Can Poetry be Translated?

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Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby owleye on December 1st, 2013, 11:57 am 

I think there is some reason to believe that poetry has been translated, but I confess not having decent ideas about this subject. So I thought I'd open it up to see if there is anyone within opinions on the subject.
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby Venus on December 1st, 2013, 12:36 pm 

Sure it can be translated.

But obviously things will get lost in translation because a poem is more than the literal meaning. Things like allusions, sayings, synonyms, sound and rhythm may be different in another language.
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby DragonFly on December 1st, 2013, 5:09 pm 

The Verse

“Now, for the verse, as first. Although day-tide has barely spoken, I, nonetheless, will open the precious token, this mysterious book of poetry sealed with a waxen shield, this read having been concealed for over ten centuries, in the secret chamber of the library of the old monastery’s remainder.”

“Open it as one would a tender lover.

“Lo, a small bottle is encased inside the front cover. Some of its spirit apparently escaped when the volume was undraped, for I’m already captivated by the Persia fumes.”

“As am I. It’s the perfume of ageless rhymes from the ancient looms of time.”

“This tome is written in some foreign language, in verses of thirteen syllables, in four-line stanzas.”

“It’s written in Persian, I’ve looked, having handled many of the foreign books, in my role as an editor in the abbey’s nooks.”

“It’s the library’s most valuable book, as I’ve illuminated and unhooked so many of the monastery’s great books. It was the only one I could save, but it’s the only book we’ll ever crave.

We watch the book moving, amazed.

“It’s coming to life, like a good husband in the presence of his wife.”

“I see. The words of the Persian poems are beginning to move around the page, as all over it they run, sometimes briefly changing into English ones.”

“Even entire verse-lines are dancing, as like a dervish whirling.”

“They are trying to settle, from the struggle, but the words yet again jump and juggle, though first hanging back, but then ever surging forth, darting around through the verses’ course, within each stanza, trying to form a brighter source, in lines which still state, but in differing aspects, the original and pervading concepts.”

“’Tis as if this magical language transmogrification is attempting to preserve the entire relation of the original poetic scheme throughout, the whole translation process, so devout, including literal meaning, rhythm, rhyme, melody, syllable, meter, and time; however, this doesn’t seem workative, and so it follows that something must give, and this could be the ration that is usually lost in translation.”

“Perhaps. Oh, yes, look; out of that apparent desperation, uncaged, the Persian verses are jumping right off of the page, and splashing into the bottle of perfume.”

“Wherein they are redistilling themselves, subsumed.”

“Yes, oh yes, for they are leaping back out and on to the blanked page, whereupon they are recondensing, restaging, and recomposing themselves, for this time, our age, into Victorian style verse, forming new quatrains in which only the essence of the remains of the original concept of meaning is maintained.”

“The lines are now ten syllables, rather than thirteen, yet holding many more and related meanings heretofore unseen, but the verses are still in groups of four per stanza, and the correct lines still rhyme, as per lingua, although some of the rhyming schemes don’t seem to have quite the same means.”

“Yes, for only some things unnecessary have been lost, and something very new has been added, not tossed, something somehow much better told, although ever within the spirit of the old.”

“What are you, old book?” she asks the book.

I add, “Are you alive? By you I shook".

The book answers, “I am the book of life, my pages rife with the antidotes of strife; I am a conscious dream, a living philosophy. I live forever through my words, wholly. On my pages you will find all of man’s follies, joys, sorrows, wisdom, as well as all of his jollies. Read me and my ideas will come alive, demonstrating the happiest ways to survive! It is by experiencing my words that you shall know them, forwards. Yes, the arts may enrich human experience, but they’re no substitutes for the living of it.”

“What is your name, might I ask of the same?”

My name is but a question only, a mystery that you have to solve, namely, ‘What is the name of the Rose?’

They look for a minute at the tome, deeply inhaling its perfume.

“Oh, that scent,” she sighs.

“Book, you are Persia-fume.”
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby Venus on December 1st, 2013, 5:19 pm 

Am I missing something?
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby Obvious Leo on December 1st, 2013, 6:03 pm 

Venus wrote:Am I missing something?


If you've missed DF's poetry, Venus, then you've missed quite a valuable experience. If you've missed the Persian poets then you might find them worth a look. Many of your cosmology posts are reminiscent of Omar.

