Trans.). Mexico D. F.: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de
México, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, Instituto de Cultura de Yucatán, Fundación Fernando
Shakespeare, W. (2002b) Sonetos de Amor de William Shakespeare (T. Gray, Trans.). Santiago de Chile: Al
Shakespeare, W. (2003) Sonetos completos (M. A. Montezanti, Trans.). Buenos Aires: Longseller.
Shakespeare, W. (2005) Sonetos (A. L. Tacoronte, Trans.). La Habana: Editorial Arte y Literatura.
Shakespeare, W. (2006) Constancia y Claridad. 21 Sonetos de William Shakespeare (M. Pellegrini, Trans.).
Santiago de Chile: RIL Editores.
Shakespeare, W. (2007a) Poemas (E. Gallardo Ruiz, Trans.). Madrid: Pigmalión.
Shakespeare, W. (2007b), Sonetos (G. Falaquera, Trans.). Madrid: Hiperión.
Shakespeare, W. (2008) Sonetos (P. Pérez Prieto, Trans.). Tres Cantos: Nivola.
Shakespeare, W. (2009) Sonetos de amor (I. Gamen, Trans.). Sevilla: Renacimiento.
Shakespeare, W. (2013a) Sonetos (B. Santano Moreno, Trans.). BarcelonaAcantilado.
Shakespeare, W. (2013b) Sonetos y querellas de una amante (L. García García, Trans.). Valencia: JPM.
Shakespeare, W. (2014) Sonetos (J. Talens & R. Waswo, Trans.). Madrid: Cátedra.
Shakespeare, W. (2016a) Sonetos (W. Ospina, Trans.). Barcelona: Navona.
Shakespeare, W. (2016b) Sonetos de amor (S. D. Insa, Trans.). Madrid: Poesía Eres Tú.
Shakespeare, W. (2016c) Sonetos de Shakespeare (R. Gutiérrez Izquierdo, Trans.). Madrid: Visor Libros.
Shakespeare, W. (2018) Sonetos (E. Scott, Trans.). Buenos Aires: Interzona.
Bassnett, S. (1998) Transplanting the Seed: Poetry and Translation, in Bassnett, S. and Lefevere, A. (eds)
Constructing cultures: essays on literary translation. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 57–75.
Bassnett, S. (2018) Questioning Authority and Authenticity: The Creative Translations of Josephine Balmer, in
Boase-Beier, J., Fisher, L., and Furukawa, H. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Literary Translation.
Cham: Springer, pp. 333–350. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-75753-7_17.
Borges, J. L. (1997) Las dos maneras de traducir, in Borges, J. L., Textos recobrados: 1931-1955. Buenos Aires:
Emecé, pp. 256–259.
Bourdieu, P. (1984) Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste. Translated by R. Nice. Cambridge,
Mass: Harvard University Press.
Chesterman, A. (1996) ‘Teaching translation theory: the significance of memes’, in Dollerup, C. and Appel, V.
(eds) Teaching Translation and Interpreting 3. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, pp.
63–71. doi: 10.1075/btl.16.10che.
Chesterman, A. (1997) Memes of translation: the spread of ideas in translation theory. Amsterdam: John
Deane-Cox, S. (2017) Retranslation: translation, literature and reinterpretation. London: Bloomsbury.
Escudero, T. (2020) The Translator’s Ideology in the Poetic Text. Homoeroticism in Shakespeare’s Sonnets, in
Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk, B. (ed.) Cultural Conceptualizations in Translation and Language
Applications. Cham: Springer, pp. 137–150. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-43336-9_8.
Genette, G. (1987) Seuils. Paris: Edition Seuil.
Georgiou, N. (2018) Regarding Symbolic Capital: Poetry Translators from Modern Greek into English,
HERMES - Journal of Language and Communication in Business, (58), pp. 99–115. doi:
Halverson, S. L. (1997) The Concept of Equivalence in Translation Studies: Much Ado About Something,
Target, 9(2), pp. 207–233. doi: 10.1075/target.9.2.02hal.
Hermans, T. (1996) The Translator’s Voice in Translated Narrative, Target, 8(1), pp. 23–48. doi:
Hermans, T. (2007) Translation, irritation and resonance, in Wolf, M. and Fukari, A. (eds) Benjamins
Translation Library. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 57–75. doi: 10.1075/btl.74.04her.
Hermans, T. (2014) Positioning translators: Voices, views and values in translation, Language and Literature.
