Tag Archives: translation

L’Infinito by Giacomo Leopardi (Infinity)

infinito manoscritto

Giacomo Leopardi is generally described as the greatest Italian lyric poet but you don’t really need to know anything about him to appreciate his poem L’Infinito. I see the title often translated as The Infinite, but I am not sure that means anything in English, so I am going to opt for Infinity. Here then is my attempt at rendering some of its sound and meaning in English.








Infinity

I always have felt fondness for this lonely hill
and for this hedge which screens off
such a large part of the furthermost horizon.
But as I sit and gaze, in my thoughts I envisage,
beyond it, boundless space and utter silence
and deepest still, so that it almost makes
my heart take fright. And as I hear
the rustling of the wind among these plants,
I start comparing that unending silence
with this noise and I am reminded of
eternity, and seasons gone and dead and
of the season now alive and of its sounds. And so
in this immensity my thoughts sink and drown
and shipwreck feels sweet in this ocean.

(Translation by Phillip Hill)

(Listen to the translation)



And here is the Italian original –

Read more…

The Poetry of Google Translate

And the long road ahead, I go to bed
And the long road ahead, I go to bed
 

Google Translate is amazing when it works. Unfortunately, it only works about half of the time. Even more unfortunately, unless you already know the languages you are trying to translate, there is no way of knowing when it is accurate and when it is serving you up something non-sensical, inaccurate or downright offensive.

On the other hand, it is a wonderful machine for playing Chinese Whispers. I have already translated a Turkish menu into English, with what I think are fascinating results. Now, the time has come to see how well Google Translate can generate its own poetry.

Read more…

Zen and the Art of Taxation

Various shapes of “tax” to meditate on

Zen Buddhism has a number of koans, the most famous of which is “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

Reflect long enough upon riddles like these and you may reach enlightenment, it is suggested.

I would think that the same effect could be attained by meditating on section 509 (a) of the US Tax Code, which reads:

For purposes of paragraph (3), an organization described in paragraph (2) shall be deemed to include an organization described in section 501(c)(4), (5), or (6) which would be described in paragraph (2) if it were an organization described in section 501(c)(3).

If this is the kind of thing they have to think about it is surprising that more tax consultants aren’t Zen monks. Read more…

My Accidental Greek Wedding

manuel conv 2I have an irrational passion for phrase- books. Whenever  I go to a country where I don’t know the  language I take along a phrasebook. I often take one with me even when I go to a country where I do speak the language. Sometimes in a foreign country I suddenly stop in the middle of the road. People walk into me, but I don’t notice because my mind is wholly taken up by the question: why? What are phrasebooks for?

The first surprising fact about phrasebooks is that you hardly ever find what you want to say in them. Of course if you read them from cover to cover you will be able to note down some expressions which will be very useful in many situations. Two I have just noticed in the last few seconds while writing this are I am not used to this and Is this a local or a national custom? These are both the kind of thing you can want to say about a dozen times a day when travelling. But phrasebooks suggest the idea that when you find yourself in a situation you will be able to turn to them and find a way to deal with it. This, I think I can say safely, never happens. Read more…

Reciprocating Soup – The Tantalising Cuisine of Google Translate

Squashes

They seem harmless but look out for avalanches

The last time I went to Istanbul I had supper at Çiya Sofrasi, a restaurant which is by now famous (a long article about it appeared in the New Yorker and it has also been mentioned by the New York Times). It serves traditional food from distant Turkish provinces which  is so different from the standard fare of Istanbul that the locals I was with couldn’t figure out what we were eating.

The day before I went I consulted the restaurant’s website, which had a huge list of dishes but, unfortunately, only in Turkish. So I thought it would be a good opportunity to use Google Translate to find out what was being served. What I found instead was that I was transported across a mental ocean into a new world of uncharted cuisine.  Read more…

Leopardi’s Infinity

infinito manoscritto

Giacomo Leopardi is generally described as the greatest Italian lyric poet but you don’t really need to know anything about him to appreciate his poem L’Infinito. I see the title often translated as The Infinite, but I am not sure that means anything in English, so I am going to opt for Infinity. Here then is my attempt at rendering some of its sound and meaning in English.








Infinity

I always have felt fondness for this lonely hill
and for this hedge which screens off
such a large part of the furthermost horizon.
But as I sit and gaze, in my thoughts I envisage,
beyond it, boundless space and utter silence
and deepest still, so that it almost makes
my heart take fright. And as I hear
the rustling of the wind among these plants,
I start comparing that unending silence
with this noise and I am reminded of
eternity, and seasons gone and dead and
of the season now alive and of its sounds. And so
in this immensity my thoughts sink and drown
and shipwreck feels sweet in this ocean.

(Translation by Phillip Hill)

(Listen to the translation)



And here is the Italian original –

Read more…

Say it in Terpreting

signalling instructor

(This piece first appeared in the Summer 2008 issue of Communicate!a webzine for conference interpreters and the conference industry: Those who aren’t acquainted with the ins and outs of conference interpreting might be baffled by some of the details of the job but will surely be able to empathise with the general feeling of bewilderment.)

Perhaps something like this has happened to you. Say it’s Tuesday and you are comfortably ensconced in your booth. You have absorbed all the vocabulary you need and the meeting is so routine that most of your mental effort is directed towards using words which are anagrams of the Chairman’s name.

Read more…

Ho Xuan Huong

While I was looking for information for my post about Huong Thanh, I came across a dozen other references to things I didn’t know about Vietnam. One of these was to a woman named Ho Xuan Huong (Hồ Xuân Hương) who was probably born in the period from 1775 to 1780 and lived till 1822. Ho Xuan Huong was married twice. In her second marriage, she was a vo le, a wife of second rank (“like the maid, but without the pay”, she complained). However her second husband died after only six months and after that she lived alone in Hanoi, making a living by teaching and receiving visitors, including poets, for Ho Xuan Huong was an outstanding poet herself, in fact, if she had written in one of the world languages, I think she would be on  T-shirts everywhere.

Many of her poems contain sexual double-entendres, like this one:

Weaving at Night

Lampwick turned up, the room glows white.

The loom moves easily all night long

as feet work and push below.

Nimbly the shuttle flies in and out,

wide or narrow, big or small, sliding in snug.

Long or short, it glides out smoothly.

Girls who do it right, let it soak.

This is from Spring Essence, a book of her poetry turned brightly into English by John Balaban. 

Here she is writing a different kind of poem, which I find very beautiful:

        Country Scene

        The waterfall plunges in mist

        Who can describe this desolate scene:

        the long white river sliding through

        the emerald shadows of the ancient canopy

        ... a shepherd’s horn echoing in the valley,

        fishnets stretched to dry on sandy flats.

        A bell is tolling, fading, fading, fading

        just like love. Only poetry lasts.

I have only just begun to find out about her so all I can do is point those who are interested in her general direction:

a page with the New York Times review of Spring Essence

John Balaban’s page and an interview with him about Ho Xuan Huong for the NPR programme Fresh Air