Poetic Imagery Transformations In Translation


The article deals with transformations in imagery of a poetic text in interlingual translation. A poetic text is one of the most difficult objects for translation as a translator should pay close attention to the content and the form and to two close planes – imagery and symbolic. A word is regarded as a unit of a literary text which concentrates an image in itself and a symbolic aspect behind it. A literary image is of many aspects and translator’s success depends on the ability to see and render these aspects. This diversity of aspects is of high difficulty for a translator because lack of attention to a word-symbol results in corruption of the author’s idea. In this regard the article sets the aim to show the imaginative aspect of key words and to study translator’s variants that lead to preserving or loss of imagery and symbolic meaning. The analysis is based on the semantics of the words participating in creating imagery and through semantics explains shifts in the translated image. The article studies the problem stated in Russian-to-English translation on the material of Boris Pasternak’s poetry. The article states that while working with such words or symbols a translator should conduct profound semantic analysis and carefully choose translation equivalents in order not to interfere with the author’s imagery.

Keywords: Boris PasternakHamletGarden of Gethsemaneimagesymboltransformations


Literary text can be measured by images: “Imagery is a universally central dimension in poetic meaning production” ( Brandt & Brandt, 2005, p. 117). An image can be understood as typification of life’s phenomena and reproduction of them in specific for each writer and text forms. Perceiving, interpreting and acquisition of life go through images. But such idea of an image can be applied mostly to epic or dramatic text. As for lyrics typification is not the word that can be used as lyrics is not narrative art but expressive one. In general it has no plot; its task is to express psychological state of the author.

In the case of lyrics we cannot speak about the author picturing with images. The image is born in the mind of the reader when they perceive the text. There is no specific place for an image in the text. It unfolds gradually, and in most cases one lyrical text has one comprehensive image, one “picture” that remains in reader’s mind. It can consist of a number of smaller ones but they are integral parts of the whole arising from the poetic text. “Yet the image is the constant in all poetry, and every poem is itself an image” ( Lewis, 2016, p. 17).

An image in lyrics nears a symbol. As Averintsev ( 1987) writes, “a symbol is an image in the aspect of its sign character”; “it is a sign, provided with all harmony and sustainable polysemy of an image” (p. 378). Let us give the definition of the term “image” and its structure.

Image and imagery

“Image” is a very complicated term, difficult to define. In literary criticism an image is often seen as a metaphor. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica , poetic imagery is “the sensory and figurative language used in poetry” (Poetic Imagery, n.d., p. 1). A poet constructs relations between two objects and transfers the qualities of one object onto another one. In this interpretation imagery equals figurative language, or stylistic devices common in the literary text, such as tropes and figures of speech.

An image is usually seen as a combination of two words: “Poetic image is established by correlating two words (signs) having a distinct semantic relation between themselves with an analogous relation, so when the reader/listener receives the poetic image, one or more referents occur in the mind of each individual, according to their “subjective perceptions” ( Engin, 2015, p. 5).

In our opinion, an image does not occur in the text, it is mental category. It is a kind of picture that a reader develops due to the written text and that the author has in mind when creating the poetic text. In this case image is, from one side, the result of word combination in tropes, and from the other an image is the basis for the tropes to be created. Images can have symbolic or metaphorical sense, but not necessarily (Llorens, n.d.). There is another point of view. “The mental image is that produced by the poetic words and phrases, whereas, the verbal image consists of the words that produce the image in the mind of the reader” ( Mahfouz, 2012, p. 201). We do not classify images as suggested in the previous citation, and consider words as representatives of an image in the poetic text.

The term “imagery” in the article is used in the meaning of the set of separate or interrelated images in one poetic text or in the context of the whole works of a specific author.

Image and word

“Image is the fact of imaginary existence; every time it is again realizes in the imagination of the recipient possessing the “key”, a cultural “code” for its identification and understanding” ( Rodnyanskaya, 2003, p. 671). To create an image a recipient needs particular elements which belong to the conventional language of the art or artistic tradition. Thus, as a mental concept an image requires tangible means to be expressed. For the literal text such means is naturally a word. A reader (or translator) often deals with a word while interpreting literal texts, but with a word in its context meaning. Not every word has image but practically every word contributes to the image.

