Symbols have different meanings from era to era, age to age, culture to culture and country to country. Symbols are in fact keys for understanding meanings
behind the strings of words. Since they are personally, conventionally, and archetypically idiosyncratic, their understanding and consequently their
translating is not easy. The present descriptive research was an attempt to investigate the rendering of symbols in four of W.B. Yeats’s plays. To
this end, discourse analysis, equivalent analysis, and comparative analysis were used.According to the findings of the research, the translators were not
completely successful in rendering symbols from English into Farsi, and based on our observations, omission was the most frequent strategy used for
translating symbolism in drama. The results of the collected data analysis indicated that, due to cultural gaps and personal, ethnical, and national
differences, symbols in Yeats’s drama can in many cases be considered untranslatable.
Symbolism, Drama, Translation Strategy, William Butler Yeats
ccording to Sādeghi (2009), Charles Baudelaire founded symbolism with his work entitled Les fleurs du mal [The Flowers of Evil] in 1857.
Symbolism is a late 19th century movement of art in which everything can be culturally, conventionally, and personally idiosyncratic in many
cases. In discussing literature, the term symbol can be an object, event, or ritual, among other things. which suggests a range of references, beyond
itself (Abram & Harpham, 2005).
Perrine mentioned that a reader should pay attention to symbolical meanings: the story itself must furnish a clue that a detail is to be taken
symbolically, and the meaning of a literary symbol must be established and supported by the entire context of the story, To be called a symbol, an item
must suggest a meaning different in kind from its literal meaning And a symbol may have more than one meaning (as cited in Fadaee, 2011). Ordudari (2008)
also referred to three problematic states in understanding and translating symbols: 1. the SL entity stands for something which completely contradicts what
the TL entity stands for, 2. the SL entity and its equivalent in the TL stand for unrelated (not contradictory) things or concepts, and 3. the SL and TL
entities symbolize the same (or at least similar) things or concepts.
A translator of a symbolic drama should instill the same feelings as those of the playwright in the readers' minds.
A great amount of research has been conducted on translation and many methods and strategies have been proposed for translating problematic cases in the
process of translation; however, translation of symbolism in drama seems to have been much less investigated. In 1980, Lefevere wrote, “there is
practically no theoretical literature on the translation of drama as acted and produced” (as cited in Anderman, 2001). Recent research on symbolism
and its translation has emphasized the difficulty of rendering symbols as cultural barriers between SL and TL.
In an interdisciplinary study, Rubel & Rosman (2003) investigated one problem in Slavic literature, which according to them was the translator’s
difficulty in preserving the symbolism of genders. Moreover, they believed that the cognitive irrelevance of this difficulty appeared to be the main topic
of the earliest Slavic original works.
Another researcher, Fadaee (2011) in a case study of Animal Farm investigated figures of speech, specifically symbols, metaphors, and similes in
literature. The researcher intended to find out the effect on the writer's style and the addressee's understanding of figures of speech. Fadaee in this
paper concluded that that George Orwell wanted to convey his message in Animal Farm in an implicit and indirect way, so he used more types of
figures of speech as symbols which have figurative meaning beyond their literal meaning and added “the addressee does not explicitly understand the
concept of the story and she/he must refer to the allegorical dimension of the novel and discover its covering concept” (p.26).
In another study, Talebinejad (2008) did a case study of the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. In his paper, Pym’s model was adapted
along with the principles of Relevance Theory and Skopos theory for analysis. According to Talebinejad’s findings “from a cultural point of
view, the message is not expressed in the text when adapted in translation into Persian” (as cited in Vahid Dastjerdi and Madah Shoorche, 2011).
