Translate a Poem

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

Original poem

The Sail

Белеет парус одинокий
В тумане моря голубом. —
Что́ ищет он в стране далекой?
Что́ кинул он в краю родном? 

Играют волны, ветер свищет,
И мачта гнется и скрипит;
Увы! — он счастия не ищет
И не от счастия бежит! — 

Под ним струя светлей лазури,
Над ним луч солнца золотой: —
А он, мятежный, просит бури,
Как будто в бурях есть покой!

Latin transliteration

Beleet parus odinokii
V tumane moria golubom!..
Chto ishchet on v strane dalёkoi?
Chto kinul on v kraiu rodnom?..

Igraiut volny — veter svishchet,
I machta gnёtsia i skripit...
Uvy! on schastiia ne ishchet,
I ne ot schastiia bezhit!

Pod nim struia svetlei lazuri,
Nad nim luch solntsa zolotoi...
A on, miatezhnyi, prosit buri,
Kak budto v buriakh est' pokoi!

Literal translation

A lonely sail shows white / against the sea's blue mist. / What does it seek in a distant region? / What has it abandoned in its own land?

The waves play, the wind whistles, / and the mast bends and screeches… / Alas, it does not seek happiness / and is not running away from happiness.

Beneath it the current is brighter than the azure, / above it is the sun's golden ray… / But it, rebellious, asks for a storm, / as if there were peace in storms.

(Literal tr. Donald Rayfield, with Jeremy Hicks, Olga Makarova and Anna Pilkington)


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

The first three versions here are by established Russian translators, and they give us a sense of the variety of options a translator has in tackling this poem, from Robert Chandler's more faithful translation to Antony Wood's epigrammatic rendering of the sense. Browse these versions whilst considering how you might approach this poem.

To gain a better sense of the poem in the original language, you may wish to listen to this reading on YouTube.

» Submit your version

Poem in translation

The Sailing Ship

White on the blue, the sail has gone,
            to vanish with the breeze;
what does the sailor seek alone
            in far-off seas?

His tackle tautens in the stress
            of favouring winds astir;
alas, he seeks not happiness,
            nor flies from her.

The sun is bright above; below,
            the ripples curve and crease;
he, rebel, craves a storm, as though
            in storm were peace.

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.

Submitting a version of this poem to MPT? We recommend reading Irina Mashinski's notes on the poem.


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...

» Read more


Escaping Commonplace

By Peter Daniels

The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson and Issa, edited and translated by Robert Hass, Bloodaxe, 2013

In this Bloodaxe edition of a book already available in America for twenty years, the three great masters Basho, Buson and Issa are presented not only in haiku but in prose about their lives and about writing. The essence of haiku itself emerges mostly from consideration...

» Read more


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

Please attach your translation of the current poem here. We accept the following file formats: Word (.doc and .docx), Rich Text Format (.rtf). Please ensure that you have JavaScript enabled.

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

If you wish, add notes about your translation in the space provided below.

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