Translator's notes

Cows come from the sea...

By Kristiina Ehin

An exile, transplanted into a foreign society, strives at all costs to retain his or her identity. A translated poem is, in a sense, also an exile, transplanted into the alien environment of a foreign language. One of the translator’s many tasks is to be sensitive and welcoming, helping the poem retain its identity and adapt to its new environment without making compromises. To this end my bilingual upbringing as the child of Estonian refugees has been an enormous benefit, giving me a native speaker’s understanding of the cultural and linguistic nuances of both Estonian and English. 

I have been translating Kristiina Ehin’s poetry, prose and drama for nearly five years and have translated nearly all of her published work along with much of her as yet unpublished work as well. Working so intensively with the work of the poet I admire most in any language, I have gained a deep understanding of her work and an increasingly clear insight into the complexity of the translation process. It goes far beyond linguistic competence and is in itself an act of creativity.

At the heart of this process is the author’s voice with its own particular music, its idiosyncracies and nuances. When I translate Kristiina’s work, I hear her voice reading what I have written. The music of her voice dictates the music of my translation. Her imagery is sometimes very specifically Estonian, but I trust in the reader’s wish to experience what is Estonian in Kristiina’s work, and I don’t look for British equivalents. My translations strive to be Kristiina’s poems, not my interpretations of them.

The most important factor for me in transplanting Kristiina’s poems into the soil of the English language continues to be a deep inner need to see them thrive there in their own right as they do at home in the Estonian language.

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