Yusefi (2007) in a cross-cultural study investigated the extent to which true sense and image or symbolic expressions in Attar’s The Conference of the Birds were translated. In his study, the adopted strategies for the translation of birds’ symbolic expressions are
discussed. According to Yusefi, since symbolic expressions are more culture-bound than universal, none of the translators could render the intended message
of the original text, and literal translation was the most frequent strategy used for translating symbols (as cited in Vahid Dastjerdi and Madah Shoorche,
Vahid Dastjerdi and Madah Shoorche (2011) also investigated the stylistic devices in the two translations of the novel The Scarlet Letter
with special attention to symbol and word choice. They concluded: “not only universal symbols or archetypes are translatable from one language into
another, but also culture-specific symbols can to a great extent be successfully transferred across languages” (P. 190). They believed that universal
symbols do not pose any problem for the translator, since they convey the same meaning and emotion in different cultures and languages, but
culture-specific symbols, which have different connotations in different cultures and “in some cultures and languages they may be absent”
(Vahid Dastjerdi and Madah Shoorche, 2011) are an area of challenge. “For the target readers’ better understanding, translators should give
footnotes for the culture-specific symbols” (p.190); accordingly, they offered a solution for the problem of translating culture-specific symbols.
The present paper focuses on the translation of symbolism in the following four plays of Yeats: On the Baile’s’ Strand, At the Hawk’s Well, Calvary, and Purgatory. The purpose of the present study is to find out whether the translators rendered the
symbolic aspects of W.B. Yeats’s four plays or not, if so to what extent, and which methods were most frequently used in rendering the symbols of
the four plays chosen as samples of the study.
2. Materials and Methods
The present research used two references: one collection of English symbols extracted from four plays of Yeats as source texts and a collection of Persian
translations of the aforementioned original texts. This is a qualitatively descriptive case study of the following four plays of William
Butler Yeats, first published by Macmillan London Limited in Hong Kong in a book entitled Complete Plays of W.B. Yeats (1970).
On the Baile’s Strand,
one-act play, thirty-three pages, written in 1904
At the Hawk’s Well
, one-act play, seventeen pages, written in 1916
one-act play, eleven pages, written in about 1920
, one-act play, eleven pages, written in 1938.
Among the large number of symbolist works, the researcher decided to choose the four plays of Yeats, one of the masters of the use of symbolism in drama.
Another reason for our selection of Yeats for this research was his use of language in drama. The language of his plays is greatly poetical and
culture-bound; consequently less performable and an example of untranslatability.
Only four plays of Yeats have been translated into Farsi. On the Baile’s Strand was translated by Masoud Farzād in 1935 (before
the Islamic Revolution in Iran) as /kūh ūlĪn: revāyat-e Īrlandi-e dāstān-e rostam-o sohrāb/. At the Hawk’s Well was translated by Nazerzadeh
in 1993 (after Islamic Revolution in Iran) as /kenar-e češmeye oγāb/ in a book
entitled /peydāyeš-e adabiyāt-e namāyešiy-e no dar Īrland/ [The Rise of Modern Drama in Ireland] published by
Bargh Publication in 1993. At the Hawk’s Well was also translated by Āgha-Abbāsi in 2001 (after Islamic Revolution in Iran) as /dar-čāh-e-šāhĪn/ published by Namāyesh [Theatre]
Magazine. Calvary was translated by Nazerzadeh in 1993 (after Islamic Revolution in Iran) as /ĵolĵotā/ in the same book /peydāyeš-e adabiyāt-e namāyešiy-e no dar Īrland/ [The Rise of Modern Drama in Ireland]
published by Bargh Publication in 1993. Purgatory was translated by Nazerzadeh in 1993 (after Islamic revolution in Iran) as / barzax/ in /peydāyeš-e adabiyāt-e namāyešiy-e no dar Īrland/ [The Rise of Modern Drama in Ireland]
published by Bargh Publication in 1993.
Based on the research questions and the above-mentioned method, we have studied four plays of Yeats; the scope of the research was restricted to the use
of symbols and word choice. All symbolic elements in the source texts and their translated counterparts were compared and examined analytically the
proposed hybrid theoretical framework in order to determine the useful methods in translation of symbolism and symbolic elements in the dramatic
literature of twentieth century Ireland. The symbolic meanings of English samples were analyzed in accordance with Cirlot’s Dictionary of Symbols (1971) and their Persian translation counterparts according to the followings:
1- Shamisa, S. (2011). Farhang-e talmihāt va ešārāt [Dictionary of Allusions
and Symbols]. Tehran: Nashr-e-Mitra Publication.
