Music, Poetry and Translation

Analogies between poetry and music go back thousands of years, to the very origins of poetry itself. Poetry, we are told, is music, or at least more like music than other uses of language. Poetry translation also goes back a very long way. And so does the idea that music cannot be translated.... If poetry is music (or at least is characterized by a musical element), and music cannot be translated, how is a translator to cope with the music in poetry? That simple question has never been addressed directly and systematically, but it is one that binds together translators themselves, and two of the academic fields of inquiry that have proved most compelling over recent years: translation studies, and word and music studies. This conference will bring together people across the spectrum, from philosophers of aesthetics who have studied how words cope with the strange phenomenon we call music, to literature specialists who have dealt both in theory and in practice with how music in poetry passes from one language to another, and experts on the history of translation. The interdisciplinary nature of this conference will ensure multiple approaches to the problem, and cast new light, we hope, on one of the most challenging questions for literary translation.

For more detailed information, please refer to our conference program.


Invited speakers — abstracts

Ronnie Apter (Central Michigan University), Emerita Professor of English

Mark Herman, President, Herman and Apter, Translators

Performance: “Translating the Music of the Words and the Words to the Music: Struggles with the 12th-Century Troubadour Bernart de Ventadorn

Peter Dayan (University of Edinburgh), Word and Music Studies

“Stravinsky and the Translation of Poetry for Music

Peter France (University of Edinburgh), Emeritus Professor of French

“Translating Sound Worlds: The Example of Russian Poetry

Marc Froment-Meurice (Vanderbilt University), French

“Quasi the Same — That Is to Say: Trans/Hallucinations”

Marilyn Gaddis-Rose (SUNY-Binghamton), Comparative Literature

“Durée in Translation: The Survival of Bergson in English”

Susan Gillespie (Bard College), independent translator

“Paul Celan’s ‘Coronas’: Parsing the Voice from the Voiceless”

Lydia Goehr (Columbia University), Music and Philosophy

“Ekphrasis: Skinning Marsyas ‘under a Description’ ”

John Hamilton (Harvard University), Comparative Literature and Classics

“ ‘Es ist der Wahnsinn’ — Allegory and Poetic Transposition in C minor”

Kenneth Haynes (Brown University), Comparative Literature and Classics

“Episodes in the History of the Untranslatable”

Robert Hullot-Kentor (School of Visual Arts), Philosophy

“‘In the Big X of the Returning Primitive’: What’s Untranslatable in Wallace Stevens and Adorno” 
(This presentation was canceled.)

Charlotte Mandell, independent translator, reads from her translations of Jean‑Luc Nancy, Listening (Fordham UP, 2007); Jean-Luc Nancy, The Fall of Sleep (Fordham UP, 2009), and Mathias Enard, Zone (Open Letter, 2010).

John Sallis (Boston College), Philosophy

“On Redoubling Translation and the Noncompactness of Art”

Clive Scott (University of East Anglia), Emeritus Professor of European Literature

“Overwriting and the Overwritten Text: The Suicidal Drama of Translation


Download the conference poster.