As to whether poetry can be translated I would say only approximately. The same goes for prose. The meaning of a poem is contained in the mind of the reader and no two minds are the same so we all derive different meanings from written words. Our use of language is also heavily informed by the era we live in and the culture we are familiar with. To truly understand the literary work of any writers we also need to know something of their life and times. Without some knowledge of 19th century Britain Dickens would be inscrutable. Many find Dostoevsky inscrutable precisely because they don't have the historical framework to place his words in. I could mention many others from even less familiar cultures and even more distant times and although the themes remain identifiable the intended nuances of expression have often long been lost. The reader finds his own meaning within the framework of his own experience because we can comprehend nothing without a self with which to comprehend it.

A written work is frozen in time. The moment it is completed it starts becoming obsolete but the magic of the language never dies. In different times and different cultural contexts it might convey an entirely different meaning to the emerging self and therein lies the immortality of art.

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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby Venus on December 1st, 2013, 6:21 pm 

Obvious Leo wrote:
Venus wrote:Am I missing something?


If you've missed DF's poetry, Venus, then you've missed quite a valuable experience. If you've missed the Persian poets then you might find them worth a look. Many of your cosmology posts are reminiscent of Omar.

I am confused, I saw a topic that asked if poetry can be translated, there was no single poem or poet mentioned.
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby Obvious Leo on December 1st, 2013, 6:50 pm 

With DF you have to do a fair bit of your own heavy lifting but it's usually worth the effort.

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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby Whut on December 1st, 2013, 7:44 pm 

A lot of poetry's value is the play on language. Change the language and you lose a lot - if not all - of that. It would be interesting to hear a poet's take on this, especially one who's able to read a translation of their own poetry. I imagine they would feel like they were reading someone else's work, more so than, say, a non-fiction author doing the same with some translated work of their's. There's meaning and there's music.

It's a matter of degree though. The real question is if poetry can be translated satisfyingly. Generally, I don't think so.
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby owleye on December 1st, 2013, 9:05 pm 

I'm happy to read the comments, and to clear up some of the confusion, let me add a few comments that might help.

In discussions of art, generally, many folks think of works of art as forms of communication. If this is so, why wouldn't it be possible for the work to communicate something to its audience, at least in principle, regardless of the language used. Of course if the audience was not also an artist, they might not be able to translate what it means in such a way that it was equally artistic, but unless there are no comparable artists for each work of art, it would surprise me to think that once the meaning of the poem is absorbed, the poet might be able to translate it using the translation language. Poetry is specifically directed to language itself, one laden with the characteristics of words in that language and in their display over and above their use in communicating meaning of the chosen of words, silently our aloud, as well as their display, so I'm thinking that the poet translator might use completely different words, and possibly even a different display, that mimics the same playfulness, the same rhymes and rhythms. However, if there is some sort of expressible meaning in the words being chosen, one would have to find ways to express them in the translation in ways that work to convey it, yet also not get lost in how it gets expressed therein (as well as artistically). Obviously a difficult task, but it's not entirely clear that it would be impossible. However, I'm going to reserve judgement here in case there is evidence of an untranslatable poem that one might be aware of. Perhaps Virginia Wolff might be an example. (I'm thinking here of her "Waves". According to Wikipedia, this work has been translated into French, and though she was able to discuss it with Wolff, I'm not sure the translation does justice to the original. Perhaps you know.)

(Note that I'm not trying to get into questions in the field of hermeneutics, or even those dealing with deep cultural divides, which is a topic in and of itself. I'm assuming that a typical audience actually "gets" it, and that the translator (or even the author) has the ability to translate the poem. And, there is always the question of "is this art?", which I'm not asking about.)
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby Delta4Exile on December 4th, 2013, 8:00 am 

Depends on the actual sort. Haiku for example, unless by some coincidence it retains the proper number of syllables wont translate. Rhyming too probably wouldn't. Other forms would though.
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby owleye on December 4th, 2013, 10:55 am 

Delta4Exile wrote:Depends on the actual sort. Haiku for example, unless by some coincidence it retains the proper number of syllables wont translate. Rhyming too probably wouldn't. Other forms would though.


Can you cite an example of a Haiku that is untranslatable? How about a limerick? How about the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner? Has this not been translated? If it has, would this imply that it lost something in the translation?

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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby Hendrick Laursen on January 25th, 2015, 9:07 am 

Hi James,

Sorry for posting now, (2 years after the start of topic), but no way, I hadn't registered then, nor was familiar with SPC.

Anyway, I believe poetry can never be completely translated.

