Undecided what to post today, I had a quick look on twitter, only to find that it is International Translation Day.
It’s actually been quite a while since I did any translation and nothing came to mind immediately as suitable for posting. But I remembered a long time ago using Google Translate to find inspiration for creativity and thought I’d have a dabble and see what happens.
Let’s start with something short:
There are spies in the woods.
In the early morning I have seen
fine tripwires strung from tree to tree,
caught sight of silent messages
heliographed between rain-spattered leaves,
heard them signal to each other:
bird calls echoing through the mist.
For no particular reason, I chose to cycle through from English to Spanish to Catalán to English etc. First of all, I removed the line breaks; then I just went round in a circle translating, copying, pasting and translating.
After just a few full cycles, this is where I ended up:
There are spies in the forest.
In the early hours of the morning
I saw cables hanging from tree to tree,
I saw silent messages hello-engraved
between the leaves sprinkled with rain,
I felt signs to each other:
a resonant bird called through the fog.
I’m not sure why vignette translated to watermelon, but once it had, it was determined to stay there. I rather like hello-engraved as a concept: I feel I might do something creative with that if I worried it enough; and that resonant bird definitely has potential.
Looking at the result has made me think about how bald and literal the words I write often are, even when I’m hoping the reader will understand something quite different.
I thought it might be interesting to try something a little longer. Again, I stripped out most of the line breaks and I used the same three languages, but this time I didn’t follow a logical or consistent cycle, and I quite lost count of the number of times I pressed the button to translate.
This is the poem I chose, because today is Sunday and quite autumnal:
Lonely, the windwolf howls, and prowls
the city Sunday afternoon.
In a garden square he finds a little girl
with yellow hair tied in a ponytail. He sniffs
and snaps, gusting and billowing her skirt,
stinging her knees as pink as her hair ribbon.
She runs, arms outstretched, laughing,
spinning like a sycamore seed until
her mother calls her home.
He roams the streets, looking
for a new playmate. He shakes the trees,
but the sparrows simply fluff
and huddle closer.
The windwolf whistles
to keep his spirits up.
In a courtyard he sees a plastic carrier.
He plays at toss-and-chase until it’s torn
to shreds. Trapped, now, he hurls himself
against the walls as if he would buffet them
to the ground.
Through a window he spies
net curtains hanging primly.
What fun it would be to knot
and tangle them, snag lace butterflies
on invisible claws!
A green parrot dozes
in a cage. The windwolf yearns
for company. He longs to ruffle parrot plumes
and hear it squawk. He would love to have
a green feather to play with.
The casement rattles.
I saved various versions in English as I went through the translation process. Then, when I felt I’d had enough and the changes seemed to be minimal, I went back through the different versions and selected my favourite version of each line. This is the result:
Solitaire, rain, rain and wrap the city on Sunday afternoon. In a garden square, there is a small room with a central floor in a room for horses.
Smells and clicks, twists and turns the skirt, digging her pink knees with the hair ribbon. She runs, with stretched straps, laughing, turning with the degree of a psychologist until her mother calls her home.
Stroll the streets in search of a new company. There are trees, but the sparrows simply collapse and approach. The wolf escapes from the wind to maintain its spirits.
In a yard, see a plastic conveyor. Touch the tone and chase it until it breaks. Trapped, now, he is full against the walls as if he wanted to throw the earth. Through a window, the SpyNet curtains hung primitively. What fun it would be to undo them, trap them, stick them to lace poppers with invisible claws!
A green scream appears in a cage. The goblin of the wind aspires to the company. Wait for tears and listen to the song. You want to have a real advantage to play. Just a tiny green feather. The slave trembled.
There are many delightful phrases and images there, though I can’t quite see how they all connect. I can certainly imagine playing solitaire on a Sunday afternoon as grey rain wraps the city, and SpyNet curtains surely suit the windows of nosey neighbours.
I think it would be wise to have a real advantage before playing any kind of game with the little girl with the psychology degree; she seems to step straight out of a horror film, providing an appropriate context for the green scream in a cage.
I’m not at all sure what use this has been, although it has certainly provided me with a little diversion this afternoon.
Now I think I’ll just leave you with these words of advice: just wait for tears and listen to the song.