Not long ago, I posted about the influence that poetic form has on the effect of a poem. At that time I said that I intended to do further experiments with translation of a poem from one form to another. Here is my next attempt.
The starting point is a light verse I posted almost at the beginning of this blog. The original is a Shakespearean sonnet, which may be thought of as a sequence of seven couplets. The first translation is a series of seven cinquains; the second is a series of seven haikus. I will provide a brief analysis at the end.
Consider, friend, the paradox of life:
It’s all you have, and all you’re sure to lose.
All that you do – grow up, pick out a wife,
Owes more to Chance than I, for one would choose.
Fear not! The answer is Philosophy.
And if, at that, your heart fills with gladness,
Remember that all thought is Sophistry,
And thought is the certain way to madness.
These days, with all there is that’s puzzling,
I think as little as I can.
I work with my hands! That’s the only thing
That fits with God’s simple, earnest plan.
I work hard, and for relaxation, I
Try to pass camels through a needle’s eye.
(The last couplet is an irreverent reference to Matthew 19:24)
Translation into Cinquains:
Paradox of life; it’s
All you have and all you surely
You do – grow up,
Meet someone and marry,
Owes more to Chance than I, for one
The answer is
Philosophy, and if,
At that, your heart fills with gladness,
So stop thinking so much,
For thought is the certain way to
With all there is
That’s puzzling, I try
To think as little as I can,
With my hands, the
Only thing that fits God’s
Simple, earnest plan for we puny
Hard, and when I
Relax, I try to pass
Camels through upright needles by
Consider, friend the
Paradox of Life – all you
Have and all you’ll lose.
All that you do in
This life owes more to Chance than
I, for one would choose.
Fear not, the answer
Is Philosophy, which may
Fill you with gladness.
But remember, all
Thought is sophistry, and thought
May lead to madness.
These days, with all of
Life’s puzzles, I try to think
So very little.
I work with my hands
That’s the only thing that fits
With God’s simple plan.
And for relaxation, I try
To pass camels through the eyes
Of my needles.
All three versions say essentially the same thing, but the effect each has is different. To help understand this, a little background on the various forms will help:
The Shakespearean sonnet has 14 ten-syllable lines (occasionally a syllable may be dropped for effect ) which rhyme according to the pattern :abab cdcd efef gg
Each five line cinquain has the following (unvarying) syllabic pattern:
Each three line haiku has the following (unvarying) syllabic pattern:
In summary then, each couplet of the sonnet has (usually) 20 syllables; each cinquain has 22 syllables and each haiku has 17 syllables. I believe the difference in the number of syllables is the primary cause of the difference in effect. The original sonnet is full of intellectual wordplay and has in the end a slightly off-putting comic effect ( off-putting because you ave to work too hard). Some of the individual cinquains do a better job than the original couplet, of delivering meaning; others have a prosaic quality, because of the extra syllables. Overall, the cinquain version is noticeably less cohesive. The haiku version, on the other hand, feels more cohesive, but its oracular quality (due in part to fewer syllables) dampens the humor.