For example, "Arabic" or "Persian" classic poetry[these two I can verify myself], and many other poetry of other languages, do have very clear and strict meters, and are restricted in several rhythmic groups called "Behers" (the first two) - which is clearly false anglicized form, as the exact pronunciation is "Bahr" with h pronounced.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beher

So, any translation of these poems surely shan't have the meter and so the figures of speech like "intentional ambiguity" are often reduced to the clearest meaning, which ruins the beauty of the poem. It will contain only the meaning [if the translation has been successful].

I've witnessed many Persian poems of "Rumi" translated to English and when returned to Persian are no more that some poetical prose, and look just ridiculous.

Bye
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby zetreque on January 25th, 2015, 1:33 pm 

For this I will put poetry and song lyrics into the same category. Yes they can be translated, but on an individual level. There might be one grand translation meant by the author, and it can make sense if he/she tells us what the translation is supposed to mean, but every person has a different sum of experiences. Every person learned definitions of words differently, and in different context. This is what makes simple communication often difficult even when you are speaking the same language. People can often define words slightly differently or image different things in their mind when defining them.

It is kind of like the scientific community. There are some really smart people out there, but since they never did formal college, they don't speak the same language and are often ignored. (aside from the crackpots, OR people that are just missing pieces of the puzzle)

I have a couple texts over the years where I took song lyrics and translated them for myself into my own meaning that is special to me. That is the awesomeness of poetry and all forms of art. The fact that we can find our own special meanings and they are so diversely translated.

A good movie or form of art can speak to people from all different backgrounds. One example I think of since it came up in discussion yesterday (being that they are in works to make a new trilogy) is The Matrix Trilogy. There are a lot of people that didn't like it, but I also noticed that there were a lot of different people that liked it and that you could see the movie from different perspectives. They could be translated as one big love story to a romantic person, or translated as a computer game with increasing difficulty to a "nerd" lol, or translated to various philosophical meanings like choice to a thinker. Appeal to action people that just want entertainment, or romance people, or philosophical people. This is just one example, but any art form, the better able to be translated and seeing in different perspectives, the wider your audience and the more successful IMO.
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby Hendrick Laursen on January 26th, 2015, 1:28 am 

That's exactly one of my points but, doesn't your perspective restrict artistic understanding to individuals?
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby zetreque on January 26th, 2015, 1:54 am 

Hendrick Laursen » Sun Jan 25, 2015 10:28 pm wrote:That's exactly one of my points but, doesn't your perspective restrict artistic understanding to individuals?


I am not sure I understand what you mean. If an individual can change their perspective around, they can appreciate the various meanings of the art piece.

There are cultural similarities that do however make for a general common interpretation of art.
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby henriette on May 29th, 2015, 9:24 am 

owleye » Mon Dec 02, 2013 2:05 am wrote:I'm happy to read the comments, and to clear up some of the confusion, let me add a few comments that might help.

In discussions of art, generally, many folks think of works of art as forms of communication. If this is so, why wouldn't it be possible for the work to communicate something to its audience, at least in principle, regardless of the language used. Of course if the audience was not also an artist, they might not be able to translate what it means in such a way that it was equally artistic, but unless there are no comparable artists for each work of art, it would surprise me to think that once the meaning of the poem is absorbed, the poet might be able to translate it using the translation language. Poetry is specifically directed to language itself, one laden with the characteristics of words in that language and in their display over and above their use in communicating meaning of the chosen of words, silently our aloud, as well as their display, so I'm thinking that the poet translator might use completely different words, and possibly even a different display, that mimics the same playfulness, the same rhymes and rhythms. However, if there is some sort of expressible meaning in the words being chosen, one would have to find ways to express them in the translation in ways that work to convey it, yet also not get lost in how it gets expressed therein (as well as artistically). Obviously a difficult task, but it's not entirely clear that it would be impossible. However, I'm going to reserve judgement here in case there is evidence of an untranslatable poem that one might be aware of. Perhaps Virginia Wolff might be an example. (I'm thinking here of her "Waves". According to Wikipedia, this work has been translated into French, and though she was able to discuss it with Wolff, I'm not sure the translation does justice to the original. Perhaps you know.)

(Note that I'm not trying to get into questions in the field of hermeneutics, or even those dealing with deep cultural divides, which is a topic in and of itself. I'm assuming that a typical audience actually "gets" it, and that the translator (or even the author) has the ability to translate the poem. And, there is always the question of "is this art?", which I'm not asking about.)


Below is a tentative to address the post in an apparently totally different manner to argue first that, yes, indeed, poems can, and have often been, correctly translated and second that even poor translations, such as automatic literal translations, can preserve the poetry of the text.

