Translate a Poem
This workshop looks at a very short poem by the Hungarian poet János Pilinszky. As Mark Baczoni writes in his translation notes, it's a particularly challenging poem to render in English.
We invite you to submit your own translation of the poem. As always we welcome a variety of approaches: close translations, 'freer' versions, after-images and metamorphoses of all kinds.
Click here to read the translation notes.
Here is a poem by the great 20th-century Hungarian poet, János Pilinszky (1921-1981). It’s called 'Négysoros' (Quatrain).
Alvó szegek a jéghideg homokban.
Plakátmagányban ázó éjjelek.
Égve hagytad a folyosón a villanyt.
Ma ontják véremet.
This poem has been translated into English by Ted Hughes and his co-translator János Csokits and is published in their collection of Pilinzsky’s poems, The Desert of Love (Anvil, 1989). Read their translation and listen to an audio recording here.
You do not need to have translated poetry before to have a go at translating this poem, nor do you need to speak Hungarian - a 'literal' translation has been provided from which you may craft your final version.Click here to read the translation notes.
Poem in translation
Iron nails resting in the freezing sand.
Billboard nights soaked in abandonment.
You left the light on in the corridor.
Today my blood is spent.
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.
TRANSLATION WORKSHOP NOTES
The principle driving Hughes and Csokits was literalness, as Hughes says in his introduction to their collection of Pilinszky’s poems The Desert of Love:
'As it is, we settled for literalness as a first principle…These translations, then, in the sense of being word for word are close to the originals, and will have served their purpose if they serve as pointers, to help a reader re-imagine the whole thing.'
Poetry Translation Workshop 2
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...
On Translating Akhmatova
My work in translation has mostly been from Hungarian, that being chronologically my first language. I began in 1984 with poetry, verse plays and went on to fiction, while continuing to translate poetry, so the habit of translation is deeply ingrained in me by now. I expect to translate: I enjoy translating. When I first began I had help, much as almost all writer-translators fro...
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...
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Translate a Poem
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