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Photo: Karl Torfason

As part of the Leif Eiriksson Icelandic Club of Calgary Distinguished Speaker’s Series, Mooréa Gray presented an interesting talk on the translation of poetry from one language to another.

She used an English translation of Stephan G. Stephansson’s poetry from its original Icelandic.
                                                                                                                                                               Mooréa Gray
Highlights of Stephansson’s life helped put his poetry into perspective. Mooréa is a graduate student at the University of Calgary in 18th century English literature and has edited a book on Rosa Benediktson, Stephan’s daughter.

The well known poem “Árferði ì Alberta” (1891) was read in Icelandic by Guðrún Jörundsdóttir. Her reading illustrated clearly the complexity of the sound of the poem.  The question is how to translate these effects into another language. This challenge is illustrated by the translations of Kristjana Gunnars (“Seasons in Alberta”) which was read in English by Ed McCullough and Bernard Scudder (“The Climate in Alberta”) read by Carol Blyth. Gunnar’s translation follows the original Icelandic text but not the rhyme scheme, whereas Scudder opted for the original rhyme scheme .

Using an example of the Stephansson poem “Frá nýju nágrenni (1904), two translations – “My New Neighbourhood” by Watson Kirkconell and “From a New Neighourhood” by Helgi Hornford, were shown, side by side on screen, for comparison. While both translations used the original rhyme form, Kirkconnell diligently tried to emulate alliteration of the original.

The inference was that it was extremely difficult to translate all of the content as well as the poetic beauty of the original poem. Because these translated poems are very similar, they illustrate and confirm Stephansson’s skill at irony, tone, and imagery. As Kristjana Gunnars once wrote, “A skilled ironist, [Stephansson] played with tone until the poem could be read in opposition to itself.”

At the end of the formal presentation, Mooréa answered many questions from the audience and there was further discussion during the social event which followed.                  

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