Translator Burton Pike describes what to me is probably the most essential factor in translation:
A witty translator wrote that a translation is your book with someone else’s name on it. When I was teaching translation, I would tell my students that in translating prose fiction the words were the least of their problems. First, I told them, you need to identify the book’s or the story’s rhythm, how the words flow; you do that by reading the text aloud and listening. Then you fit the English words and sentences to the underlying pacing of the German, and you would be in business. For example, in translating Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther I determined that the underlying rhythm was a waterfall of words, and I based my translation on that. The result, I think, sounds like Goethe, but in English. One result of this approach through rhythm is that all my translations of prose fiction differ from each other, because each one is based on a different rhythmic model.
He talks about translating Musil and Rilke, so if those authors interest you go ahead and click the link. Me, I want to know who that witty translator was. (Thanks, Trevor!)