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Prompt: Translation

Image by Oli Lynch from Pixabay

As a teacher, the poet John Ashbery gave as a prompt Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem “Archaic Torso of Apollo” in its original German for his non-German speaking students. He made it a translation exercise in which students sounded out the German words and wrote down English words resembling those sounds. They might have translated “sich hält und glänzt” as “sick halt and glance.” It would actually translate as “holds up and shines,” but being correct in your translation was not the point. He didn’t want students to focus on meaning and subject or try to crack the puzzle of the Rilke poem. The exercise was about sound and rhythm.
Their “translations” might have looked somewhat nonsensical but then they could try to find logic in this rough draft but maintain the original line breaks and stanzas.
We have selected for this prompt an unpublished poem that was written in English and used a translation app to put it into Portuguese and Latin. (see the translated poems here) They look quite different. We avoided more common Spanish, French and Italian versions in the hope that you might be less likely to know Latin or Portuguese and not be influenced by the words.
As with the Ashberry exercise, don’t focus on being “correct.” Don’t cheat and run the poems through an app to put it into your native language! Choose one of the two translations. The goal is to focus on sound, meter and perhaps some similar cognates. The result will probably be a first draft that needs some logic applied to it. Revise but maintain the three stanzas and line breaks which will allow readers to see some of your path to the final poem.

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