Gained In Translation, Again

Three years ago, I ran a couple of my short poems through Google Translate to see what would happen. From English to Pashto and back again. From English to Pashto to Hindi to Javanese and back again. How does meaning become fractured through the algorithmic translation process? Last week, I tried it again. I started with:

Long have I longed for
and dreaded
this moment
of darkness,
belonging to silence,
sure of my shadows.

Then I ran it through
Sinhala —> Tajik —> Swahili —> Malayalam —> Pashto —> back to English

Here is what happened. Look how it pulled a rhyme in there for me (afraid/shade), and the meaning has definitely shifted, but I’m really happy with it. I added punctuation at the end for clarification. I actually like it better than my original.
I’ve been waiting a long time.
Don’t be afraid.
At this point:
Dark,
In silence,
I believe in shade.


Then I tried Mr. McConnell’s famous Truth: Nevertheless she persisted.
Ran it through Punjabi —> Bangla —> Hmong —> Kyrgyz —> Tamil —> English
Ended up with: The reality is, however, there is more.
This changes the meaning a little more than I really want to, but it is an interesting end.


I tried a third, another of my tiny poems. This time, that fifth line changed anger to sex. Hmmm.
Take a deep breath.
Find the place inside you
that remembers how truth feels;
remember that there
are kinds of anger
that are more effective
than blind outrage.

Tamil —> Javanese —> Cebuano —> Hindi —> Kazakh —> English

Take a deep breath.
Find a place in your stomach
The cruelty of truth is considered;
Remember
Sex is scary
It was very effective
Especially the blind.


Ah, well. I like putting the essence of meaning outside of my control for a moment and seeing what happens.

In Creative Writing classes, many of the exercises I have students do are to encourage us to move behind that space in our brain that controls the meanings. Part of the reason for this is that is helps us to discover hidden wells and springs of words and ideas within ourselves that we didn’t know were there, like finding the secret room in your house in the dream. At a basic level, it helps us learn that there are a thousand ways to say a thing, a thousand hues of meaning. Giving up control in the immediate moment, as with an exercise like this, helps us learn to take control, to refine and define our meanings.


Gratitude List:
1. Singing in the pit for our school’s musical. It’s a rather big commitment, but I love it.
2. Yesterday after I dropped a Big Boy off for tech prep for the play, I had a couple hours just to be by myself. I went shopping, of all things. Hit the Goodwill pay-by-the-pound bins, and A.C. Moore’s going out of business sale. I bought Small Boy a stack of canvases for painting–half price.
3. The Small Boy hasn’t painted for months, but at the moment he is creating a marvelous abstract cloud-like scene with watercolors. Hmm. Now he is adding some acrylics on top of that. Experiment, Kid!
4. Silver hair. When I see photos of myself now, my first awareness is of a middle-aged, grey-haired, gnome-like woman. I’m okay with that. No, I’m actually happy with that. I like being middle-aged, and I like having unicorn hair.
5. The way the sun casts shadows in the bosque across the road when it slides up and over the opposite ridge in the mornings. All those tree-shadows!

May we walk in Beauty!

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