The last thing I’m going to do is flood my blog with 1001 weird garbled translations of classic poetry, but I did this exercise with John Donne this morning, finding some of the following lines

Impressed with the ability to swallow
I saw the boat love overfraught
I love all of your hair to work with the same
Not to find some plumbers were too many;
No, nothing, not even for things
Very bright and scatt’ring, like the original.
Even the faces and angel wings
Through the air, they do not wear bear fruit still pure, and not purely


There’s a couple of things that need to be kept in mind when one tries this out.  First, you have to be careful about the languages you select as your filters.   The point here, in trying to find a starting point for a poem, is to arrive at a text that is wildly divergent from the original.  I think it’s safe to say that Not to find some plumbers were too many bares absolutely no resemblance to John Donne’s verse.  So here’s some criteria to think over.

  • Select a base text that’s rich in idiom or metaphor or both.   Idiom and metaphor make translating poetry extremely hard.  Internet translators are robots, essentially, and do not understand either.  A computer will always go for the literal translation.  That always leaves the door open for gross misinterpretation.  (Speaking of idioms, I remember talking to a German who heard “Get your shit together” for the first time, and he was bewildered — picturing actually gathering his excrament into a pile).
  • You have to very your languages with each step.  English is a Germanic language.  So, if your chain of filters goes from English to German to Dutch to Frisian to Afrikaans back to English, you might not get absolutely wild results.  Those languages are historically and structurally related.  It’s better to go from English to Arabic to Chinese to Russian to Swahili back to English.  This is because the languages are so fundamentally different from each other, from grammar to diction and syntax.  Basically, by using those differences, you’re opening your self to a wider possibility of weirder pairing of words.