Writing Exercise #2: Translation

Translation, they say, is a good way to improve one’s language skills. Translating poetry, specifically, forces the writer to focus on the words — on diction, essentially — because all other elements like poetic structure and literary content are already taken care of.

For this exercise I chose three poems by three different writers. I picked a César Vallejo poem because I initially wanted to see if I could translate directly from Spanish to Filipino (I couldn’t). I was also curious about how nuances get lost in multi-level translations (i.e. Spanish to English to Filipino), but obviously I would never find an answer.

Next I went with Charles Bukowski, an author known for his polarizing stream-of-consciousness verses. I have read criticisms against his prosaic style — the same disapproving remark flung against so-called Instagram poets — so I wanted to explore how I could render this cadence in Filipino. Lastly I went with Lang Leav, partly for the same reason, but mostly because I wanted to know if her poems, which I admittedly do not enjoy, would look better (or worse) in another language.

I am of course aware that none of these poems could feed the hungry and stop despotic leaders from killing the poor. Doing this exercise was a spur-of-the-moment decision motivated by a sudden slap of guilt upon realizing that I haven’t written anything “creative” in a long time. For actual poetry that bites, I suggest you listen to the KOLATERAL album.

Black Stone on Top of a White Stone
by César Vallejo 
(translated from Spanish by Thomas Merton)

I shall die in Paris, in a rainstorm,
On a day I already remember.
I shall die in Paris-- it does not bother me--
Doubtless on a Thursday, like today, in autumn.

It shall be a Thursday, because today, Thursday
As I put down these lines, I have set my shoulders
To the evil. Never like today have I turned,
And headed my whole journey to the ways where I am alone.

César Vallejo is dead. They struck him,
All of them, though he did nothing to them,
They hit him hard with a stick and hard also
With the end of a rope. Witnesses are: the Thursdays,
The shoulder bones, the loneliness, the rain, and the roads... 

Itim na Bato sa Ibabaw ng Puting Bato

Mamamatay ako sa Paris, sa gitna ng bagyo,
Sa araw na ngayon pa lamang ay naalala ko.
Mamamatay ako sa Paris— hindi ako nababahala—
Walang pangamba sa araw ng Huwebes, tulad ngayon, sa taglagas.

Marapat akong mamatay sa araw ng Huwebes, ‘pagkat ngayon, Huwebes
Habang isinusulat ko ang mga berso, isinisabalikat ko
Ang salâ. Kailanman hindi pa ako lumiko
At naglakbay padako sa landas na ako ay mag-isa.

Patay na si César Vallejo. Hinampas siya nila,
Ng lahat sila, maski wala naman siyang ginagawa sa kanila,
Hinampas siya ng patpat at singlakas
Na hinagupit ng dulo ng lubid. Saksi: ang mga Huwebes,
Ang mga buto ng balikat, ang pangungulila, ang ulan, at ang mga lansangan…

I Met A Genius
by Charles Bukowski

I met a genius on the train
about 6 years old,
he sat beside me
and as the train
ran down along the coast
we came to the ocean
and then he looked at me
and said,
it's not pretty.

it was the first time I'd

May Nakilala Akong Henyo

May nakilala akong henyo sa tren
mga anim kataon,
umupo siya sa tabi ko
at habang ang tren
ay bumibiyahe sa gilid ng dalampasigan
dumulo kami sa dagat
at lumingon siya sa akin
at sinabing,
hindi ito maganda

sa unang pagkakataon napagtanto kong

And Then
by Lang Leav

I always thought the words, and then, were a prelude 
To something wonderful. Like seeing a ship come in
Or finding a note in your letterbox, when you weren’t 
Expecting one. That swift, surprising transition from
Nothing to everything. 

      And then.

Two little words that hold a world of promise. 

      And then, the light pierced through the dark,
Forbidding sky, and the rain stopped falling. 

      And then I met you. 

At Pagkatapos

Matagal na akong naniniwala na ang mga salitang, at pagkatapos, ay simula
Ng hiwaga. Gaya ng pagtanaw sa barkong pumapalaot
O ng pagtuklas sa isang liham, sa araw na hindi ito
Inaasahan. Iyong paspas at nakagugulat na pagtalon
mula sa walâ patungo sa lahat.

            At pagkatapos.

Mga munting salitang bitbit ang uniberso ng bukas.