A word combines indication of objective reality and reflection of author’s spiritual world and many connotative, symbolic and archetypal meanings. The idea of a word as a sign reflecting aggregate of associations, concepts, estimations, and intuitive reactions may be very useful in the theory of translation, especially, in connection with literal text ( Kazakova, 2018). If a word develops possibility to be interpreted as a sign of something unrelated to the object of reference besides its referential and associative meaning, then it becomes a symbol. The meaning of a symbol can be revealed only through a profound analysis of word’s semantic levels, searching prototypes and archetypes.

An image word arises from a sign word when an artist transfers objects perceived through senses into inner spiritual images, thus a poetic image is a way of recreating reality according to some aesthetic ideal ( Averintsev, 1987). Every image has its individual structure. And the translator ought not only to descry and interpret the image in the right way, but save its structure, because the order of the words influences the perception of the whole.

Problem Statement

In most cases translators of fiction have to deal with a word or a word combination which are verbal representations of an image. “The linguistic signs mean something on the page, in the ordinary sense and, in addition to that, they are loaded with intentionality; if they appear on the page they are meant to be there. … any hypothetical alteration would disrupt the textual integrity – every comma, every sentence is in place: exactly where it ‘should’ be” ( Brandt & Brandt, 2005). In view if this, translator’s task in rendering images is complicated as the translator needs to give the image a new form in the target language signs and not to lose its imagery in signs’ references. It is obvious that sign-symbol experience of the recipient differs a priori from both author’s and translator’s experience, that is why a transferred image gets other sign form. Nevertheless a translator should not explain the image, make it easier, thus releasing the reader from the necessity to use associative thinking mechanisms.

Our analysis is based on two prominent poems by Pasternak ( 2015): Hamlet and Garden of Gethsemane (Gefsimansky sad). The poems belong to the cycle Yuri Zhivago’s Poems and form an integral part of novel Yuri Zhivago . They have special position in the cycle; poem Hamlet opens it, and poem Garden of Gethsemane is the final one. Pasternak’s (2015) poems, according to Ivanov ( 2016), combine modern poetic achievements with some archaic forms and themes, for example, ones from the Bible. And both poems under study are united with Biblical motif of the prayer in the garden of Gethsemane and have textual similarity.

“Thematically, as well, his poetic vision is directed exclusively towards the phenomena of everyday life” ( Podoroga, 2015, p. 540), and one of such themes is death and birth. Pasternak considers death as a guarantee for transfiguration, resurrection, and new life. Eternity intertwines with daily life; Jesus Christ gets simplicity and ordinariness ( Kim, 2015; Donelley, 1983; Paretskaya, 2015). And the main realization of eternity and immortality is creative activity, creative heritage.

Images in Hamlet

Hamlet is one of the most famous Pasternak’s poems. In the poem the character-speaker is experiencing doubts on whether to accept his doom or to fight against the evil impersonated in Pharisees. Such doubts tormented Shakespearean Hamlet, as well as the main protagonist of the novel Yuri Zhivago. So, the character of the poem is simultaneously Yuri as the author of the cycle, Hamlet, and the actor who just played on the stage.

Besides Biblical Gethsemane motif it reveals several other ones. First of all it is Shakespearian motif; it is easily understood from the title. Pasternak wrote to E. Kayden: “I always felt the spirit of message, election and predestination in Hamlet, his subjugation, his being bound by a higher will or vow. Thence the title” ( as cited in Fleishman, 2015, p. 611). This introduces the motif of predetermination of everything. There is no reason to fight for something you want to be or happen, because “produman rasporyadok deistviy i neotvratim konets puti” (the order of actions is thought over and the end of the way is inevitable). Shakespearian motif entails theatrical one ( Hamenok, 2017; Zou, 2017). It realizes in such words as opera glasses (binokl na osi), stage (podmostki), drama (drama), part (rol), etc., as well as in the Shakespearian allusion to the Jaques’ words from “As You Like It”: ‘All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players: / They have their exits and their entrances’. The next motif is the motif of creative activity. An actor here is equal to an artist.