First is a proposed distinction between poetic states, poetry and poems that is useful for the argument.
Poetic states are not at all directly related to poems (and men may have experienced what may be defined as poetic states far before the invention of the first poems). Poetic states are a stage of what results from the meditative contemplation of the world. Here the definition is limited to the following : the poetic state is the state associate to ecstasy.
Poetry is the name for the associated activity.
Here poems are considered pieces of Arts though poetry may be regarded as a special category because it differs in attribute from the set of commonly called Arts, including painting, musics, sculpture, etc.
One can then define a poem as a piece of art from poetry in the following way. Some artists manage to assemble words in a way that triggers the poetic state within the reader's mind. Those texts are poems. That's all. A poem is a machinery that triggers some ecstatic "feelings", it helps to mimic the out-up of a particular stage of meditative contemplation.

Many people around have experience flavored poetic states while reading translation of poems found on the shelves and originally written in many different languages, the point has just been checked around on the basis of the distinction between poetic states and poems proposed above. Because many translations have done their jobs, it seems that indeed yes, at least around, poems can be translated.
Why do translations often work well whereas some poets play with words, images and meanings in an incredibly subtle way is another question. The question of translation is tricky because translation rarely filter out the poetic signal embedded within the poems. It helps to focus on what is really poetic within a particular poetic text, showing why some can be easily translated while some require real metamorphosis, like with the translation of Poe by Baudelaire. This is arguably partially because of the difference between the paths that followed the original writer and the translator to reach ecstasy from meditative contemplation.
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby violet on June 8th, 2015, 5:03 pm 

If possible, I like to read foreign language poems in pony versions. I have a pony Aeneid for example.

This is easy to do on the internet. Right now I'm reading Dante's Inferno as a pony. I have a good annotated English version on my kindle, and I just set it next to the Italian version I found online so I can read the Italian and really get the greatness of the poetry while also getting the benefit of the English translation along with great annotations.
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby manishsqrt on June 17th, 2015, 3:55 am 

I think it is quite a challenging task to translate poetry, but even then some translators have done good job.The most basic problem(although this is not most significant problem) is loss of rhythm.This is only the most viewed problem.but upon translation poetry may loose its soul.
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby violet on June 19th, 2015, 11:46 am 

manishsqrt » June 17th, 2015, 1:55 am wrote:I think it is quite a challenging task to translate poetry, but even then some translators have done good job.The most basic problem(although this is not most significant problem) is loss of rhythm.This is only the most viewed problem.but upon translation poetry may loose its soul.


I agree for the most part. I can read most of the languages that use the Latin alphabet, so I always try to read any English translations along with the originals, like a pony.

However, every so often you get a really inspired rendering that stands alone as a great work of art. One prime example is Edward Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat.
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby doogles on June 20th, 2015, 7:55 pm 

However, every so often you get a really inspired rendering that stands alone as a great work of art. One prime example is Edward Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat.


Like you Violet, I'm impressed with Edward Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat. My regret is that I do not have the ability to read the original by Omar Khayyam.
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby manishsqrt on June 20th, 2015, 10:25 pm 

I think you really framed a very good example by referring to Edward Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat.There can be no better example to quote.Its translation of two different cultures not just a poem, without loosing its kernel.
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby violet on June 21st, 2015, 3:24 pm 

Like you Violet, I'm impressed with Edward Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat. My regret is that I do not have the ability to read the original by Omar Khayyam.

I was told by a former Persian acquaintance that Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat is not really a translation of Omar Khayyam, so that's why I called it a rendering. He also said that Fitzgerald's English version is so transcendent that no one dared to replace it.

So I suspect that Khayyam's original might read quite differently. Still, I think it would be interesting to be able to make the comparison.
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby henriette on October 13th, 2015, 8:46 am 

A near automatic translation of a French poem by Leconte de Lisle, untitled "Midi"

Noon,
Noon, King of summers, spread on the plain,
Throws its silvery wreathes from the heights of blue sky.
Everything makes silence. The air burns and blazes breathless;
The Earth is asleep and wrapped in its blazing dress.

The landscape is so vast and the fields have no shade,
And the sources dried up where the flocks drank;
The distant forest, whose edge is dark,
Sleeps, there, motionless, in a heavy rest.

Only the large ripened grain, such as a golden sea,
Take place far away, disdainful of sleep;
Peaceful Children of the Sacred Earth,
They exhaust fearless the cup of the sun.

