Translating poetry

Le Visage Perdu

Last week I found myself contemplating a short poem by Yolaine Maillet and attempting to translate it from French to English for in collaboration with poet Eleanor Hooker and writer/editor Ruth McKee.

Read the concept behind Spontaneity here.

We spent a few days pinging suggestions back and forth, translating the words but losing or changing the meaning, paraphrasing, but losing the poetry of the original. It felt exciting to be part of a project like this.

“Translation is like a women: if she is faithful, she is not beautiful; if she is beautiful, she is not faithful.” Russian Proverb.


We ended up with about ten different versions, none saying quite the same thing. We consulted the poet to try to gauge what she really meant, why she chose certain words. Finally we agreed on a version that captured the intended meaning and stuck as close to the language of the original as possible. Then we decided that it would be a nice touch to add an audio version of the poem. See the poem, the translation and the audio version here.

 “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” Lewis Carroll.


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