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.