Is poetry in translation worthless? Or not? I don't know. Never mind that for now. I've just read a novella in verse translated into English by someone known for his lapses and Germanisms, but a conscientious worker nonetheless. In reading it, I ran into a line that both fascinated me and confused me.
The novella is a horror story, a full-fledged thriller with distinctly dark imagery, lots of wind and rain, flooding of the streets, galloping equestrian statues, and so forth. There is a place where the statue of the city's former ruler is described. It stands on a huge rock resembling a cliff rather than a pedestal; the horse is rearing under the rider. The rider's arm is extended, pointing into the distance. Very dramatic and all. The lines go like this:
And high above those rails, as if
Of altitude and darkness blended,
There rode in bronze, one arm extended,
The Idol on its granite cliff
Let's ignore for a moment the fact blending something of altitude and darkness is a hell of a stretch, poetic license be damned. Please look at the "rode in bronze" part.
I think it's beautiful. Scary, too. Has a ringing quality to it. The metaphor, or whatever the hell it is, is gorgeous. But is it good English? (Or even good German or good Russian?) Can a language, any language, accept this kind of phraseological turn as its own, welcome it and embrace it?
Well, is it or isn't it?
Addendum (upon Chasly from UK's suggestion):
The poem is titled "The Bronze Horseman." It is by Alexander Pushkin, a Russian poet of some renown. The translation is by Walter Arndt.
Here's the link for the translation:
And here's the statue described in the poem, one arm extended and all: