Friday, January 30, 2009

Can Someone Translate This Poem For Me?

The Sunday Scribblings prompt is "Regrets".

A long while ago, in preparation for a summer to be spent in Trieste, I audited a class in Italian. Actually I audited two semesters of it and felt that I was becoming at least slightly fluent in that language which resembled the Portuguese with which I was familiar. My teacher (a grad student) came to class one day looking downhearted. Each of her fellow Italian instructors (all grad students) had bragged to her that at least one student in each of their classes had brought to them an original poem in Italian. But no one had ever written one for her. As she let us know.

A short time before that, I had entered a local competition to design a mural for the front of The Nature Company. My design of frolicking forest animals won first prize. It wasn't the honor of winning that had encouraged me to enter. Rather, it was that the first prize was a fantastic kite with a revolutionary design. It was worth $125 (probably double that in today's dollars). When I went to collect it and the prize awarders saw my gray hair (not quite white yet), they offered to give me, instead, a pair of binoculars. I refused indignantly. I had won that kite, and that kite was the only thing I would accept as prize.

I wrote a poem in Italian and took to my instructor. It is based on our experiences with the above-cited kite. Here it is - the only poem I ever wrote in Italian:
Noi due fuori con il nostro cane
Nel sole e venti della primavera,
Farfalladi carta nelle nostra mani
Cielo pui chiano di quel che non mai era.

Venti vivaci tiravano il filo.
Ci sentivano giovni e belli.
Ridente, corremos miglio dopd miglio:
Spaventammo conigli ed uccelli.

Con ansia le persone hanno visto
Le nostre rughe, i grigi capelli,
Con le piroette uno strano misto.
Come potrebbero belli?

Non importava a noi poverini,
Non avavamo con noi nullo specchio.
Il cane ci percepiva bambini
Anche il nostro cane era vecchio.
My instructor was not only pleased, she bragged to everyone in sight the one of HER students had written a poem for her.

I had learned enough Italian to not only survive that summer in Trieste, but to carry on reasonably complex conversations with the other attendees at the conference in which Otto was taking part.

What, then, are my regrets? The more important one is that I let my knowledge of Italian lapse until all of it has trickled out. I can excuse it, since at that time I was translating Jorge de Sena's Portuguese poems, and concentration on one language seemed to drive the other out. But my Italian is gone! My title is NOT rhetorical. What does my poem say? I know it's about flying a kite. But what do the individual words mean?

The second regret is that I have lost that beautiful kite. Where could it be hiding among the multitude of objects in this large house?


Alisa said...

I hope you'll post the words to the poem when/if you find an Italian translator...

Like all your stories, this one brought a smile to my face and while you might regret the loss of your Italian, I certainly don't regret finding your blog. I thouroughly enjoyed your story.

bunnygirl said...

I hope somebody is able to translate for you. You could always try Babelfish, I suppose.

I've had the same troubles with Latin and Chinese. I learn languages easily, but forget them quickly if I have no opportunity for practice.

And good for you for taking the kite and having a good time with it!

Rinkly Rimes said...

I'm sure someone will translate your poem for you! And I admire immensely anyone who can speak another language. I hope you can soon 'go fly a kite'.

latree said...

if you find a poem in Indonesian, I'll be gladly translate it for you, but this one, I hope somebody will...

Maggie May said...

I can only translate a few words as I also learnt Italian for a very short time when I was 17 and I used to write to a girl in La Spezia for a while.
I recognize hands and hair and the first wind. Sky and many small grammatical bits and pieces.
Sorry I can't do a straight translation but hope someone else will be able to.
Italian is such a beautiful language I think.
It is sad to think that you can lose a language that you were once good at. I dare say it is lurking in your brain somewhere & needs unleashing!

anthonynorth said...

Another lovely story. Mindst you, when I look back at some of my early attempts at writing, I can't understand them either - and they're in my own language :-)

Beth said...

What a lovely story and I hope you do post the translation. I'm very close to a group of women who have met over the years. This December, one of the women, coincidentally from Brazil, suddenly quoted a poem in French, something she had memorized long ago, a few lines that wonder where the birds go when winter comes. It took a while, but I found that poem online but only in French. I ended up using several online French dictionaries and ultimately came up with a translation. Perhaps you will do the same -- Your audience will very much appreciate it!

