The Eight Stages of Translation by Robert Bly

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 107 pages
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The Eight Stages of Translation by Robert Bly is a slim how-to manual for amateur translators or those just beginning to dip their toes into poetry translation.  He breaks down the process into eight stages, which he illustrates using a René Maria Rilke poem, XXI.  He translates the poem in several drafts from the German into American English.  The eight stages he talks about and provides examples for through his drafts are:

  1. Setting down the literal translation
  2. Get a handle on the concepts and beliefs presented in the original poem; abandon the poem if the translator does not feel a connection with them.
  3. Rewrite the literal translation to ensure the meanings of the poem are not lost.
  4. Translate the latest draft into spoken English, using phrases that have been heard in natural conversation.
  5. Examine the translation in terms of tone to ensure that it carries over from the original (whether happy, sad, etc.)
  6. Listen to the original for sound and carry those same sounds over to the translation, such as the use of open vowel sounds.
  7. Speak with a native speaker to go over the translation to ensure meanings and tone are maintained.
  8. The final stage is completing the translation with all of the advice given and paying close attention to the original poem’s rhythm and rhymes (which are often less about end rhymes than internal rhymes).

The thought process through which Bly guides the reader through translation can be easily understood in the example given and the drafts presented, but even for those with no interest in translating poems themselves, the book includes some breathtaking translations done by Bly himself.  Although I am not fluent in any language, other than English, reading translations is always a peek inside another culture and world.  These translations are no different.  Bly has taken great care with them, and it shows.  Read The Eight Stages of Translation by Robert Bly not for the how-to, but for the poetry.

About the Poet:

Robert Bly is an American poet, author, activist and leader of the mythopoetic men’s movement. His most commercially successful book to date was Iron John: A Book About Men (1990),[1] a key text of the mythopoetic men’s movement, which spent 62 weeks on the The New York Times Best Seller list.[2] He won the 1968 National Book Award for Poetry for his book The Light Around the Body.


Book 13 for the Dive Into Poetry Reading Challenge 2014.




19th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.







For today’s 2014 National Poetry Month: Reach for the Horizon tour stop, click the image below:


  1. Wow, sounds like a very detailed and fascinating book. I never really thought about what went into a translation until I attended that author event you helped organize at Patrick’s store.