A Translator's Nightmare
I think it must have been in Limbo where,
As Dante says, the better poets share
Old friendships, rivalries, once famous fights
And, now they've left it, set the world to rights.
As I was being hustled through in transit
To God knows what damned hole, I thought I'd chance it
And chat to some of the assembled great ones
Who looked as bored as trapped theatre patrons
Who've paid good cash and find they hate the show . . .
I picked on one; "I rather doubt you know . . . "
He started up and peered at me: "Know you,
You snivelling fool? Know you? Of course I do!
You ruined my best poem. Look who's here . . ."
He turned to his companions with a sneer,
"Traducer and destroyer of our art,
The biggest stink since Beelzebub's last fart".
They jostled round, each shouting out his curses,
"You buried me with your insipid verses . . ."
"You left out my best metaphor, you moron . . ."
"You missed my meaning or they set no store on
An accurate rendition where you come from".
"He comes from where they send the deaf and dumb from,
He got my metre wrong . . ." "He missed my rhymes",
"He missed puns I don't know how many times
Then shoved his own in . . . " But I turned and fled
Afraid that in a moment I'd be dead
A second time, torn limb from spectral limb.
A mist came down and I was lost: a dim
Shape beckoned; thinking it must be my guide
I ran for reassurance to his side.
But it was someone I'd not seen before,
An old man bent beside the crumbling shore
Of Lethe's stream. He stared a long time, then
"Did you translate?" I screamed,"Oh not again,"
But as I backed off one quick claw reached out;
He clutched my coat, and with a piercing shout
(He didn't look as though he had it in him)
Cried, "We've a guest! Who'll be the first to skin him?"
Then added, "Just my joke now; stay awhile,
The crowd in these parts is quite versatile
Though we've one thing in common, all of us;
When you were curious, and courteous,
Enough to translate poems from our tongue
All of us gathered here were not among
The chosen ones". I looked around – a crowd
Now hemmed us in and from it soon a loud
Discordant murmur rose: "Please, why not mine?"
"You did Z's poems, my stuff's just as fine . . ."
"The greatest critics have admired my verse . . ."
"You worked on crap that's infinitely worse
Than my worst lines". "Some of my stuff's quite good –
You will allow that? – It's not all dead wood?
Why then . . ?" and slowly the reproaches turned
To begging, bragging, angry tears that burned
Their way into my sorry soul.
I ran and saw my guide, tall on the shore
– The other shore – of Lethe. "Rescue me!"
I called, "Get me to where I have to be
For all eternity . . ." He smiled; "My dear,
You've reached your special hell. It's here. It's here".
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Comments about this poem (A Translator's Nightmare by Dick Davis )
Still I Rise
The Road Not Taken
If You Forget Me
Edgar Allan Poe
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
A Dream Within A Dream
Edgar Allan Poe
(March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963)
(4 April 1928 - 28 May 2014)
(1 February 1902 – 22 May 1967)
Edgar Allan Poe
(19 January 1809 - 7 October 1849)
(12 July 1904 – 23 September 1973)
(13 September 1916 – 23 November 1990)
(10 December 1830 – 15 May 1886)
- The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost
- Daffodils, William Wordsworth
- Still I Rise, Maya Angelou
- If You Forget Me, Pablo Neruda
- Phenomenal Woman, Maya Angelou
- If, Rudyard Kipling
- I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
- Dreams, Langston Hughes
- A Dream Within A Dream, Edgar Allan Poe
- Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep, Mary Elizabeth Frye