Google Translator vs. The poet.

Obviously translating into one’s mother tongue is easier (and hopefully more accurate) than translating into a language that you’ve studied in adulthood. My daughter will be truly bi-lingual, growing up with the two languages simultaneously. I will never be, even learning Italian from the ground up with the aid of her children’s books. But I have to ask, what’s a ‘serious’ translation? Signs, labels, menus, operating instructions for military equipment, legal documents? One you’re getting paid for?

Poetry is pretty serious business language wise; a distillation of the heart of a language that stretches sense and usage to its limits, layers multiple meanings, half-meanings, wry jokes, and rhythms into the briefest possible space sometimes into a single word. For this reason poetry is almost untranslatable; a poetic translation of the work is often a re-composing in a different language that strives to maintain the tone of the original, a literal translation can easily miss the nuances of individual words (see Robert Pinsky’s translation of ‘The Divine Comedy’ vs. the classic scholastic text of Mandlebaum). Translating instructions, menus, and traffic signs is comparatively straightforward (it is perhaps because of this that overconfidence or laziness causes so many charming and laughable errors).

The wonderful thing about translating is that it opens a door between two cultures. Grazie to all those who studied Russian so that I could read “The Idiot”  and “Crime and Punishment”. Despite the challenges, as a poet and a translator I take the work seriously and have had wonderful moments when my American friends read (and are interested in and excited by) the work of an Italian (or French) poet they might never have  otherwise encountered and when my Italian friends start asking me who William Carlos Williams is.

I do have to extend my sympathy to Google Translate, at least they offer (along with the unintended comedy) the option of suggesting a better translation.
My desktop widget translator is worse. If I translate from English to Italian “I’m a big fan of Mike!” (even with the proper name capitalized) it becomes: “Sono un ventilatore grande del microfono!” I have now become a large exhaust fan for a microphone…pazienza

Translations

Eugenio Montale

“Siria”

“Dicevano gli antichi che la poesia / è scala a Dio. Forse non è così /se mi leggi. Ma il giorno io lo seppi /che ritrovai per te la voce, sciolto / in un gregge di nuvoli e di capre / dirompenti da un greppe a brucar bave / di pruno e di falasco, e i volti scarni / della luna e del sole si fondevano, / il motore era guasto ed una freccia / di sangue su un macigno segnalava / la via di Aleppo. “

“Syria”

“The ancients always said that poetry / is a stairway to God. Perhaps this is not so / if you read mine. But the day I knew it / was the day I found my voice again for you, let loose / in a flock of clouds and goats / broken free from their corral to nibble at the foam / of blackthorn and marshgrass, the lean faces / of the moon and sun confounded, / the car broke down and an arrow / of blood on sandstone indicated / the road to Aleppo.

William Carlos Williams

“This Is Just To Say”

“I have eaten / the plums / that were in / the icebox / and which / you were probably / saving / for breakfast / Forgive me / they were delicious / so sweet / and so cold

“Questo È Solo Per Dire”

“Ho mangiato / le prugne / che c’erano / nel frigo / e che immagino / stessi tenèndo da parte / per colazione / Mi perdoni / erano delizosi / così dolce / e così fresche”

Living in Italy as a full-time mother after a lifetime in Dallas, Texas as a professional textile designer is an exercise in learning to be flexible. One of my biggest challenges is maintaining my English vocabulary while trying to discover the nuances of my new language. One of the most enjoyable ways I’ve found is to work at translating poems from their original English or Italian into the reciprocal language. It teaches me new things about both English and Italian. Here are some of the most recent pieces I’ve been working on, I hope that you enjoy them.