Quotes Categories

Translation Quotes

Any translation which intends to perform a transmitting function cannot transmit anything but information -- hence, something inessential. This is the hallmark of bad translations.

Author: Walter Benjamin (1982-1940)

Profession: German Critic, Philosopher

Nor ought a genius less than his that writ attempt translation.

Author: Sir John Denham (1615-1668)

Profession: British Poet, Dramatist

God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice.

Author: John Donne (1572-1632)

Profession: British Metaphysical Poet

I do not hesitate to read all good books in translations. What is really best in any book is translatable -- any real insight or broad human sentiment.

Author: Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Profession: American Poet, Essayist

The test of a given phrase would be: Is it worthy to be immortal? To ''make a beeline'' for something. That's worthy of being immortal and is immortal in English idiom. ''I guess I'll split'' is not going to be immortal and is excludable, therefore excluded.

Author: Robert Fitzgerald (1910-1985)

Profession: American Scholar, Translator

To translate, one must have a style of his own, for otherwise the translation will have no rhythm or nuance, which come from the process of artistically thinking through and molding the sentences; they cannot be reconstituted by piecemeal imitation. The problem of translation is to retreat to a simpler tenor of one's own style and creatively adjust this to one's author.

Author: Paul Goodman (1911-1972)

Profession: American Author, Poet, Critic

Translation is entirely mysterious. Increasingly I have felt that the art of writing is itself translating, or more like translating than it is like anything else. What is the other text, the original? I have no answer. I suppose it is the source, the deep sea where ideas swim, and one catches them in nets of words and swings them shining into the boat... where in this metaphor they die and get canned and eaten in sandwiches.

Author: Ursula K. Le Guin (1929)

Profession: American Author

There are few efforts more conducive to humility than that of the translator trying to communicate an incommunicable beauty. Yet, unless we do try, something unique and never surpassed will cease to exist except in the libraries of a few inquisitive book lovers.

Author: Edith Hamilton (1867-1963)

Profession: American Classical Scholar, Translator

Translation is the paradigm, the exemplar of all writing. It is translation that demonstrates most vividly the yearning for transformation that underlies every act involving speech, that supremely human gift.

Author: Harry Mathews (1930)

Profession: American Novelist

As far as modern writing is concerned, it is rarely rewarding to translate it, although it might be easy. Translation is very much like copying paintings.

Author: Boris Pasternak (1890-1960)

Profession: Russian Poet, Novelist, Translator

A great age of literature is perhaps always a great age of translations.

Author: Ezra Pound (1885-1972)

Profession: American Poet, Critic

The best thing on translation was said by Cervantes: translation is the other side of a tapestry.

Author: Leonardo Sciascia


It were as wise to cast a violet into a crucible that you might discover the formal principle of its color and odor, as seek to transfuse from one language into another the creations of a poet. The plant must spring again from its seed, or it will bear no flower -- and this is the burthen of the curse of Babel.

Author: Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

Profession: British Poet

Woe to the makers of literal translations, who by rendering every word weaken the meaning! It is indeed by so doing that we can say the letter kills and the spirit gives life.

Author: Voltaire (1694-1778)

Profession: French Historian, Writer

Humor is the first gift to perish in a foreign language.

Author: Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

Profession: British Novelist, Essayist