            At pagkatapos, may tumarak na liwanag sa kulimlim,
Nagbabadyang langit, at tumigil ang ulan sa pagtangis.

            At pagkatapos nakilala kita.

I sketched the featured image (patterned after a drawing I found on Google) and I realized that my hair had now grown to a pesky length. I need to either a) cut it short, or b) buy a hairbrush. I am too lazy to do one or the other. Hrmm.

Hair complaints aside, I will be tagging other kids here on WordPress whom I know have written and posted their own poems before:

Bessy | Krishel | Clementine | Mitch | rAdishhorse | Pinoy Transplant | Aysa

I don’t want to pressure anybody though so ‘wag po kayong masindak. 😅 And if I didn’t tag you but you feel like giving this exercise a try, please feel free to do so! Go lang nang go! If you prefer to write in English and are looking for poetry in Filipino (or Tagalog) to translate, hit me up for suggestions. 😀

Anyway, all of that aside: have a happy Monday, everyone! 🙂


    1. Jolens

      I could, lol, but I have too much hair that putting it all up in a pony tail just pushes back my hairline. #FirstWorldProblems lol. 😀


    1. Jolens

      Wazaque! Haha. Thanks Isles! May mga sablay na translation nga lang (“ship coming in” =/= “pumapalaot”) pero ‘yaan ko na, first draft pa lang naman. Haha.

      Subukan mo ring tumula Isles! ❤


  1. Mitch

    Awww. I love the selections, Jolens. I’ve recently discovered Vallejo and have always loved Bukowski. And you did a great job with the translations. I love how they sound in Filipino, different flavours but the same feels.

    I’d love to be able to do this soon. I haven’t written anything creative for a long time now. So, thank you for tagging me. Na-inspire ako bigla. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jolens

      Yaaay! 😀 Bukowski is, um, interesting ‘no? I love his poems too, even Rilke’s, but some people say that they’re no different from popular poets like Rupi Kaur, et al. Prosaic daw, ganern. And sometimes I agree din, prosaic nga, but I still enjoy reading their works. Ewan bakit; hindi ko pa napag-iisipan nang malaliman haha.

      I hope you get to write soon, Mitch! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Mitch

        Really? I never knew they were compared to Rupi Kaur, et al. Haven’t read much of her works, only the ones my friends share on them timelines so I can’t really compare. But yes, people describe Bukowski’s poems as prosaic. His subject matter was often centred in the mundane, too. I think he has more depth than what his style of writing conveys. Hehe. I have soft spot for him because he always sounds so sad and cynical that I just want to give him a hug. And I read him when I’m in a certain mood. Some of his lines just captivate me every time, like this one: She’s mad but she’s magic. There’s no lie in her fire.
        And yes uy, it doesn’t matter if their works are prosaic as long as we find enjoyment in them. 
        Thanks, Jolens. I really hope so. Or kahit read na lang. I haven’t finished a book for months na rin. I hope you’re doing well! 

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Jolens

          “So sad and cynical” — so truue! Naku ako rin, gusto ko rin siyang yakapin. Tapos every time I read a Bukowski poem parang gusto ko na rin ng kayakap. ‘Yung mahigpit na mahigpit na yakap. Huhuhu. Choz, nag-senti? Haha.

          What book do you plan to read next? Let me know and I’ll read it with you! Hehehe. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Mitch

            Hahahaha. I feel you! He has a way of underlining the most painful things in life – solitude, loneliness, pessimism. Argh. Mapapa-senti ka talaga.

            I trying to finish a Nora Roberts book because they’re my go-to read when I just want something simple and fluffy. Romance siya though. Haha. But I’m also reading Roberto Bolaño’s The Insufferable Gaucho. Have you read it na? Short story collection siya so it doesn’t need to be read in one go. 😄


          2. Jolens

            I’ll search for a Nora Roberts book, sige. Haha. I’ll also see if I could find a copy of Bolaño’s collection. Hindi ko pa nababasa so nice nice! Thanks Mitch! 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          3. Mitch

            Aw, I hope you’ll like her books, Jolens. They take getting used to kung di ka mahilig sa romance novels. Hahaha. I read them since I was in grade school eh so para na silang “comfort food” to me. You can start with any of her thriller/romance works like Carolina Moon and Montana Sky. Hihi.

            And Bolaño’s slowly growing on me. I hope you’ll find a copy soon! 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

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