Thus, the imagery structure of the poem is as follows (see figure 01 ).

Figure 1: Interrelation of representations of themes in Hamlet
Interrelation of representations of themes in							
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The task of the translator is to find target language equivalents that will coincide with the imagery structure but not destroy it.

Images and symbols in Garden of Gethsemane

In Garden of Gethsemane Pasternak replicates the Biblical story of Jesus praying in Gethsemane and being betrayed later on. The prayer of the cup is one of the most dramatic pages in the Bible and probably in the whole world literature. In the poem Pasternak with all his poetic skill reveals humanness of the Jesus, shows him renounce voluntarily his omnipotence and ability to work miracles and submitted to the great will of his Father. Jesus is alone in the face of his fate, and as any human he trembles knowing the end of his mortal life; this is reflected in such lines: “Dusha skorbit smertelno” (my soul is deathly sorrowful), “I, glyadya v eti chyornye provaly, Pustye, bez nachala i kontsa, chtob eta chasha smerti minovala, V potu krovavom On molil Ottsa” (Looking into these black cavities, empty, with no end and beginning, sweating with blood, He prayed Father for this cup of death pass Him by). But in the poem Jesus (as well as the character of the poem who is a combination of Yuri Zhivago and a man in general) voluntarily makes his moral option and agrees to die in the name of justice’s triumph.

Some images in Garden of Gethsemane correlate with corresponding images in Hamlet and have verbal coincidence with them. This coincidence is represented in the form of the same word, in the form of synonym, or as a cognate word. Such image words are (in the first place is Hamlet , in the second is Garden of Gethsemane ):

chasha (cup) – chasha smerti (cup of death)

mimo (past) – minovat (pass)

otche (old vocative form for ‘father’) – otets (father)

vek (age, century) – vek / stoletie (age, century)

noch (night) – nochnaya (nocturnal)

sumrak (twilight) – temnota (darkness)

konets puti (end of way) – nachinalsya (Mlechny) put (Milky) Way begins).

uvol (release from) – dobrovolno (voluntarily)

Besides there are some image correspondence which is not expressed in textual coincidence:

end of way / road – beginning of the Milky Way;

character asks to let him not to participate in future actions – Jesus renounced without struggle from his might to execute his father’s will; he accepts suffering voluntarily (‘I descend into the grave in voluntarily sufferings’, ‘Let this come true’);

future is predetermined and unavoidable – the written will must come true;

the character is alone – Jesus is alone in the face of his sufferings; the universe is uninhabited and the abyss in front of him is empty.

We are interested not in all motifs and images of the text, but only in those that unite Garden of Gethsemane with Hamlet. They are Biblical motif of prayer of the cup which dominates in the poem, and the motif of predetermination.

The text is also full of symbols that are more profound than image words and are able to create more extent pictures in reader’s minds. They are such symbols as garden, water, cup, fire, sword, ship, olive. Not all of them are represented by the proper word which equals the symbol. In some cases the reader should guess what symbol is disguised under some word.

Garden (the word is repeated thrice, including the title) is the symbol of Eden, an ordered universe; an image of a soul, spiritual harmony. In this very place which is “the only place to live in” Jesus finds consent and determination to follow his father’s will.

Water (in the poem it is represented by the words ‘river’ and ‘Kidron flows’) is the symbol of renewal and purification; the beginning for every life.

Olive (in the Russian text we have the word denoting black, ripe fruits of olive trees) symbolizes hope and peace, as well as eternal life. An olive branch is a sign of union of God and men also.

Cup is a symbol of the Holy Passion and the Atonement.

Fire means rebirth and purification from sins.

Sword (repeated thrice) on one side symbolizes martyrdom and the Holy Passion, on the other side it is a symbol of justice.

Ship (in the text there is no ships, but rafts and barges) is a sign Christianity symbolizing Salvation ( Bayeshko, Gordienko, & Gordienko, 2007).

Thus, there are a lot of Christian symbols in the poem and we suppose them being rendered without changes in the translation.