2- Shamisa, S. (1998). bayān [Rhetoric]. Tehran: Firdausi Publication.
3- Dehkhoda, A. (1955). Loγat nāmeye dehxoda [Dehkhoda Dictionary].Tehran: Tehran University Press.
4- Moin, M. (1972). Loγat nāmeye moin [Moin Dictionary].Tehran: Amirkabir Publication.
In the present study, the most recent and applicable methods proposed for translating symbols by Ordudari (2008) and the three methods proposed by
Fernandez (2006) were edited by the present researcher and chosen and applied to analyze the collected data. Therefore, the present research is based on
the set of following eight methods for translating symbols, the first five introduced by Ordudari (2008), and other three extracted from
Fernandez’s model (2006) and adapted by the researcher.
1. Self explanatory or descriptive method
3. Changing the symbol to sense
4. Literal translation plus an explanatory footnote
5. Omitting the SL image by presenting a mere literal translation
3. Results and Discussion
Yeats believed that art gains its power from symbols (“Yeats and Symbolism”, 2012). A symbolist playwright usually makes symbolic
use of different things and characters in his/her play both publicly and personally. Among different types and aspects of symbolism, Yeats adopted character symbolism, animal symbolism, number symbolism, color symbolism, object symbolism, place symbolism, and shape symbolism. His
application of these types of symbolism demonstrates that he was keenly aware of the issues pertaining to nature, Irish myths, and folklore. Of course,
this claim can be easily proved with a glance at his personal and social life.
In his symbolic plays, a character may represent one or more people; an animal may not be just an animal; places are not just places for living and colors
are not just the hues of things, or even objects and shapes may have different interpretations in the minds of different readers. Therefore, for
understanding and consequently translating his symbolic plays, the description of symbols should be carefully considered.
Yeatsian symbolic characters in these four plays are the fool, the blind man, Cuchulain, Conchubar, Aoife, old man, Youngman, a boy, hawk-woman, Judas,
Lazarus, and three Roman soldiers. Almost all characters in his plays either are the representations of real characters of the real world or have one or
more meanings. Yeats also adopted a symbolic use of animals. Yeatsian symbolic animals in these four plays are unicorn, hens, geese, pigs, hawk, sparrow,
rabbit, mouse, magpie, swan, heron, rabbit, and fish. This symbolic use of animals illustrates his interest to nature and Irish folklore.
Yeatsian symbolic numbers in the four plays are thrice, three women, three musicians, three Marys, three Roman soldiers, four provinces and nine queens.
This symbolic use of numbers is related to his religion and his Irish nationality.
Following the same method, Yeatsian symbolic colors are red, ivory, black, grey, blue and gold, and Yeatsian symbolic objects are knife, cloak, wine
cup, sword, hazels, well, window, bag, bare tree, leafless tree, and burning house. At last, Yeatsian symbolic places in these four plays are Baile’s
strand, the hawk’s well, purgatory, ruined house, well, fountain, and Calvary. The only shape symbolism is triangle. Here, the number and type of
symbolism in each of these four plays are classified in order to clarify the extent to which the chosen plays are symbolic.
Before full presentation of the results of the present study along with its analytically illustrated discussion, the eight samples as representatives for
each method will be discussed more precisely to illustrate the subject of the study, to clarify the existing problems, and to submit the possible
1. Self Explanatory or Descriptive Method
A fool (Complete Plays of W. B. Yeats, P.247)
dalγak-e ahmaγ (Mehr, P.595)
The translator has used self explanatory or descriptive translation method as the procedure for translating the above-underlined word as an example.