Edited by J. De Wilde, L. Bernaerts, and L. De Bleeker, 23(3), pp. 285–301. doi:
Hersant, P. (2018) Portraits du traducteur en préfacier, Palimpsestes, (31), pp. 17–36. doi:
House, J. (1997) Translation quality assessment: a model revisited. Tübingen: G. Narr.
Jones, F. R. (2011) Poetry translating as expert action: processes, priorities and networks. Amsterdam;
Philadelphia: John Benjamins
Jones, F. R. (2012) The Oxford Handbook of Translation Studies, in Malmkjaer, K. and Windle, K. (eds) The
Translation of Poetry. Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199239306.013.0013.
Jones, F. R. (2016) Partisanship or Loyalty? Seeking Textual Traces of Poetry Translators’ Ideologies,
Translation and Literature, 25(1), pp. 58–83. doi: 10.3366/tal.2016.0237.
Koster, C. (2000) From world to world: an armamentarium for the study of poetic discourse in translation.
Letawe, C. (2018) Quand le traducteur-préfacier parle de traduction. Fonctions d’un discours entre préface
allographe et préface auctoriale, Palimpsestes, (31), pp. 37–48. doi: 10.4000/palimpsestes.2583.
Levý, J. (2011) The art of translation. Translated by P. Corness. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Martínez de Merlo, L. (1997) Traducir poesía (Condiciones y límites de una práctica posible), Trans, (2), pp.
Newmark, P. (1988) A textbook of translation. New York: Prentice-Hall International.
Nida, E. (1964) Toward a Science of Translating. Leiden: Brill.
Norberg, U. (2012) Literary Translators’ Comments on their Translations in Prefaces and Afterwords: The Case
of Contemporary Sweden, in Gil Bardají, A., Orero, P., and Rovira Esteva, S. (eds) Translation
peripheries: paratextual elements in translation. Bern; New York: Peter Lang, pp. 101–116.
Nord, C. (1997) Translating as a purposeful activity: functionalist approaches explained. Manchester: St.
Jerome Publishing Company (Translation theories explained, 1).
Popovič, A. (1976) Dictionary for the analysis of literary translation. Edmonton: Dept. of Comparative
Literature, University of Alberta.
Pym, A. (1998) Method in translation history. Manchester: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
Pym, A. (2010) Translation and text transfer: an essay on the principles of intercultural communication.
Tarragona: Intercultural Studies Group. Available at:
http://usuaris.tinet.cat/apym/publications/TTT_2010.pdf (Accessed: 3 October 2019).
Pym, A. (2014) Exploring translation theories. Second Edition. London; New York: Routledge.
Quilis, A. (2013) Métrica española. 1. ed. en esta presentación. Barcelona: Ariel (Letras).
Reiss, K. et al. (2014) Towards a general theory of translational action skopos theory explained. London:
Samah, S. (2018) Politics and Paratext: On Translating Arwa Salih’s al-Mubtasarun, Alif: Journal of
Comparative Poetics, (38), pp. 180–202.
Sapiro, G. (2015) ‘Translation and Symbolic Capital in the Era of Globalization: French Literature in the United
States’, Cultural Sociology, 9(3), pp. 320–346. doi: 10.1177/1749975515584080.
Tahir Gürçaglar, Ş. (2011) Paratexts, in Gambier, Y. and van Doorslaer, L. (eds) Handbook of Translation
Studies. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 113–116. doi: 10.1075/hts.2.par1.
Tahir Gürçaglar, Ş. (2013) Agency in Allographic Prefaces to Translated Works: An Initial Exploration of the
Turkish Context, in Jansen, H. and Wegener, A. (eds) Authorial and Editorial Voices in Translation 2:
Editorial and Publishing Practices. Quebec: Editions québécoises de l’oeuvre, pp. 89–108.
Toury, G. (1995) Descriptive translation studies and beyond. 2nd expanded ed. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Venuti, L. (1995) The translator’s invisibility: a history of translation. London; New York: Routledge.
Weissbort, D. and Eysteinsson, Á. (eds) (2006) Translation: theory and practice: a historical reader. Oxford;
New York: Oxford University Press.
Ziemann, Z. (2018) Extratextual Factors Shaping Preconceptions About Retranslation, in Berk Albachten, Ö.
and Tahir Gürçağla, Ş. (eds) Perspectives on Retranslation: Ideology, Paratexts, Methods. London;
New York: Routledge. doi: 10.4324/9780203702819.