NPM Day Twenty: Lost & Gained in Translation

Lost and Gained in Translation:
Take a short poem you’ve written. Open Google Translate. Copy and paste your poem into the translator. Turn it into French, or Urdu, or Javanese, and back again. What happened to it? What startles you? Copy out the phrases and combinations you like. Try it again. The final poem could be anything.

I sent my Science poem from yesterday through quite a number of translation transformations. At one point, science became elm, then alarm, then bell, and finally, depression. The mouse became a moth and a beetle and a butterfly and a bill. It began to sound so much like someone was telling my fortune that I kept the five phrases pretty much intact as I went.

Depression: The Bell
(Telling Your Fortune)

Be quiet like a moth walking on a fence.
The model is simple, but the money is hard,
Because of the large number of central bodies.
Look closely at all the evidence.
Purify your heart with reverence.

The original, for Reference:


Silent as a mouse creeping along a fence,
Simple the patterns, but intricate the sense,
Since what’s in the center is often intense,
Sift carefully through all the evidence,
Silt washes away, leaving behind reverence.

Gratitude List:
1. Trusting my instincts
2. Clear, fresh, sweet water
3. That titmouse calling out in the dawn, insisting on his place in the world
4. I’m mostly sleeping through the night again
5. Memory

May we walk in Beauty!

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.” —Louise Erdrich

“To light a candle is to cast a shadow…”
―Ursula K. Le Guin

“Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.” ―Claude Monet

“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.” ―Malala Yousafzai

I called through your door,
“The mystics are gathering in the street. Come out!”
“Leave me alone. I’m sick.”
“I don’t care if you’re dead! Jesus is here,
and he wants to resurrect somebody!”
―Jalaludin Rumi (trans. by Barks)

“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralysed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds’ wings.”
―Jalaluddin Rumi (trans. by Barks)

“Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terror, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.”
―Anaïs Nin

“Everything has boundaries. The same holds true with thought. You shouldn’t fear boundaries, but you should not be afraid of destroying them. That’s what is most important if you want to be free: respect for and exasperation with boundaries.”
―Haruki Murakami

“All great spirituality is about what we do with our pain. If we do not transform our pain, we will transmit it to those around us.” —Richard Rohr

A Sestina for All Saints (2 of 2)

I plan to write a poem a day again this November, following the prompts from Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides blog. Today’s prompt is to write a new day poem. I decided to try another sestina, using new and day as two of the six words, and creating a little end rhyme. It may make it a little too bouncy, and a sestina is a little ambitious for my falling-asleep brain, but it’s all in the name of experimentation.

All Saints Day
a sestina
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

As the veil closes on this day,
day between days when I–and you–
go seeking guides and saints, seeking the way
our dear beloveds have wandered through
the parted curtain: Listen, can you hear them say
the names of all the souls they knew

when their own days were green and new?
Now we ourselves slip from behind the curtain of this day
to follow their singing, to hear them say
our own names. Can you feel how they long for you?
How they seek your attention through
this veil that obscures the way?

How silently they guide you when you lose your way?
Our memories are vast pools they bathe in. They renew
their lives within the waters of the dreams we threw
away. Their memories are thin as cobweb, flashing like a day,
then gone. All they have to hold them here is you–
and me–so we must be careful what we say

about the dead, about the ones who’ve gone before. We say
they’re just a vapor, just a mist, a feather that will weigh
less than a living soul. But we know, me and you,
how light is heavy, how old is new,
how they continue to exist beyond their days,
and how the weight of our own memories brings them through.

And so we speak the names of saints and our beloveds, through
the long nights of the Hallowed Days, we say
their names, we keep them real, we mark the days
and help them through the veil to find their way
back to our joyful tables, set with bread and wine and new
candles. Look how they glow and hover around you.

I will keep this night along with you
and listen as the music whispers through
the mists that rise across the veil, new
pathways drawn between us. We can say
that finally we have found our way
between the curtains and into a new day.

Tomorrow you will step into another day,
find the way between, the way through, find your way
into a new dawn, full of light. You’ll have new names to say.

I needed a brain diversion today, and so I pulled up two Rilke autumn poems and translated them into English. I had forgotten how satisfying translation is.