We have 16 translations of poem Hamlet and 6 translations of poem Garden of Gethsemane at our disposal, but our analysis we have based on 4 of both poems. The reason for such selection is the following: first, we choose only translations by non-Russian translators for the translations do not reflect Russian culture and Russian language as of Russian native speakers, and secondly, we analyze translations of both poems of one and the same translator. They are Foreman (2012, 2015), Stallworthy and France ( 1983), Peaver and Volokhonsky ( 2010), and Barnes ( 2010).

Research Questions

As it was stated earlier, image and imagery do not exist without words that are tangible matter of any text, and poetic one as well. It is obvious that only notional words can create an image as they name phenomena of the reality. But even among notional ones words differ by their role in creating images. The highest involvement in creating image means that a word equals the image, and we can name them image words or even symbols if the semantics of such word goes beyond its meaning and needs context wider than the text itself. So, the first step in analyzing imagery transformations is to determine which words have the most significant imaginative load and constitute the imagery of poems Hamlet and Garden of Gethsemane . Here we see two ways. First, statistic analysis can reveal which words the author emphasises with the help of frequency as if he wants to fix them in the minds of his readers. Second, analysis of motifs and semantics gives us word clusters that serve as basis for image creation.

Next step is to define dictionary meaning of such image-forming words (we employed: Oxford English Dictionary, Thesaurus and Grammar (2019) and Definition Dictionary of Russian Language by Ozhegov (2018)) and their contextual meaning, as well as their symbolic load in the source language (Russian), culture and the text itself. Also, it is necessary to understand possibilities in rendering the proper meaning into the target language (English).

After identifying the image and the role of words in its formation we are able to analyze shifts in symbolism, semantics or imagery itself when the original text was translated into English.

Purpose of the Study

The sense and the image appear from the combination of the words. The author chooses a word which conveys his conception better. And every word in a poetic text is unique in its combination of meanings. As different languages’ vocabularies do not correlate with each other fully, so a word that replaces the original one does have differences in the meaning and usage. Thus, the whole image of a poetic text undergoes inevitable changes. Our aim is to study to what extent the translator’s option influences the multilayer imagery of the poem and to what extent it changes due to translation through looking onto the semantics of the key words.

Research Methods

To achieve our goal we use the combination of linguistic methods as well as literary analysis to perceive the author’s conception.

Statistic analysis

We use statistic analysis to find out the most frequent words in the poetic cycle “Yuri Zhivago’s Poems”. We assume that the most frequent words are important in the poetic whole. If the author repeats a word or a combination of words it may indicate that this words has some importance to the concept and the author mark it through frequency. It is obvious that this is applies only to the notional parts of speech, especially to nouns.

Componential analysis and contextual analysis

Componential analysis is used to determine the seme structure of a word in the original text and its equivalent in the translation. Comparing sets of semes that realize in both texts we can define the shift, if any, in the semantics and the subsequent change in the poetic image. This analysis is complemented with contextual analysis that reveals the meaning of a word or an image in the closest or wider context. In some cases we are not able to determine the meaning of a word within the textual contexts and have to go out of the frames of the text and search the meaning in the culture, age or author’s biography.

Comparative method

This method enables us to compare the seme structure of the original words and word combinations and find out the differences and transformations that the imagery of the poem undergoes in the translation.


Key words for analysis

To find out the most frequent words in the cycle we counted all nouns. We did not distinguish the initial form and other case-forms of one and the same word. Then we take only those words that are present in the first and the last poems of the cycle. This gave as the following results (see table 01 ).

Table 1 -
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Not every word presented in the table above is important for the poetic imagery, but in the whole they introduce some themes to the poems. For example, ‘wall’ and ‘fence’ shows the physical division between the garden as a part of eternity and heaven and the ‘ground’. The word ‘disciple’ indicates the motif of continuity: if a person has disciples, someone whom they can hand over their ideals, their knowledge, is not alone and can prolong their lives in their disciples.

