Lost in Translation: Poems from Faraway Lands

As our nation began to pick up the pieces after yesterday’s bombing in Boston, even more stories of heroism emerged from the rubble. I think it’s wonderful how social media has been used for good to promote these heroes as well as to spread the word about how to find missing people/how to help–just look how many times that link alone has been shared (12.2k at the time of this post!). On a personal note,  I want to thank you for your warm reception to last night’s blog post, “Phoenix in Boston–A Tribute.” I am proud to say that poem was emailed to our whole company today by our spiritual director, and I was thanked all day for it. I’ve also been asked to read it as the reflection for our inter-departmental meeting tomorrow. It was one of those blown-away moments for a writer. Sometimes, when I write poetry during an emotional state, it’s hard for me to tell if it’s good or not. Hearing that my poetry has touched not just one person, but many, means so much to me. Thank you so much, dear readers, for your continued support. ❤

Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt took me even farther away than Boston–it took me to Poland! The prompt:

Write a “translation” of a poem in a language you don’t actually know. Go to the Poetry International Language List, pick a language, and then follow it to a poet and a poem. Generally the Poetry International website will present a poem in its original language on the left, and any translation on the right. Cut and paste the original into the text-editing program of your choice (and try not to peek too much at the translation). Now, use the sound and shape of the words and lines to guide you, without worrying too much about whether your translation makes sense.

I do enjoy reading translated poems from other languages, and it amazes me how many ideals are shared across different cultures. I suspect something is often lost in translation, though, because the sound of words has a meaning to it almost as special as the real definition. I think that very point was the aim of this exercise. To be honest, the result turned out even wackier than I thought it would! I thought I would try my hand at a Polish poem, since that does comprise the majority of my nationality. For some reason, I thought that the language would be natural to me, since my ancestors all spoke it–even my parents do. I’m not sure I could have been more wrong! I chose a nature poem by Piotr Sommer, since, if you couldn’t tell by now, I am drawn to nature in my writing, and since the poet’s first name is the same as my mother’s father. 🙂 In “translating,” I tried to go by “homographs,” that is, words that look the same, comparing Polish. Sometimes, when nothing looked alike, I’d read the words aloud and try to go by homophones (words that sound the same but have different meanings). The result was pretty much a jumble. I am posting the original and my homograph/homophone “translation,” and tomorrow, I will try to post a re-imagining of my “translation” that might make a little more sense.

The original:


O, dni! Te były najbardziej nieuległe,
z początku płynne, później rozedrgane,
nijak nie były w stanie dojrzeć, dojść do siebie,
nawet w nocy.Kontynenty jak gdyby nigdy nic
przesuwały się pod powiekami
jak pyłki w słońcu.I tylko nie wiadomo było, co dni wiąże,
ponieważ ptaki
bez przerwy poruszały się w powietrzu, liście
przenikał wiatr, a oddech był za słaby.

© 2009, Piotr Sommer
From: Dni i noce
Publisher: Biuro Literackie, Wrocław, 2009


My “translation”:


Oh, God! The blithely bard siege new eagle,
and poaching plinth, posing rose garden,
near jack near blithely with standing door jamb, doze do sleepy,
night with knocking.

Contently jack goodbye niggardly nice
presumably see pod balcony
jack piling with slouching.

I talk near wide billow, co-God wise,
pony was talking
bees priory porously see with poor white ruse, listen
prenatal water, an odd ditch bills a slab.


Real translation:


O days! those were the most unyielding,
fluid at first, then quivering
there was no way for them to ripen, come to themselves
even at night.

Continents as if nothing ever happened
shifting beneath the eyelids
like dust in sunlight.

And it wasn’t clear what links the days
because the birds
were moving always in the air, the wind
permeated the leaves, and the breath was too weak.

© Translation: 2009, Christian Hawkey and William Martin


I will dream about this poem, especially since the logic of it does seem rather Lewis Carroll-esque, no? Hopefully, I can find the way out of the rabbit hole of this poem and find something a little less ridiculous–maybe even without the help of a Cheshire Cat. 😉


2 thoughts on “Lost in Translation: Poems from Faraway Lands

  1. What a great accomplishment for you, Amanda! I am so proud of you. Also, really cool prompt for today…I love seeing you be so creative!


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