Translate a Poem

One poem can be translated in many different ways - close translations, 'freer' versions, after-images and metamorphoses of all kinds.

Click here to read the translation notes.

Original poem

Preparo el plat d’olives…

Preparo el plat d’olives,
el pa amb formatge
I aquell vi rovellat
que ha de nodrir
tots els mots de la tarda:
escolta l’hora de fusta,
aixeca el forrellat
I referma els vells nusos
de la terra.


You do not need to have translated poetry before to have a go at translating this poem, nor do you need to speak Catalan - a 'literal' translation has been provided from which you may craft your final version.

Click here to read the translation notes.

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Poem in translation

preparing a plate of olives

I am preparing a plate of olives,
the bread with cheese
and that rusty wine
that will nourish
all the words in the evening:
listen to the hour of the wood,
release the bolt
and reaffirm the old bonds
of the earth.

» Read notes on translating this poem

Help on translating this poem

You do not have to be a published poet or translator to send in your version, or to have ever translated a poem before. We welcome submissions from all. You can submit your version using the form below. Please note that submissions via this form for this project will not be considered for publication in MPT Magazine, and you should consult our submissions guidelines if you wish to submit something for publication.

This poem was published in 1978, in the collection Clau de Blau, by the Institut d’Estudis Tarraconenses. It is simple, plain and direct, but for one potentially mysterious line.

For a translator, things seem straightforward: the words have recognisable roots and forms, and many are recognisable to an English speaker in themselves. The punctuation is clear, and manoeuvres the meaning with a gentle, and uncomplicated touch. There are no difficult cruxes of language or meaning. The form is natural, in lines and as a whole.

But a small, elegant, clear, plain and classical poem might, in fact, be the hardest of all to re-render into another language. It might be like trying to rearrange some Mozart into any form but its own. 

Here, the literal rendering is given by Dr Anna Vives.

There is not much room for alternative vocabulary: or is there ? A plate of olives is a plate of olives, bread is bread, cheese is cheese, and wine is wine. But ‘rusty’ may not have to be ‘rusty’, and ‘nourish’ might not have to be ‘nourish’, and on such an apparently little choices, the tone of your translation might rest.

And what about ‘listen to the hour of the wood’? Are ‘listen’, ‘hour’ and ‘wood’ non-negotiable? If you choose something different, some other words, will the tone still suit the gentle plainness of the rest ? And might the line mean something subtly other, and how does the subtly other get expressed while staying itself.

And could the last 3 lines, of welcome, and identification, perhaps, of friends and visitors with ties that go beyond a mere evening together, be made deeper, clearer, quieter or stronger with other words ? Is ‘reaffirm’ replacable ? Can ‘old bonds’ be ‘ancient’, ‘timely’, or ‘lasted’, ‘links’, ‘community’ or ‘closeness’?

In such small decisions, your translation will be its own : three or four carefully chosen words, and the poem, in English, will tilt in your direction. 

Is what you feel, what you decide, and what you like, right?


Poetry Translation Workshop 2

By Amarjit Chandan

The poem below is by Najm Hosain Syed, a distinguished name in modern Punjabi literature.

First listen to the poem read out by the poet. View video >>

The point of our exercise, whether you know Punjabi or not, is to understand how the poem works and by close reading and translation to try to see/understand what constitutes the poetry of it. And through a foreign languag...

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By Hubert Moore

Ahmed and I are sitting in a therapy room in a unique purpose-built treatment centre in London for people who have suffered extreme human rights abuses. We are engaged in a sort of translation, though the man who wrote the original is also, for the most part, the translator.

This is the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, and it is Ahmed’s story of persecutio...

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Poetry Translation Workshops

The MPT Editors have had the opportunity to run poetry translation workshops in schools, and as part of poetry courses such as Arvon, and poetry festivals including Aldeburgh over the last few years. They have also participated in a workshop organised by the British Council in Russia. MPT Board members such as Amarjit Chandan have also been involved in running poetry translation...

» Read more

Submit your version

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MPT cannot be held responsible for any adverse changes inadvertently made to poem formatting.

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