Lirone said...

Not a native speaker but let me see what I can do with a word for word translation... words in italics where I'm unsure of my translation

We two outside with (the) our dog
In the sun and winds of spring
Butterfly-shaped card in our hands
Sky more clear than [that which] it has ever been

Winds lively pull the string
we feel young and beautiful
Smiling, running mile after mile
Scaring rabbits and birds

With anxiety the people have seen
[the] our wrinkles, our grey hair
with the pirouettes, a strange combination
how could they ever have been beautiful?

It doesn't matter to us unfortunates
We don't have with us any mirrors
The dog we received as a puppy
Also [the] our dog will be old

Fledgling Poet said...

Oh! It looks like someone has been able to translate most of it for you...that's awesome. Even though I don't understand a word of Italian, I read your poem and thought to myself how beautiful the words sounded. The Italian language is so gorgeous in the way it sounds and flows...the English translation makes me realize what a poignant poem this was. Thank you for your beautiful blog...

Laini Taylor said...

I love how in every post you open some secret door onto another adventure! Your blog is like an advent calendar :-)

I went to Trieste as a child; I remember eating gnocchi ai quattro formaggi, that's about it! My father's ship (naval vessel) docked there and we went up from our home in Southern Italy to meet him. We took a short trip into then-Communist Yugoslavia and went to a Lippizaner horse-breeding farm (which I thought were Austrian; not sure what it was doing there). I begged and begged to ride a horse, but it didn't happen.

My Italian was never complex enough to write poetry! I heavily regret the loss of that language too, but I still hope we might live there some day, if even for a few months, and that I might study it properly.

Lilibeth said...

Sorry, I can't translate it for you. I wrote a few poems in Spanish and one or two in French...but Italian? I'm sure it's a beautiful poem though, if it's like your English work.

oh, I read the comments. It looks like someone has been able to translate most of it.

floreta said...

interesting that you could write in itilian and the language escapes you. still cool that you could speak it at one point. wish i could see the kite!

danni said...

alas, i'm no help to you - i've never mastered another tongue, just bits and pieces of french along the way - this is a great perspective on regrets and reflects what a personal thing regrets are to each of us - thanks for sharing again!!!

b said...

We both know that life is much to short to spend much time on regrets. But a lost kite...I would regret that too. All the rest is just life!


Tumblewords: said...

What a lovely story - and the poem 'reads' well in Italian but it's a bonus to have a translation in the comments. Bloggers are a wonderful tribe. Sorry about your kite - who knows - it may show up. Kites can be quite unruly.

John Tran said...

What a wonderful story! I enjoyed reading every bit of it.

Elspeth said...

Intriguing to have the mystery translated in that earlier comment. For the future, when you put any block of text into a translation site they will interpret for you - not perfectly, in fact some words will be outrageous ... but the jist will be there. E.g. Babelfish ( or

Larraine said...

As always you leave me breathless with surprise. I was indignant when you said that when they saw your gray head they offered you binoculars! What an insult. I'm tired of people assuming that because I'm over 55, my opinion doesn't count and/or that I can't possibly be very smart or up to date on technology. So ANNOYING!

keith hillman said...

Anotherlovely story and although we don't know what you said in your poem, one thing we can be sure of is that the words are molto bello!

Bethany Bassett said...

I loved the kite story, Phyllis! I have a few years left to go before gray hair and wrinkles, but I will still fully believe in the magic of flying kites and twirling in the park.

I have lived in central Italy for 1-1/2 years now, and while learning Portuguese is still a far-off dream, I can translate this poem for you!

We two out with our dog
In the springtime sun and wind,
Butterfly of paper in our hands
Sky clearer than ever before.

Lively winds pulled at the string.
We felt young and beautiful.
Laughing, running mile after mile;
Frightening rabbits and birds.

Others watched us with anxiety,
Our wrinkles, our gray hair,
A strange mix with our pirouettes.
How could they be beautiful?

It did not matter to us poor ones.
We did not bring a mirror.
The dog saw us as children,
Even though our dog was old.

Kristin said...

Cool! Glad you got a good translation. I like the one from Bethany Bassett. Now you can adjust to make it rhyme and scan and you're all set. Your poem is back! Yay!!