Therefore, he translated fool as /dalγak/ into Farsi, and then added the adjective of /ahmaγ/ as modifier to his literal translation of the SL
2. Replacement Method
On the Baile’s Strand
(Complete Plays of W. B. Yeats, P.247)
: kūhūlin: rostam-e īrlandi (Mehr, P.595)
Based on the observable impact of Yeats’s nationality as author on this play and consequently the title, it seems predictable that the
translator’s nationality has also had an impact on his translation. Since On the Baile’s Strand is a familiar symbol for Irish readers
and naturally an unfamiliar one for the TL reader i.e. Iranian readers without having any kind of association of any specific meaning. The translator has
replaced the SL symbol with its approximate counterpart into Farsi as TL. While the author used a symbolic but vague title, the translator clarified this
deliberately created vagueness and diminished the beauty of the title by using / kūhūlin: rostam-e īrlandi/.
3. Changing the Symbol to Concrete meaning Method
I call to the mind’s eye pallor of an ivory face… (Complete Plays of W. B. Yeats, p.208)
rang-e paride va zard-e (Namayesh, p.96)
Because of its yellowish-white hue, ivory is a symbol of cleanness, purity and innocence. Here, the translator has modified ivory as a symbol into a
concrete meaning by his translation.
4. Literal Translation plus an Explanatory Footnote Method
That is made out of the grease of the ungoverned unicorn, but the man is thrice forlorn… (Complete Plays of W. B. Yeats, P.262)
ūnikorn (Mehr, p.604)
Translator’s Footnote: ūnikorn heyvānist mohūm šabihe asb ke yek šāx dar pišāni xod dārad va
zāheran ĵozve xorāfāte īrlandi ast ke piye ash dārāye xavāse moĵeze āsā ast (Mehr, p.604).
[Unicorn is an animal like a horse with single horn on its forehead. Its oil has a magical and medical effect according to an assumedly Irish superstition,
Vahid-Dastjerdi and Madah-Shoorche (2011) offered: “For the target readers’ better understanding; translators should give footnotes for the
culture-specific symbols” (p.190). This solution seems to be effective but it has some disadvantages along with its advantages. One of them can be
distracting the reader by referring him/her to the explanatory footnotes. Therefore, by doing so, the translator destroyed the pleasure and joy of
uninterrupted reading of the play for the sake of understanding some parts of the play.
5. Omission Method
(Complete Plays of W. B. Yeats, P.218)
oif (peydāyeš-e adabiyāt-e namāyešiy-e no dar Īrland, p. 208)
According to the present research, the omission method is omitting the SL image by presenting a mere literal translation. Here, Nazerzadeh has omitted the
SL image of Aoife by only giving the transliteration of this symbol.
6. Deletion Method
I have awakened from a sudden sleep to find the stones were wet (Complete Plays of W. B. Yeats, P.204)
bār-hā (Namayesh, P. 101)
Deletion method is the complete or partial removal of a symbol in translation. Due to political, social, and religious considerations, lack of time or
knowledge, the translator’s carelessness or his/her creativity, a symbol may be deleted in the translation process. Here, thrice as a symbol
7. Addition Method
(Complete Plays of W. B. Yeats, P.247)
ĵangĵūy-e ĵavān (Mehr, P.595)
Addition is adding a concrete meaning to the literal translation of a symbol. The translator has used addition as a method of translating the
above-underlined word. Therefore, he has translated Young man as / ĵavān / into Farsi, and then added the qualifier / ĵangĵūy /
[fighter (my translation)] as an additional and author-inferred meaning to his literal translation of the above SL symbol.
A blind man (Complete Plays of W. B. Yeats, P.247)
fintin-Yek mard-e-kūr (Mehr, P.595)
Rendition is a method by which a fairly complete translation of a symbol is offered. The Blind man is a symbol of a well-informed and conscious
personality. This character has lived in Aoife’s country and was blinded because of putting a curse upon the wind. Farzad has translated this symbol
as /mard-e- kūr/ into Farsi which is a similar symbol of a well-informed and knowledgeable person who knows the secret.
3.1 Translation of Symbols in On the Baile’s Strand
Table 3.5 shows that the translator, Farzad adopted Omission more than other translation methods and Change symbol to concrete meaning method less than the others.
