On Attempted Translation

Last week’s writing exercise, a translation, left me with a poem that was far from a translation. Did anyone else have this experience? I attempted to translate “La langue de ma mère,” a French poem. I have a decent grasp of the French language, but I knew translating poetry would be different than reading news articles in French. It was challenging, but not impossible. However, as I started translating, I began to like the idea of using English words that sonically mimicked the French words, not necessarily the words that they translated to. So I started mixing– translating a phrase, then using English words similar in sound. Eventually, I started taking just bits and pieces from the translation that I liked, and the poem became an entirely different one that was a lot more me than the original poem. Sure, I copped out of doing a true translation. But, I think it was pretty fruitful. It’s a whole new kind of “stealing” that I’d never thought to try.

2 Replies to “On Attempted Translation”

  1. Hi Chloe!
    I wanted to translate a German poem as homage to my heritage, but I had a lot of trouble finding contemporary German poems (or maybe I just wasn’t looking hard enough). But in my searches I did come across a love affair between two prominent German writers in the 1930sish, which prompted my “translation” poem. I found a collection of letters between the two, used an epitaph (is that the right word?) at the beginning of my poem, and wrote from there.
    I’ve found that I really enjoy finding historic “love stories” and giving them life in my poetry. I like how the translations exercise allowed me to do that again (much like my Kate Florence Philips poem).

  2. Hi Chloe,

    This counts, totally! What you’re describing is a “homophonic translation,” one where we approximate sound rather than try to follow meaning. And then you’ve taken it in a direction that suits the poem, rather than being bound to it. It’s a great process, and I’m glad it’s yielding a result – you can even try it with languages with which you aren’t familiar, too. And, as Arianna points out, we can take translation pretty broadly: poetry is, after all, an art of trying to cross boundaries, whether from mind to page to reader or from idea to sound and so on.


Leave a Reply to Arianna Miller Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.