The comparative analysis showed that the majority of the words in the table 01 were translated with equivalents, the variants that transfer their lexical and contextual meaning. In some cases the original words were replaced with analogues but the common meaning remained the same. For example: ‘dal’ (distance) – ‘horizon’, ‘reaches’; ‘reka’ (river) – ‘stream’; ‘khod’ (course) – ‘progress’; ‘zhelezo’ (iron) – ‘steel’; ‘temnota’ (darkness) – ‘night’; ‘grob’ (coffin) – ‘tomb’ or ‘grave’. The word ‘tolpa’ (crowd) has similar word in close context; it is ‘skopische’ which means the same but is very disapproving. And the translators unite them in one word ‘mob’, ‘horde’ or ‘throng’.

Thus we can say that the thematic words that have no symbolic meaning or does not reflect main motifs cause no problems in translation and are translated mostly with their equivalents.

But we presume that the imagery of a poem arises from the words that have metaphorical or symbolic sense. Also in most cases one word is not enough to trigger an image in reader’s mind. An image birth needs a combination of words and their semantics. However, there are some words that bear an image in themselves, they are symbolic words. In the table above such words are ‘garden’ and ‘sword’. In the next part we are to analyze the combinations of words that answer poetic motifs in the poems and gives images.


We’ve determined five motifs (and images as well) in the poem Hamlet . These motifs combine and create the imagery of the poem through words representing them. In translation original representative words undergoes some transformations that influence the final imagery. Stylistic choice of words affects the imagery as well.

To discover shifts in the meaning and changes in the imagery we need first of all describe the meanings in the original text.

‘Gul zatikh’: obscure noise ceased

‘Ya vyshel na podmostki’: the character enters the stage from the wings; the word ‘podmostki’ has the mark ‘obsolete’ and thus belongs to the poetic style.

‘Ya lovlyu v dalyokom otgoloske, chto sluchitsa na moyom veku’: the character understands from the echo what will happen in his whole life.

‘Na menya nastavlen sumrak nochi tysyachiu binokley na osi’: here we have a metaphor and a simile; the darkness gets closer and targeted at the character as if the audience looks at him through opera-glasses.

‘Esli tolko mozhno, Avva Otche, chashu etu mimo pronesi’: Biblical allusion to the Gethsemane prayer; the character asks the Father let the cup (no detailing which one) pass from him.

‘I na etot raz menya uvol’: the word ‘uvol’ (release from something difficult and unpleasant) has the mark ‘obsolete’ and thus belongs to poetic style.

‘No produman rasporyadok deistviy i neotvratim konets puti’: the consequence of actions (or acts) is thought over and the end cannot be avoided.

‘Ya odin, vsyo tonet v fariseystve’: the character is alone and pharisaism (self-rightedness) floods everything.

‘Zhizn prozhit – ne pole pereiti’: literal ‘To live life is not to cross the field’; a Russian proverb meaning that life has a lot of tests and difficulties and a man should be prepared for them and be brave and firm.

In the translation by Foreman (2012, 2015) there are some differences. The very first word ‘din’ introduces other picture: in the original the noise is simply vague, but in the translation it is loud, unpleasant, and prolonged, thus the reader gets the idea that the audience (the world) is against the character, which is not the same in the original. In the original the character learns his future and in the translation he just feels it (‘A sense of what shall happen in my age’). The original simile ‘sumrak nochi tysyachiu binokley na osi’ is transformed into the metonymy ‘thousands of theatre glasses focus on me, turning on me the darkness of the night’. The image is very clear: there is some audience in the theatre hall, and in the light of this the phrase ‘I’m alone’ has one meaning of being alone against the world. The other meaning of being alone in this very space (in the stage) is not so obvious.

The original idea is considerably changed in the 7 th and 8 th lines. In the Russian version Pasternak repeats practically word for word the Gospel text of prayer on the cup. The character of the poem does not doubt that to save him from drinking the cup is possible for whom he prays, he just asks about another option of not to drink it. In Foreman’s (2012, 2015) translation we see the character asking God (that it is God is proved by the capital letter in pronouns ‘Thee’ and ‘Thy’) whether God has enough power to save him from the cup: “If it be in Thy power”.

