Making Strange – A Note on Translation

When one language is pressed into another through translation, or the effort at translation to get meaning across, the result is often a vivid or poetic phrase. This happened often with the students I taught in Mexico. Take one student’s attempt to describe the Renaissance:

“In the Renaissance the society had been reborn in mind”

That last phrase derives from the Spanish verb “renacer”: to be reborn, and its casual reworking into English here is striking.

The confusion that arises when one language rubs up against another, often produces a kind of poetry- especially where meaning becomes doubtful or various. The effect of this, where there is a genuine effort at expression, can be startling. This is apparent in one student’s description of their home city:

“That city is painfully of flowers!”

Stretching the language in this way, moulding it and remaking it to express an emotional response, lets in an unexpected poetry. I say unexpected, because these children are simply trying to express themselves in the clearest manner possible and are quite happy to manipulate language in a carefree way in order to do so. They manipulate language in the carefree way of a poet. This reminds me of a reflection made by Pessoa (in “The Book of Disquiet”) about children’s forthrightness in saying what they feel, rather than expressing in general terms what they are supposed to feel, as in the case of a child on the point of crying who says: “I feel like tears”.

by Michael Lee Rattigan

Michael Lee Rattigan is the author of two books:  a chapbook of poems “Nature Notes” and the first complete bi-lingual translation of  Fernando Pessoa’s Caeiro poems, both published by Rufus Books.


About thefiendjournal

I was born in Blackpool, England and am currently based in Lancashire. Poems have been published in magazines in the U.K, Ireland, France, New Zealand, Canada, U.S.A and South Korea. A pamphlet; "MMV", was published in 2008. Hundreds of poems have been written in draft form, and multiple books are being planned and edited for future release. As well as editing 'The Fiend' I translate, paint and dabble in photography (images of which have occasionally been used here).
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2 Responses to Making Strange – A Note on Translation

  1. Karen says:

    Intrigued by by your discovery of depth & beauty, not fault & emptiness. I am left feeling desperate to understand what the child was trying to translate in description of his city?!

    I’m sure this is perhaps the exact point in your intention to share the provoking of thought and appreciation/education of the power in language?
    My point is, I really want to know about the flowers ??? ;))

  2. Michael says:

    Share the same urge to know more about the flowers and the child’s meaning. At the same time it’s somehow there, in the suggestive feeling overflow of the words. Sounds like -by the very act of entering into the line’s possibities – you’ve picked up on it too.

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