The number of each type of symbolism in both original text and translation are shown in table 3.6. The numbers of each type of symbolism in Farzad’s
translation were obtained by subtraction of the numbers of Deletion and Omission methods from each type of symbolism in his translation.
According to table 3.6 and the comparison between Yeats’s symbolism and Farzad’s translation of symbolism, their patterns of symbolism
have been illustrated as demonstrated in figure 3.1. Based on our observation, in Farzad’s translation of symbolism; 1 color symbolism was deleted
and 2 character symbolisms, 5 animal symbolisms, 3 number symbolisms, 1 object symbolism and 1 place symbolism were omitted.
In accordance with the information provided in figure 3.1 , what makes a difference between the playwright’s and the translator’s symbolism is
mostly animal symbolism, number symbolism, and character symbolism and it is also clear that there is such a difference due to the cultural, religious,
national and ethnical varieties and distances between these two texts--ST and TT.
3.2 Translation of Symbols in At the Hawk’s Well
The translator, Nazerzadeh adopted rendition more than other translation methods. It is interesting that the methods Replacement, Change Symbol to Concrete Meaning, Literal Translation, or Explanatory Footnote, Addition and Deletion were never used.
As illustrated in table 3.7.2, another translator, Agha-Abbasi adopted Rendition more than other translation methods; Self-explanatory, Replacement and Addition were not used by Agha-Abbasi.
In table 3.8, the number of each type of symbolism in both yjr original text and translations are shown. The number of each type of symbolism in
Farzad’s translation was obtained by subtraction of the number of Deletion and Omission methods from each type of symbolism in his
According to table 3.8 and the comparison between Yeats’s symbolism and Nazerzadeh’s and Agha-Abbasi’s translation of symbolism,
their patterns of symbolism have been illustrated as demonstrated in figure 3.2. Based on pir observation, in Nazerzadeh’s translation of symbolism 3
instances of color symbolism, 1 of character symbolisms, 2 of number symbolisms, 1 of object symbolism, 1 of place symbolism and 1 of shape symbolism were
omitted, while 2 instances of color symbolism were deleted and 3 instances of color symbolism, 1 instance of animal symbolism, 1 instance of number
symbolism, 2 of place symbolism and one of shape symbolism were omitted in Agha-Abbasi’s translation of symbolism of the present play.
In accordance with the information provided in figure 3.2, what makes the difference between the playwright’s symbolism and the translators’
symbolism is mostly color symbolism. It is also evident that there is not a huge difference between the playwright’s symbolism and the
translators’ translation of symbolism.
3.3 Translation of Symbols in Calvary
The translator, Nazerzadeh, adopted Omission more than other translation methods due to religion-oriented plot of this play.
In table 3.10, the number of each type of symbolism in both original text and translation is shown. The number of each type of symbolism in
Nazerzadeh’s translation has been obtained by subtraction of the number of Deletion and Omission methods from each type of symbolism in
According to table 3.10 and the comparison between Yeats’s symbolism and Nazerzadeh’s translation of symbolism of Calvary, their
patterns of symbolism are illustrated in figure 3.3. Based on our observation, in Nazerzadeh’s translation of symbolism; 3 character symbolisms, 3
animal symbolisms, 2 number symbolisms and 1 place symbolism were omitted.
Based on figure 3.3, what makes the difference between the playwright’s symbolism and the translator’s symbolism is mostly animal symbolism and
character symbolism and it is also clear that there is such a difference due to the cultural, religious, national, and ethnical differences and distances
between ST and TT.
3.4 Translation of Symbols in Purgatory
As illustrated in table 3.11, the translator, Nazerzadeh adopted the rendition method more than other translation methods. As shown, he was
successful in translating Purgatory, since this play is less culture-oriented and more universal.
In table 3.12, the number of each type of symbolism in both original text and translation is shown. The number of each type of symbolism in
Nazerzadeh’s translation has been obtained by the subtraction of the number of Deletion and Omission methods from each type of
symbolism in his translation.