There is some differences in the meaning of the word ‘unwavering’, or steady, resolute, because the Russian word ‘upryamy’ is closer in the meaning to ‘stubborn’ or ‘obstinate’ and has somewhat negative connotation. However, despite the difference we see no crucial shift in the imagery. Russian obsolete ‘uvol’ meaning ‘release from doing something difficult or unpleasant’ is changed into ‘release me from the cast’; the idea of something bad ahead of the character is weakened. But in the phrase there is strengthening of the “theatrical” motif in the poem: ‘cast’ is added which is absent in the original. The same we observe in the 1 st line where ‘the wings’ are added besides the equivalent ‘stage’.

In the translation we also see links with the last poem Garden of Gethsemane enhanced: the 13 th line “But the whole plot has been already written” resonates with the lines “Seichas dolzhno napisannoye sbytsya” (Now what is written must come true), but unfortunately in Foreman’s translation of Garden of Gethsemane the exact idea of the written word is lost.

‘Plot’ has only “theatrical” meaning and lacks the meaning of human actions which is in Russian ‘deistviye’. Due to the variant ‘irrevocably’ the idea of inevitability of the end is not as explicit as in the Russian text. ‘Falls Pharisaic’ in the 15 th line implies that everyone agrees with pharisaism and becomes Pharisaic unlike in the Russian text where pharisaism just suppresses everything and everyone disagreeing with it. And in our opinion ‘park’ instead of ‘field’ in the last line is unacceptable because a Russian person cannot think of life and its duration with such category as a park. We are aware of necessity of translation adaptation and that this very poem is philosophic one and has no Russian cultural specific words, but we convinced that every translation should adapt only what cannot be understood by foreign readers due to differences in realities or languages and remain unchanged if it is intelligible and reflects the peculiarities of the culture.

The same changes we can observe in other translations. Stallworthy and France ( 1983) chooses ‘buzz’ for Russian ‘gul’ thus adding into the poem idea of excitement and activity which is not the same in the original. As Foreman, the translators change the agent in lines 5-6: “A thousand opera-glasses level the dark, point-blank, at me”. But for the poetic whole it is important that the darkness itself looks at the character. In the line “But the play being acted is not mine” it is unclear who is the character – an actor which is clear in the Russian text or a playwright. Next line also does not give the clear idea of that the character does not want to participate in the play. “The end of the road already revealed” gives the idea that the character knows and sees it whereas the character in the Russian text just guess that it is inevitable and will likely be tragic. The 15 th line “Alone among the Pharisees I stand” inhabits the scene with other participants but in the Russian text the reader can just guess if there is anybody else in the hall by dark hints in the second quatrain. The line lacks the image of everything drawn in pharisaic attitude to the life as well.

In our opining the translation by Peaver and Volokhonsky ( 2010) is the closest one to the original text. The 1 st word that is translated with semantic deviations in the previous versions is translated here as ‘hum’, ‘a low steady continuous sound’. The word transfers the meaning of the original ‘gul’ with more precision than ‘buzz’ and ‘din’, and gives rise to the image of sound that is usual in the house before the performance.

In the translation under discussion the translators preserve Pasternak’s metaphor: “the night’s darkness focuses on me thousands of opera-glasses”; thus the recipient gets the right impression: an actor on the stage can only see opera-glasses in the darkness of the hall but not the spectators. But the image is not fully rendered because in the translation there is simile present in the text by Pasternak. ‘Stubbornness of your intent” is practically verbatim translation of ‘zamysel upryamy’ if not to take into consideration the difference in the structure of the phrase. We see some inequality in line 12: “spare me, then, this once”. In contrast to the Russian ‘uvol’ ‘spare’ means ‘refrain from killing or injuring’, so the initial idea is much more dramatized and becomes more tragic than in the Russian text. The Russian text reads ‘let me not to participate in hypocrisy, pettiness and hostility of the world’, and the English one: ‘leave me intact’.

One of the most difficult places in the poem for translation is the phrase ‘rasporyadok deistviy’. As it was said before, in Russian word ‘deistviye’ two meanings are combines: act as a part of a play and action as the process of doing something, so both – the course of the play and future deeds of a character – are thought over by some supernatural force, namely God. As in Stallworthy and France’s (1983) translation, Peaver and Volokhonsky ( 2010) render only the first meaning impoverishing the initial meaning by this. In the last line the translators use ‘stroll’ instead of ‘cross’ or some other neutral word.

