Lost in Translation: Looking through the eyes of poets

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We are all lost in translation. Yes, you heard that right. We interpret our experiences. So, doesn’t that make us all translators of some sort? We are, indeed, translators of experiences into thoughts and perceptions. 

Kamala Das, a well-known Indian poet, once wrote that she speaks in three languages, writes in two, and dreams in one. As a kid, she perceived the broken heads of dolls as a cause for sadness. She didn’t see it as playful. She felt upset over the fact that those dolls had to be headless for eternity. 

In an unpublished poem called “The Invisible Woman,” Kamala Das expresses the inner life of a married woman in the Indian patriarchal system. She says a married woman is like a flightless bird that uses its wings only in its dreams. The married woman is seen as a mere nobody outside her house. The ladies with prim and proper hair-do look through her. Even though she has written four hundred poems, she soon becomes invisible. 

Our mind can collate all our experiences into one large entity, which in turn gives us a ‘Big Perception.’ This big picture is our subjective view of the ongoings of daily life. A lot of the time, we are lost looking for the inherent meaning of our lives. At most, we try to follow suit with others. We don’t really want to know why we do what we do. We just do so as everybody else on this Earth. But, at times, you feel like just ‘another brick in the wall.’ This is why we get lost in the translation of things that actually matter the most in life. For whom do I exist? Who am I? What if I am just one among a million whose voice is raised in clamor like maids at village-wells? No one really listens. You figure out you’re only a drying seed who would be shed someday to grow as a memory for another. 

It’s All about the Journey

In her poetry, Kamala Das talks about her wedding ring mockingly. She thought she was a married woman. But life crowded her out and strangled reality. What was the outcome of marriage? It helped her become a competent poet, and her husband, a doting father. Nothing more, nothing less. Life isn’t what we think it ought to be. The journey need not have anything worthwhile to offer nor the destination anything worthy to crave for. Yet, you have to live through experiences and phases. 

Mundane contains Wonder

In the process of translation of something you come across or experience, you’re trying to make sense of what’s happening or why something happens in the first place. The speaker in Alexander Pushkin’s poem, “The Flower,” comes across a withered flower inside a book that has lost its fragrance. He wonders how it landed up inside the pages of the book and who kept it there.

Was it someone he knew or a stranger? What was the forlorn flower supposed to do? Mark a meeting of two lovers? Or symbolize some dire parting of the ways?

For all one knows, the flower might have been left by someone

strolling alone through quiet fields or woodland shade. What if the person who left the flower behind has faded just like the flower withered? A dry, serene flower ensconced between the pages of a book can spark many questions in a poetic mind.

Why not be a ‘Lamplighter’?

The major difference between children and adults is that the former indulges in translation of everything they see into something out of this world, while the latter see everything just as it is.

In the poem “Lamplighter” by R.L. Stevenson, the speaker sees a lamplighter on the streets and finds his job fascinating. The work of lamplighter inspires him much more than what his dad does as a banker. He wants to grow up and be a lamplighter gallivanting the streets.

With lantern and with ladder, he comes posting up the street.

This is how the lamplighter is described in the poem. The speaker is in a childhood state-of-mind, as he revels in talking about a mere lamplighter showing the fervor of an overexcited kid. 

We often feel our childhoods weren’t worth remembering as it wasn’t as great as we expected it to be. We miss looking at small moments where we could see “the world in a grain of sand.” When your life seems dreary and lacks luster, light the lamp of hope in every situation, even if it seems hopeless. 

A new Enlightening spark

Translation of experiences doesn’t always mean seeing everything through rose-tinted glasses. You’re an artist who draws without an eraser in life. Since failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor, not all experiences bring out the best in you. Some bring out your worst and make you feel crippled. But those are the ones that tell teach you how to appreciate life

Once Kamala Das, went up to the terrace to commit suicide at midnight. She saw the moonlight on the courtyard below. Just when she wished to splatter it with her blood, she saw a mad beggar below the lamp-post dancing, lifting his emaciated hands in the air. The rhythm of his grotesque dance stopped her from jumping from the terrace. Instead, she felt she was dancing on the most desolate pinnacle in the world. 

She returned to her room in a half-asleep state and wrote with resolve:

Wipe out the paints, unmould the clay
Let nothing remain of that yesterday.

Image Credits: Pexels, iStockphoto, Pexels (in order)

Advaita Shyamsunder
Advaita graduated in MS communication from Presidency College. Philosophy, psychology and literature are her interest areas. She has a blog called ‘Chords In The Circle Of Life.’

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