According to table 3.12 and the comparison between Yeats’s symbolism and Nazerzadeh’s translation of symbolism, their patterns of
symbolism have been illustrated as shown in figure 3.4. Based on our observation, 2 instances of object symbolism and 1 of place symbolism were omitted in
Nazerzadeh’s translation of symbolism.
In accordance with the information provided in figure 3.4, what makes the difference between the playwright’s and the translator’s symbolism is
mostly object symbolism and it is evident that the translation of this symbolic play was successful due to the universality of its subject matter.
Translatability and the extent of translatability of the symbolic aspects of W.B. Yeats’s four plays and also the most frequently used methods
for translating symbols were the main focus and purpose of the present study. In the present research, a hybrid framework was used, which was a combination
of Ordudari (2008), Fernandez (2006), and the researcher’s own framework of modifications and justifications in order to shed light on the underlying
issues and problems of translating these and offering solutions for improving the translatability of symbols of the Irish playwright, William Butler Yeats.
After analyzing the data closely and critically, it was revealed that, the translators had used the omission method 41 times, and this demonstrates that
they were affected by their own culture and consequently symbolic system of the Persian language. It seems that as an author writes according to his/her
background, the impact of the translator’s background on his/her translation is predictable and inevitable, because there are usually differences
between the author’s and translator’s cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
The first and second questions of the present research concerned with success or failure of the translators in rendering symbolic aspects of four plays of
Yeats from English into Farsi. Studying these four plays by Yeats and comparing them with their translations proved the difficulty of translating the
symbolic aspects of the plays. According to White (1972), Yeats used a magic symbolism and imagery repeatedly in his plays. Yeats in fact polished his
works with the language of metaphor and symbolism (Seyedi, 2008). Since the symbolic meaning of words in his drama is both culture-specific and
Yeats-specific, the translation of such a symbolic drama is a challenge.
To be exact and specific, Farzad, the translator of On the Baile’s Strand omitted 12 symbols and deleted one symbol while translating this
play. He translated this play into Farsi with 48.14% loss of meaning. Accordingly, omission is the method most frequently used by this translator. This may
have two probable reasons: either there is not a close relation between Iranian and Irish cultures or the translator paid less attention to the symbolic
meaning of the words in this play.
There are two available Farsi translation of At the Hawk’s Well, one by Nazerzadeh (1989) and another, Agha-Abbasi (2001). Nazerzadeh
translated this play with a respectable 64% success and 36% failure while Agha-Abbasi did his job with a 40% loss of symbolic meaning of words. Rendition
was the most frequently used method in both translations. Adopting such method may be due to the universality of the subject matter of this play or because
of similar theme and plot of story in both cultures, which are rooted in similar mythological and historical origins.
The last two plays, Calvary and Purgatory were translated only by Nazerzadeh, Calvary with 64.28 % loss of in-text symbolism and Purgatory with 25% loss of in-text symbolism. The most frequently used translation method by Nazerzadeh, in translating Calvary is Omission
but of Purgatory, it is Rendition.
Based on the obtained results, it can be concluded that the translators of the four plays of Yeats were not completely successful and the methods adopted
by these translators to translate public and personal symbols of Yeats’s drama are inappropriate and ineffective in many cases. Since the readers are
not usually familiar with the context, applying such methods may not provide a suitable condition for their understanding and familiarity.
Concerning the translation of symbolism in drama, it is worth-mentioning that a translator of a symbolic drama should instill the same feelings as those of
the playwright in the readers' minds. Since each literary movement is distinguished by different factors and the recognition of these factors will help
readers to understand implied meaning and content of a text, for analysis of symbolist works, considering meaning behind the words is necessary. To this
end, a translator should have a comprehensive view for analyzing, understanding, and consequently translating a symbolist play in order to find the
words’ relations and their semantic associations. The translator should also pay attention to repetitions of words, structures, sounds, and
punctuation as well as visual devices of language.
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