Equivalence in this translation is achieved through rejecting to render peculiarities of the Russian verse, such as rhythm and rhyme that play an important role in creating imagery.

The 4 th translation by Barnes ( 2010) is the freest interpretation of the four. He uses antonymy in the very 1 st line: ‘a hush descends’ instead of ‘hum calms down’. ‘Boards’ is incorrect stylistically as it is colloquial name for stage, especially if to remember that Russian ‘podmostki’ has poetic connotation. Introduction of such word is more irrelevant on the background of such complicated words as ‘divine’, ‘endeavor’, ‘amidst’, ‘thousand-fold’, ‘chalice’, etc, as well as archaic forms ‘thee’ and ‘thy’, that are rather poetic than common.

The initial darkness metaphor undergoes substantial transformations in the lines “Darkness, thousand-fold, is focused on me Down the axis of each opera-glass”. The image appearing from the translated metaphor, firstly, has no comparison with guns which is in the Russian text due to the word ‘nastavlen’ (aimed), secondly, original metaphor speaks of twilight while in Barnes’ translation the darkness is very thick as if it was folded thousand times, thirdly, the reader gets strange picture of an opera-glass: in normal state a spectator holds opera-glass by its handle oriented vertically, in order to focus the axis (or handle) on the stage one should orient it horizontally which is strange enough.

Usage of ‘thee’ and ‘thy’ with capital T enhances Biblical motif, while Pasternak uses no capitalization in the equivalent words. Barnes ( 2010) changes ‘cup’ for ‘chalice’ which is more poetic but diverse from the traditional Biblical text, where ‘cup’ is used. Due to the added ‘beg’ the character in translation get features of some weakness as if he tries to avoid the future by all means. The interjection ‘alas’ in the 13 th line also emphasizes character’s reluctance to agree with the “stubborn purpose”. As in the previous two translations there is just one interpretation of dubious Russian ‘deistviye’, but here we observe the second variant ‘actions’ with no relevance to theatrical theme. Then, it raises the question why the translator uses singular form of ‘Pharisee’ and unites it with the verb ‘claim’. We see no reason and explanation for such substitute but the great part of the imagery is lost and there is no image of a flood as a natural disaster. Obviously ‘meadow’ is more familiar for English readers but it is the same as in the case of ‘park’ in Foreman’s translation.

To sum up this free interpretation lack many important components of original semantics.

Garden of Gethsemane

As it was shown above the two poems have intertextual similarities. Pasternak uses the same words on purpose and the reader sees the evolution of the character and of the initial imagery. So, to preserve the integrity of the whole poetic cycle and especially of frame poems a translator should follow author’s intention and recreate textual verbal links. There may be two ways. A translator may carefully recreate any word that is important in the poetic imagery as a whole or a translator may change the word, but in this case they have to use the same word in the second poem. Or a translator may ignore textual links and restore the necessary impression only.

Our analysis shows that the translators are unaware of the verbal links or decide not to follow them in their translation. The only linking word that remained unchanged is Father, and it is because the common Christian tradition in Russian and English languages.

‘Cup’ (chasha) in the 1 st poem finds its verbatim repetition in three translations of four. As we remember, in Foreman’s translation there is the word ‘chalice’ in Hamlet and ‘deathly cup’ in Garden of Gethsemane , so this link is broken. Exactly the same deviation from intertextual links we have in the case of the word ‘age/century’: in translations by Stallworthy and France ( 1983), and Barnes ( 2010) there is ‘future’ instead in Hamlet , and ‘ages’/’centuries’ in Garden of Gethsemane . It is important that in Russian language the word ‘vek’ means both ‘age’ and ‘century’, and by this word life of one person binds with the history of mankind. This idea is difficult to render into English with the help of one word, especially if there is no verbatim repetition in translations.

