Oh, my. I hadn’t realized how much of language was instinctual, and now have all the respect for Mandarin speakers who try to learn English, and vice versa. I decided to take on “Ode to Goose” as my first poem, thinking it was just an easy child’s rhyme. I quickly realized the concepts of nouns, adverbs, adjectives, and verbs are slippery in Chinese. One character could be all of those things, without any sort of distinction other than contextual clues. An in poetry, those lines are blurred even further. A single line of 5 characters could be translated a myriad of different ways, all through a slightly different lens. The amount of info that goes unsaid, or assumed, in Chinese, must be illuminated in English, as the connotations for every word is tilted just the wrong way.
The first line of the poem, just the character “goose” repeated thrice, was frustrating to translate! The character 鹅 means goose, by itself. However, in the very next line, the character for sky is used. When “sky goose” is put together, it becomes a word that means swan. The proximity of those two characters evokes a swan-like curve of neck, like some sort of impression that goes beyond the humble “goose”.
Imagine, essentially repeating the process, for 18 characters. Solving a Rubik’s cube where a definition for a character on one side of the grid shifts the ideas presented by a different line.
And then, try to write that as an essay.
I didn’t do that. I gave up pretty quick and went straight to piktocharting it out as an infographic.
Even that format had issues, however. I didn’t know how to present all the different facets of meaning, especially in a way that would be convenient and easy for any reader to absorb. The first few attempts were terribly disjointed, and an overall mishmash of confusing concepts.
However, I decided to expand the poem so that there was enough space in between each character to have a quick translation of the character itself, add in a section for contextual and translation notes, attempt to express the dominant expression of each line, then try to actually translate it as a whole. And I think it’s working!! I’ll post the finished infographic as soon as I feel like it’s done.