230.001: Translation Exercise (2009)

Marten Van Valckenborch I (1534-1612):
The Building of the Tower of Babel

This is the Creative Writing Exercise which students in 230.001: Bridging the Humanities were invited to do:

  • You'll be put into pairs. Each pair will be given a poem in a foreign language unknown to either person. The poem will be accompanied by a literal translation.
  • You'll also be given a picture: a landscape of some kind.
  • I want you to write me a poem using these two components.
  • It can be a translation (as free, or literal, as you like) of the poem you were given.
  • Or it can be more obviously your own poem, though it should incorporate some ideas, words, lines or concepts from the original you were given.
  • You can produce a joint poem or a poem each - whichever one suits your group best.
  • Write it out on a large piece of paper, and towards the end of the class I'll pin up the results for you to look at.

And here are some of the results (not all the students signed their names, so I've been unable to identify the authors of all of them):

(After Henri Michaux)

Labyrinth, life, labyrinth, death
Labyrinth without end,
Says the Master of Nothing
Every door is broken in, nothing liberates
The suicide is reborn to eternal suffering
Each prison opens onto a prison
Each corridor ends with another corridor
He who believes he is unwinding the thread of his life
Is unwinding nothing at all
Nothing emerges out of anywhere
The centuries also live under the earth,
Says the Master of Nothing.

(After Eugenio Montale)

A siren bleed
the stranger split
ignorance in full effect
a burning cold
scarring told
of our imprisonment
as jealousy creeps in
gazing longingly
at the obscene mob
hustling for their freedom

Last Dawn
(After Octavio Paz)

Sleeping next to me, so peaceful like a dove
You goddess of my soul, lying on our bed of love
Your hair all tangled and wild
Your feet touched mine, so tender and mild
In your dreams I am the king
Your dream fits this room, like your finger into my ring.
Like the sun stealing the beauty of the dawn,
Our last moments fly away, like the wind they are blown.
The river will flow away
But it's our memories that'll stay
Forever ...
Will tomorrow be another day?

by Laurence Nacario & Dilini Goontaillake

Old Winter
(After Salvatore Quasimodo)

I desire your touch
in the dim light of the flame
Her hands smelt like oak and
of roses
and the death of an old winter
The birds searched for food
but there was a sudden hail of snow
It sounded like the words
a ray of sun, an angelic halo
the fog among the winter trees
we are like the air in the morning breeze.

Black Stone on a White Stone
(After Cesar Vallejo)

I will die in Paris in the rain
A day which I already know of
I will die in Paris and it's not a lie
Perhaps in autumn on a Thursday

It will be a Thursday
Because it's my best day
These verses I have lost
Painfully and never as much as today
I have come from a long way to see as myself alone

Cesar Vallejo dead, they nailed him down
While he did nothing to them
They hit him hard with a stick.

by Ahmed Al Musabeh & Krish Shankar

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