An Autumn day (Herbsttag)
by Rainer Maria Rilke
translation by E. A. Weaver-Kreider

Lord: it is time. The summer was so long.
Lay your shadow upon the sundials,
and set the winds loose upon the fields.

Command the final fruits to ripen;
give them yet two southerly days,
urge them to fullness and coax
the last sweetness into the earnest wine.

Whoever has no home, has now no time to build.
Whoever is alone, will stay alone a while,
will awaken, read, write long epistles
and in the alleys here and there
will wander, while the leaves drift by.

Fall (Herbst)
by Rainer Maria Rilke
translation by E. A. Weaver-Kreider

The leaves are falling, falling as if from far away,
as if they’ve withered in the distant gardens of the heavens;
they are falling in the gesture of denial.

And through this night the heavy Earth is falling
away from all the stars in lonely space.

We all are falling. This hand falls.
And look at the other one: falling is in everything.

And yet there is One who holds all this falling
in infinitely tender hands.

Gained in Translation

Mockingbird Words: This is a word cloud of the words on this blog from the first week of October.

I am playing around with Google translate this Saturday morning. I translated a short poem of mine into Bengali and back again. The basic poem was pretty similar, but when we got back to English, giant feather had become hairy giants.  That’s extremely promising for a little bit of fun.  The sentence structure of the original poem was pretty straightforward, so the algorithms brought most of the poem back to at least a sense of the original, even when I sent it through several languages before coming back to English.

This is addicting.  I am going to try a poem that begins with a somewhat fractured sentence structure already, send it through several translations, and see what comes back.  Here is my original tanka, titled “Riddle”:

Down halls of dream, through
tattered veils of old stories
no fury, no fear
only the question of where
the next riddle will appear.

Zulu * Burmese * Haitian Creole * Portuguese * Maori * Japanese * and back to English again:

And, the bedroom
It covers the history of his face
Anger do not be afraid
It displays the following password.

“It covers the history of his face” is a fascinating line. I still like my original line, but I wonder how it would go to say:

tattered veils of old stories
cover the history of her face

There’s some possibility there. As goofy as this exercise is, there’s a point here: I sometimes (often?) get caught in certain ways of saying things, stuck in linguistic and imagistic patterns. I worry that my poems sometimes begin to sound all the same. In Song of the Toad and the Mockingbird, I published several poems that were an attempt to break out of my own boxes. The results were several rather surreal poems that I am rather in love with, but which–in hindsight–I think might be somewhat unrelatable to anyone outside my own head.

Here, after some more play with translator, and re-crafting, is “Riddle,” no longer a tanka, and perhaps a little more layered, perhaps a little too clunky:

Down halls of dream,
through tattered curtains of old fairy tales
which cover the history of her face
without eyes, without fear–
only the question of where
the next riddle (this mystery)
will appear.

I was going to stop here, but then I took that last form and translated it into Cebuano and back again, and this marvel appeared:

Dream Hall,
By Tttered Krtens Old fairy tale
He covered his face HISTORY
Vithut Mata, Vithut Fiyr–
Questions included Ware
Next Ridley (Mystery)
The Makita.

Perhaps my next experiments should be to break down even the structure of the words, and play with invented spellings. Vithut for without has captured my imagination. And Mata. Is that eyes? Or matter? I need to simply force myself to stop now, or I’ll be doing this until noon.

Gratitude List:
1. Wordplay. Layers of meanings in words that shift and change color, dash away, and return with whole new meanings. Connections between words and meanings and languages.
2. Imagination. This boy, who is doing his spelling homework here on the floor beside me, suddenly yelled out, “Narwhal!” He had stuck his pencil between his toes (because that’s what you do) and caught the shadow of it on the floor. It did indeed look exactly like a narwhal.
3. Yesterday’s Service of Thanksgiving at my school. Music, speech and story, visuals. Generations. The Moment, for me, was when the choir was coming off the stage. I was one of the first ones off, so I got to watch as members of a composite choir of people of all ages filed into their rows. We all felt a sense of belonging to the choir because we had all been in some form of LMS choir throughout the years. It brought 75 years of time together into one moment.  Deeply moving.
4. Saturday morning sleeping in. I feel so rested and ready for the day.
5. Thermally satisfying weather.

May we walk in Beauty!