Sometimes, like a sigh from their burning soul,
Breast heavy ears, murmuring among themselves,
A majestic and slow undulation
Awakes, and will die in the dusty horizon.

Not far away, some white oxen lying in the grass,
Drool slowly on their heavy baleen
And follow with their languid and superb eyes
The inner dream they never complete.

Man, if, your heart full of joy or bitterness,
You passed around noon by the radiant fields
Flee! Nature is empty and the sun only burns:
Nothing is living here, nothing is neither sad nor joyful.

But if, disillusioned with tears and laughter,
Altered in the oblivion of this troubled world,
You want a taste of a supreme and dreary pleasure,
Finally incapable to forgive and to curse,

Come ! The Sun speaks to you in sublime words;
In its relentless flame absorbs yourself endlessly;
And returns slowly towards the tiny towns,
The heart dipped seven times in the divine Nihil.
Last edited by henriette on October 13th, 2015, 8:51 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby vivian maxine on October 13th, 2015, 10:33 am 

If you actually live both languages to the point where both are part of you, you can do a very good job of translating the essence of the poem. What you cannot do is the technical stuff - follow rules about rhymes, stresses, syllables, etc. But bringing the feeling of the poem can be done. And, in reading poetry, isn't that what we want - the feeling of the poet's emotional self or his message? I know a man who does this from Welsh to English and I promise you would think the poems were written in English in the first place. Getting from Welsh to English is a challenge.

Persian? I don't know, not knowing Persian, but the one book of Persian poetry that I have (in English) is rather pitiful reading. The talent must not have been there.
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby henriette on October 13th, 2015, 11:34 am 

Dear vivian maxine,
I mostly agree with you. Anyway, the near automatic translation above (google translate) is proposed here because it is good enough to allow one to experience the poetical state proposed by the poet. Poetical states are not so much a question of emotions, and your joined use of the words "emotions" and "message" is still confusing to me. The poem re-veals something indescribable that is not limited to emotional feelings or ideas, poetry being something else than the sum of those two words, it is something else, called poetry. We arguably do not know what it is, and the use by you of the very confusing word "essence" may illustrate this point.
Some poems can be translated automatically and some may never be translated, why? I first thought that poems including "messages" should be easier to translate that those making great use of the particular music of the author's language, but this idea is incorrect.
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby henriette on October 13th, 2015, 11:38 am 

Dear vivian maxine,
I mostly agree with you. Anyway, the near automatic translation above (google translate) is proposed here because it is good enough to allow one to experience the poetical state proposed by the poet. Poetical states are not so much a question of emotions, and your joined use of the words "emotions" and "message" is still confusing to me. The poem re-veals something indescribable that is not limited to emotional feelings or ideas, poetry being something else than the sum of those two words, named poetry. We arguably do not know what it is, and the use by you of the very confusing word "essence" may illustrate this point.
Some poems can be translated automatically and some may never be translated, why? I first thought that poems including "messages" should be easier to translate that those putting the emphasis on the particular music of the author's language, but this idea is incorrect.
The celebrated "RV 10:129" poem is a good illustration of that point.
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby Braininvat on October 13th, 2015, 12:33 pm 

Not far away, some white oxen lying in the grass,
Drool slowly on their heavy baleen
And follow with their languid and superb eyes
The inner dream they never complete.


I wasn't sure about the baleen, but the rest was evocative.
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby Marshall on October 13th, 2015, 12:40 pm 

Non loin, quelques boeufs blancs, couchés parmi les herbes,
Bavent avec lenteur sur leurs fanons épais,
Et suivent de leurs yeux languissants et superbes
Le songe intérieur qu'ils n'achèvent jamais.


fanons? baleen?

The fanon is a kind of BIB that the pope wears when celebrating mass.
http://www.nordicneedle.net/newsletter- ... l-regalia/
It can be a wide circular collar which he sticks his head thru and comes down over his chest.

If an ox were couched in grass, chewing his cud, his drool would come down over his chin and over the folds of skin around his neck and possibly over part of his CHEST

here is an alternative:

Not far away, some white oxen lying in the grass,
Drool slowly DOWN THEIR HEAVY NECKS
And follow with their languid and superb eyes
The inner dream they never complete.
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby DragonFly on October 13th, 2015, 1:01 pm 

Poems are renderings of the soul’s spirit,
The highest power of language and wit.
The reader then translates back to spirit;
If the soul responds, then a poem you’ve writ!
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Re: Can Poetry be Translated?

Postby DragonFly on October 13th, 2015, 1:08 pm 

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