Choi Yung NG

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Philosophy (MPHIL)



First Advisor

Prof. KWONG, Yim Tze, Charles

Second Advisor

Prof. CHANG, Nam Fung


The debate over the translatability of poetry has been a long-standing issue for decades. Relatively few discussions, however, have focused on the concrete reasons of poetry being translatable (or untranslatable). Moving beyond traditional ways of elucidating the matter through theoretical argument, this study aims to investigate the question of poetry translation in a more solid, empirical manner by looking into linguistic and language-based aesthetic differences between Chinese and English, in particular their prosodic features and capacities. Part One seeks to answer the question “Why does poetry get lost in translation?” from a linguistic and language-based aesthetic perspective, using the English translations of Wen Yiduo’s 聞一多 (1899-1946) poems as a case study.

This thesis, however, does not simply further expound the position that “poetry is untranslatable”. Rather, based on the discussion in Part One, Part Two attempts to show that neither the translator nor his/her translation needs to “get lost”, even though something always “gets lost” in the process. The rhetorical question “Why get lost in translation?” will lead to illustrations that translation strategies are more an active choice of translators than a mere passive reaction to obstacles encountered. The thesis points out that while present discussions of untranslatability seem to focus largely on fidelity to the source text, it may be the target text that matters more, as the target language literally sets a limit to what translation can achieve (and thus determines the degree of translatability of a text). Hence, while poetry translation may be more difficult than other types of translation, its nature is not categorically different from others, for all translations are constrained by the target language in the first place. Besides, translation needs to be viewed in terms of the purpose of cultural transmission — from the perspective of the target readers and culture. One may thus conclude that poetry, like anything else, is translatable, although the degree of difficulty might differ. Regardless of one’s theoretical perspective, issues of textual translation are language-based. Before one discusses issues of poetry translation, one must first understand issues of language, poetic language and poetics (including prosody). These are all what the present thesis aims at exploring. By re-evaluating the relationship between the source and target texts and discussing the factors (both linguistic and extra-linguistic) affecting translation, this study attempts to shed more light on poetry translation, and literary translation in general.

Recommended Citation

Ng, C. Y. (2015). Why get lost in translation? On the English translations of Wen Yiduo's poems (Master's thesis, Lingnan University, Hong Kong). Retrieved from