A Poetic Experiment

I was writing a poem when an idea struck me. What would happen if I translated it to Spanish (or any other language) and back again? So I hopped on Google translate and cut and pasted the following poem:

Miss Van Goor and the Troubled Border

He was handy and dandy but full of snakes,
at least in his mind, and that troubled Miss
Van Goor, the inimitable lady who ran the
boarding house at 345 Burning Tree Lane.
The other boarders kept their distance and
measured their words around him, unsure
of his intentions and sure of his sordid past,
and dear God, the way he drank liquor by
the gallon, it seemed, and never got drunk.
Miss Van Goor was far from temperate, so
the drinking didn’t trouble her, but the way
the man talked to his demons late at night,
cursing and laughing, threatening, weeping,
set her nerves on fire and her heart to aching,
as if she could save him, which she knew she
could not…as if she could possess him, which
she knew was equally, regrettably impossible.

I like it well enough how it is, but it feels off to me in places. So I translated it to Spanish…

Miss Van Goor y la frontera preocupada

Él era práctico y dandy pero lleno de serpientes,
al menos en su mente, y que la señorita
Van Goor, la señora inimitable que dirigía el
pensión en 345 Burning Tree Lane.
Los demás pensionistas mantuvieron su distancia y
midió sus palabras a su alrededor, inseguro
de sus intenciones y seguro de su pasado sórdido,
y querido Dios, la forma en que bebió licor por
el galón, al parecer, y nunca se emborrachó.
La señorita Van Goor estaba lejos de ser templada,
la bebida no le molestó, pero el camino
el hombre habló a sus demonios por la noche,
maldiciendo y riendo, amenazando, llorando,
poner sus nervios en el fuego y su corazón a dolor,
como si pudiera salvarlo, lo que ella sabía que
no podía … como si pudiera poseerlo, lo cual
ella sabía que era igualmente, lamentablemente imposible.

…and back to English.

Miss Van Goor and the border worried

He was handy and dandy but full of snakes,
at least in her mind, and that the lady
Van Goor, the inimitable lady who ran the
boarding house at 345 Burning Tree Lane.
The other pensioners kept their distance and
he measured his words around him, unsure
of his intentions and sure of his sordid past,
and dear God, the way you drank liquor for
the gallon, apparently, and never got drunk.
Miss Van Goor was far from tempered,
the drink did not bother him, but the way
the man spoke to his demons at night,
cursing and laughing, threatening, crying,
put your nerves in the fire and your heart to pain,
as if she could save him, what she knew
he could not … as if he could own it, which
she knew it was equally, sadly impossible.

Intriguing, isnt it? There are obviously problems, especially with the pronouns, but this version made me reapproach my original and change it to the following:

Miss Van Goor and the Troubled Man

He was handy and dandy
but full of snakes,
at least in her mind–
Miss Van Goor, the inimitable
lady who ran the boarding house
at 345 Burning Tree Lane.

The other pensioners kept
their distance, and he measured
his words around them, unsure
of their intentions, they convinced
of his sordid past, and dear God,
the way he drank liquor by the
gallon and never got drunk.

Miss Van Goor was far from
temperate, the drink did not
bother her, but the way the man
spoke to his demons at night,
cursing and laughing,
threatening, crying,
set her nerves on fire
and her heart to pain.

If she could only save him,
which she knew she could not.

If he could only possess her,
which, of course, she knew was
equally and sadly impossible.

I’m not sure if this will be the final draft of the poem or not. I’ll let it marinade for a few days and then come back to it. I just wanted to share this experiment and see what you all thought.

4 Responses to “A Poetic Experiment”

  1. What a wonderful experiment! I enjoyed reading the poem and seeing it again after you translated it. I like the final version a lot!

    • Seems like a really interesting idea to try out–reminds me also of how the writer Haruki Murakami’s style seems to be influenced a lot by the English language, and what it sounds like when translated into Japanese (he used to translate English novels into Japanese)

      • Robert Crisp Says:

        I enjoyed the process, though I’m certainly no translator. I have immense respect for those who translate, especially poetry. Now I’m curious to use Japanese in the experiment.

    • Robert Crisp Says:

      Thanks, Robin. It got me thinking differently about the poem, so I expect I’ll use Google Translate in the future, especially if I’m stuck.

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