Be wise, write poems

I wasn’t sure whether I should post his entry because of reasons, however I decided it’s about quite interesting topic, i.e. translating poetry, so it’s definitely worth it. There were few examples of poems in Qasir al-Wasat: A Night in-Between, about 5 I believe, but that’s enough for today. So, are you curious about how I managed to translate these short poems? Then have a good read!

Both literary and specialist translations require vast knowledge of the field and an enormous lexicon, that’s the fact. However, I would not agree with that specialist translations are more difficult. On the contrary, I’m inclined to believe that literary translations are far challenging than some international treaties, manuals, medicine-related articles in prestigious newspapers and so on. Literary text is a product of imagination, a imagination that is responsible for many different things, such as: inventing the entire world with its backstory, creating characters, events, planning the storyline, dialogues and even more. The artist has his own world he is willing to present to everyone. This somewhat enforces the translator to act not only as a mere intermediary between the author and his audience, but also as a proper artist, since he isn’t just translating words but the whole concepts, meanings and images. Yes, the translator is a reproducer, because his work is based on someone else’s work, although at the same time it is he who decides in which way he’s going to represent the original intention. That’s the main reason for which I believe that literary translator isn’t just an artisan, an intelligent and skilled copycat but someone greater.

Realising these things may prove useful in our today’s entry (and translating poetry in general). I will show you three short poems extracted from the game to show you how you can tackle rhyming texts and maybe give you bunch of useful hints.

My brother can sing in a delicate voice.
It is most unfortunate no one cares to listen.
We don’t see each other yet we rejoice
When our voices find each other in unison.

To begin with, we need to ask ourselves few things. The first question is: „What are we supposed to work on?„. As you can notice, it’s a short four line alternate rhyme poem. The persona is a boy or a girl, talking about his/her brother. The „sound/voice theme” is quite important here as well. It might be helpful in answering the next question, namely: „What’s the context, the situation in which we might find this poem?„. Think for a while what this text is made for, where it could be find in game. Have you thought a little? If so, here’s the answer: it is a part of a riddle requiring the player to synchronise some instruments. There is another, similar poem but we will take care of that in a while.

Now, when we answered the first two questions, we are finally able to go to the last one, the most important one: „How can we translate it?!„. Explaining it might tricky, since I doubt you speak Polish. Nevertheless, I’ll do my best to describe what I did and how.

Mój brat potrafi śpiewać cieniutkim głosem,
Jednak nikt go nie słucha, patrząc nań z zazdrością.
Nie widzieliśmy się długo, jednak radość jest ogromna
Kiedy nasze głosy stają się jednością.

So this is the Polish translation of the aforementioned poem. I decided to discard the alternate rhyme, hence only the second and the fourth line rhyme with each other. I kept the enjambment though, as putting a comma didn’t seem as a good idea. Besides that, I also changed few words to make it rhyme: „A delicate voice” turned into „cieniutkim głosem” (eng. „in a small voice„), while „no one cares to listen” was translated as „patrząc nań z zazdrością” (eng. „starring at him enviously„). Yes, it changes slightly the meaning, although it does not differ drastically from the original, so I believe that will do.

In my opinion, the translation of the second poem turned out be worse. Here, we’ve got the same alternate rhyme (though the lines are marginally longer) and the same main theme. Have a look at the original version and analyse it on your own:

My sister can hum the most beautiful tune
It is beyond doubt silence is not her destiny.
When joining our voices becomes opportune
Our duet will create its own form of melody.

This rhyme is more „inconsistent” so to speak. The lack of punctuation marks (only the two full stops are present) makes it rather difficult to read. In that case, we have to think whether this punctuation serves as something, whether it is done on purpose, since we can either place commas where they should be, or ignore them completely. Personally I prefered the former, because it simple looks smoother. Anyway, here’s my translation:

Moja siostra potrafi nucić melodie najpiękniejsze:
Niewątpliwie cisza nie jest jej przeznaczona.
W jedności nasze głosy brzmią pieszczotliwie;
Własną melodię stworzyć nasz duet podoła.

I decided to keep the irregular rhyme (the 2nd line rhymes with the 4th) from the previous translation in order to keep them similar. Unfortunately, this time it’s rather forced but what can I do? Regarding the number of syllables, they are almost of the same length in each line what, with inserting some punctuation marks, created a neat melody. Now, speaking of the content, it’s more or less the same. The only thing I changed is “When joining our voices becomes opportune” which changed into “W jedności nasze głosy brzmią pieszczotliwie“ (eng. „In the unison our voices sound charmingly„). But that doesn’t change the meaning such, so it can stay.

The last poem troubled me the most, and yet it’s my favourite one. Because of the setting, you can find in Qasir al-Wasat many references to the culture of Middle East. You can clearly see these inspirations in this poem:

Hush a bye baby, so pure and small
He created you, created us all.

Hush a bye baby, we’ve no need to fear
We’re never alone, when Allah’s so near.

Hush a bye baby, breathing so calm,
He will protect us and keep us from harm.

Hush a bye baby, so still and serene,
You are a Muslim and Islam’s your Deen.

As you can see, there are multiple couplets, i.e. two-line strophes. Choosing a structure like this had to serve something, so we need to keep it in the translation. Also, an anaphora occurs at the beginning of each couplet and we need to keep that as well. Please note the irregular rhytm of the poem; I would personally change it to make it smoother. Concerning the context: a group of guards and a civil is dancing and singing. They use this poem to scare away a fiend, a monster lurking in the palace. Having said that, here’s my translation:

Cichaj, dziecinko, tak czysta i mała.
To on ciebie stworzył i cały świat scala.