‘Twilight of the night’ (sumrak nochi) repeats in ‘night distance’ (nochnaya dal), ‘black cavities’ (chyornye provaly) and ‘float from the darkness’ (poplyvut iz temnoty). ‘Night’ is repeated as it is, and ‘twilight’ is intensified to the darkness and blackness. ‘Night’, the most frequent word in Pasternak’s cycle, is omitted in two translations (there is ‘darkness’ instead): by Stallworthy and France and by Barnes. And in both translations of Garden of Gethsemane by these translators there is no word ‘darkness’ and in both cases they use ‘night’. It is worth to notice that in another two translations ‘twilight’ is replaced with ‘darkness’, thus the reader gets no evolution in the image.

‘End of way (or road)’ echoes in the lines “povorot dorogi” (turn of the road), “doroga shla vokrug gory Maslichnoy” (the road went round the Mount of Olives), and “nachinalsya Mlechny put” (the Milky Way began). In the first case we have synonym ‘doroga’ to ‘put’ (both words mean a special band of land for moving from one place to another and a series of events leading to some outcome) and in the second case ‘put’ is repeated but with the word having opposite meaning to ‘end’. In all translations there were no difficulties with rendering the words denoting ‘road’, but the correlation between two poems is different. In Foreman’s translation ‘road’ and ‘way’ find no verbatim repetition in Hamlet , as the translator used word ‘journey’ in it. And ‘end’ in Hamlet has no ‘beginning’ in Garden of Gethsemane . Thus the link becomes of level of ideas, not of words. In Stallworthy and France’s translation ‘road’ in Hamlet is repeated twice in the other poem and also we have ‘way’ here, but there is no textual correlation between ending and beginning too. The same is in the translation by Barnes with one exception: once he uses ‘highway’, the word denotes modern facts of life. The introduction of such stylistically alien word ruins the impression of the poem which is somehow patriarchal. No word correlation between two texts is in the translation by Peaver and Volokhonsky, because there is neither ‘way’, nor ‘road’ in their Hamlet , but this is the only translation that has correlation between ‘end’ and ‘begin’. To sum up, in those translations where there is no repetition of the image words the reader does not see the dramatic turn in the life of the character and new beginning of his fate.

As for repetition of cognate words ‘mimo’/‘minovat’ and ‘uvol’/‘dobrovolno’ the latter pair of words has no chance to be transferred in the same or close in meaning form into English text. The first pair is easily rendered: in three translations there is the repetition of the verb ‘pass’ (with practically verbatim repetition of the whole line in the translation by Stallworthy and France), however in the translation by Barnes there is no such repetition, and the translator prefers ‘exempt’ instead of ‘pass’ in the second poem.

We have made an assumption that due to similarity of Christian traditions in Russia and in the West biblical symbols are easy to be transferred into English word. Our analysis has proved this assumption. In most cases the wording of Pasternak remains the same in English. We can point out some deviations. In translations by Foreman and Barnes there are just two words ‘garden’ and one is replaced with “Gethsemane”. In some cases the original word is rendered with an analogue of the same lexical set which indicates the symbol but slightly changes the image: ‘brook’ and ‘stream’ instead of ‘river’ or ‘fleet’ in the last quatrain with omitted ‘raft’ in Barnes’s translation; ‘blade’ instead of ‘sword’ in translations by Stallworthy and France, and Peaver and Volokhonsky. All translators changed original ‘fires’ onto metonymic ‘torch’ which makes sense (people can bring fire only with the help of a torch) but postpones the immediate perception of the symbol.


Thus, our research on imagery transformations in poetic translation gives us the following results: firstly, the poetic imagery in the whole strongly depends on the semantics of the words used by the author in the special order; secondly, not all words participate in image creation and a translator should first of all identify those words which are more important in image creation; thirdly, failure to see the whole image and interrelation of smaller ones or to perceive the role of one or another word leads to drastic transformations in the imagery of the poetic text and gives the reader corrupted impression and idea of the text. A translator should go deeply into the word-image structure of the original text and try to recreate all nuances to fulfill the aim of literary translation – create a text with equal aesthetic and conceptual impact on the reader.


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20 April 2020

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Discourse analysis, translation, linguistics, interpretation, cognition, cognitive psychology

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Andreeva, E. D. (2020). Poetic Imagery Transformations In Translation. In A. Pavlova (Ed.), Philological Readings, vol 83. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 140-153). European Publisher. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2020.04.02.16