More on the Influence of Form

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:

My friend,
Consider the
Paradox of life; it’s
All you have and all you surely
Will lose.

All that
You do – grow up,
Meet someone and marry,
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,
Beware.

All thought
Is Sophistry.
So stop thinking so much,
For thought is the certain way to
Madness.

These days,
With all there is
That’s puzzling, I try
To think as little as I can,
Or less.

I work
With my hands, the
Only thing that fits God’s
Simple, earnest plan for we puny
Mortals.

I work
Hard, and when I
Relax, I try to pass
Camels through upright needles by
The eye.

 

Haiku translation:

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:

2 syllables
4 syllables
6 syllables
8 syllables
2 syllables

Each three line haiku has the following (unvarying) syllabic pattern:

5 syllables
7 syllables
5 syllables

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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Influence of Form

I have written about my approach to translation from one language to another here.  Recently, it occurred to me that recasting a poem from one form to another in the same language is also a form of  translation. Let me illustrate.

In April of this year, I posted my translation of the introduction to Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil.  The fourth stanza reads as follows:

The Devil holds our puppet strings,
He leads us through the murk and mire
Nearer to Eternal Fire
And makes us like disgusting things.

This simple verse  is shaped by my stated goal, which was to preserve the sense and the rhyme scheme of the original French.   But suppose we decide to express the same concept in another form , say, a cinquain.  Then we get this:

The Devil’s
Fingers pull our
Strings; he make us like the
Vilest things; he carries us down
To Hell.

By eliminating the requirement to preserve the rhyme scheme and changing the form of the poem, we have lost some detail, but we have gained a more natural progression of ideas.

At some point in the future, I intend to do further experiments with this kind of translation.

Death Looms

Several years ago, I became interested in the cinquain, a deceptively simple verse form invented (or, rather refined) around a hundred years ago by a poet who died too young.  The poet’s name was Adelaide Crapsey, and part of my interest was simply that my mother’s name was Adelaide, and I’d never known a poet by that name.

The talented Ms. Crapsey was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the brain at the age of 32, and died a few years later.  All of her later work is focused on the idea of approaching death. The following cinquain, to which I have given a title in the Crapsey manner, was written in her honor:

ACCEPTANCE

Death looms.
Once, I cowered.
Now, I give anxiety
Another name; I turn my head
And wait.

Another Anti-War Poem

Some time ago, I blogged about the cinquain  and what I called the semicinquain.   This little verse, from 2003, is written in yet another variation of the cinquain, which might be called the hypercinquain, or cinquain on steroids.   The syllabic scheme is 2/2/4/6/8/2  as opposed to the cinquain, which is 2/4/6/8/2.   Dilemma is explained here.

 

Dilemma

Why, that’s
No choice
At All.  To choose
A war or Sadaam. Why,
Iraqis must be grateful for
Their choice.

Iraq:
Iraq
Is at the bar,
On trial before the World.
Outside, a lynch mob menaces
Its folk.

Listen:
They say:
We must destroy
Iraq in order that
A new Iraq be built, or so
They say.

I say:
No war
But for defense.
No blood without a cause.
Why can’t the cowboys hear us say:
No war!

the semicinquain

The cinquain, a haiku-like verse-form, was invented in 1915 by Adelaide Crapsey

Here is an example of a semicinquain, a verse form I invented in 2011.   The semicinquain is a variant of the didactic cinquain and consists of five lines, the first of which is one syllable, the second two syllables, the third three syllables the fourth four syllables, and the last one syllable again.  Unlike the didactic cinquain, there are no rules as to what the syllables can express.

Guilt
Festers.
Set it free.
Give it wings to
Fly.