Cichaj, dziecinko, nie musimy się bać.
Kiedy Allah jest blisko, nic nie może się stać.

Cichaj, dziecinko, o oddechu spokojnym.
Kiedy Allah jest blisko, trudno jest być samotnym.

Cichaj, dziecinko, wciąż błoga i cicha.
Wyznawców swych Allah
z czułością powita.

Just as I’ve mentioned, we should keep the composition, so why did I change in the last verse? There are two reasons for this. The first one is text formatting, meaning I had to change it to avoid (awkard) line breaking. The second one is for the artistic purposes: pushing „z czułością powita” to the next line makes it more emphatic. Now, about the anaphora. I recreated it successfully, however I spent some time on figuring out how can I translate „a bye baby„. In the end, I chose a diminuitive which fits the poem perfectly. Moreover, I fixed the melody, the rhythm: lines do not differ in terms of number of the syllables. The only thing I’m not satisfied with are these full stops. When I look at it now, I think I should have used commas instead but what’s done cannot be undone.

Regarding the content, I made some minor adjustments. First of all, I swapped the 2nd line of the 2nd couplet with the 2nd line of the 3rd. Besides, I put there yet another anaphora, what in my opinion make is more emphatic and probably creates a sort of melody, rhythm. However, the biggest change took place in the last couplet. Firstly, let’s analyse the word „Deen”. Wikipedia says:

Dīn (دين, also anglicized as Deen) is an Arabic word which is commonly associated with Islam, but it is also used in Arab Christian worship. The term is loosely associated with „religion”, but as used in the Qur’an, it means the [Way Of Life] in which righteous Muslims are obligated to adopt in order to comply with divine law (Quran and sunnah)…

Also the Wiktionary confirms that, as the word „din” in Turkish and Turkmen language mean exactly „faith, religion„. But is this information really helpful? Well, using words similar to „Muzułmanin” (eng. „Muslim”) seems rather pointless since they feel awkward here. Thus, I decided to use Allah once again, which seemingly fits the whole of the poem and this depiction of Allah.

And that’s all for today! I do realise that without knowledge of Polish this entry must have been rather boring to read, so thank you very much for your patience! I hope you learnt something despite this little inconvenience. If you have any comments or suggestion regarding today’s entry or the blog in general, please do leave me a message!


3 myśli na temat “Be wise, write poems

  1. Nice to see this type of coverage of a game, specially because it was developed by a studio from my country. Translation by itself is a complicated matter, and it only gets worse when the form of the words, their order and everything else matter as much as they do in poems. My writing in English is almost strictly related to a) university topics (and I’m talking about a physics course, not literature, so it’s strictly technical) and b) my reviews website, and even if generally that means I don’t have to worry much about the loss of form or the exact meaning of things, there are times when I keep looking at the screen and scratching my chin as I try to figure out how a perfectly fitting sentence in Portuguese would be expressed in English – and the opposite happens from time to time, as well!

    I can’t say much from the parts of your website that are written in Polish, but I really enjoyed the segments I could read and the whole crossing of translation and game themes that seems to be the main motif. They’re both complicated forms of art, and translations can often deviate entirely from the author’s original intentions, sadly.


    1. Hello, thank you for such a detailed comment! 🙂

      Yes, it is a complicated matter indeed. The translation should often be read as a native text, so not only we need to watch out for the choice of words but also the word order. The thing with poetry is that the meaning and the word order can be often twisted, distorted (especially when it comes to the modern experimental poetry), so how can we successfully translate a poem into a foreign language where we don’t really have to abide the rules and yet we must be knowledgeable about all the intricancies of language to know what is allowed and what is not? Of course, I’ve yet to learn about the theories of translation, so maybe some helpful tricks will be revealed to me later on, but for now it’s all about the intuition; an intuiton which does not always work properly. And I understand completely that entire expressing words in a foreign language thing! I feel like I’m using the same structures and the same words all the time. I really want to make my writing appealing to viewers, interesting to read but it’s sometimes really hard to explain properly what I have in mind, especially that idioms are rarely the same. They are kinda crucial part of communication, so we have that.

      Regarding the parts written in Polish: I’m trying to do my best to explain all the differences and what means what but I do realise it isn’t an easy thing to do. When I read my old posts I see I could have done it better, I see how I could have improved it. Perhaps my commentary, my remarks weren’t satisfactory enough but I’m going to fix that, so the foreign viewers might enjoy my blog even more. And even with that, it might not be the same thing as if it was written entirely in Polish. You are absolutely right, the meaning can get twisted and the original intensions changed drastically, making a completely new text with a completely new meaning.

      Nevertheless, once again thank you very much for your comment and the precious feedback! I’m really glad to see you enjoying my blog, even if not everything was clear to you.


  2. Definitely! There are branches and branches of different meanings for words, verses and poems that go beyond a literal, word-by-word or even sentence-by-sentence translation into another language, and a fact I’ve learnt to deal with is that sometimes, things just can’t be translated: take for instance the Portuguese word „saudades”, which I think in Polish would be „tesknota” – there simply isn’t a good English equivalent for the word, and to explain it I’d need a whole sentence, losing all of the word’s elegance and singleness.

    I’ll be looking forward to your future posts – seeing games discussed on a higher level, as any other art forms are, is always great. I’m also tempted to cross-reference gaming to some other topics of my interest, but sometimes I feel like I just don’t have the knowledge to do so.




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