The translation of “Bats”—from a tonally influenced language such as Yorùbá—is intriguing, with many ways in which most of the words can be pronounced without the markings. The necessity to explore the idea of the “song” or “place” in the opening lines in “Bats” has an effect that enables me to challenge myself on cultural efficiency, and usage of the words. The loss and gains in the translations ranges from lineation to phrases and words. “Irú orín wo nì ìwọ ó kọ” opens the poem in “Bats,” and it sounds rhetorical in the original, but the English version allows an imaginative validity of the phrase, with a mild sense of calm. The choice of “songs rendered on the eve of a storm” is an extension of curiosity that is of proximity to the language of assurance in one version and of warning in the other.

Maria Tymoczko describes translation as a form of representation that is shaped by the ideological context from which it emerges. This ideology in my situation is of mixed representation of both languages. I revised the poem over time, either to examine the loss in both languages or to appreciate the gains. In the poem, the word “eve” is “ìṣẹ̀jú àáyá” and this translation is literarily “milliseconds,” but its weight is similar in effect to what “eve” means. The cultural understanding of “seconds” in Yoruba dictates the eminence and the timelessness of the event. This choice of words condenses the emotion from the onset, and that also opens the border of interpretations for all readers. This borderless nature of words enables the multitude of understanding poetry, regardless of the language it was written. The beauty of translation should be divergent from transliteration because it allows the vast exploration of imagination, and, in the process, helps to enrich conversations and the scholarship of poems in all tongues of the world.

Editor's Note:

Read the translation this note is about, “Bats.”

Originally Published: July 6th, 2022

Hussain Ahmed is a Nigerian poet and environmentalist. He is currently an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Mississippi.

Appeared in Poetry Magazine This Appears In