4: Alternate translations of the poem’s title and first line.
Here is a selection of translations of the title and first line of Margolin’s poem. Notice that even experienced Yiddish translators have been challenged by the poem’s ambiguous gender coding.
Suggested Activity: Ask students to consider the effect of translating the poem’s title/first line with and without marked gender. How does having specific information about gender (e.g., the speaker is male) affect your experience of the poem? What happens when that gender identification is left more open-ended? Although all of these translations are renderings of the same poem, they are each slightly different. Would you say that the original poem and a translation of the poem are the same poem? Why or why not? What do you think the goal of a translation is?
As a way of sensitizing students to poetry’s special literary qualities (e.g. imagery, rhyme, line breaks) ask them to “translate” a stanza or two of the poem into prose-narrative. Insist that their prose translation reflect the mood, situation, and/or voice of the poem. Finally, ask them to reflect on the activity, and consider what might get “lost in translation,” when one turns poetry into prose, thereby highlighting poetry’s unique formal features.
Sources: 1. Ruth Whitman, ed., An Anthology of Modern Yiddish Poetry (New York: October House, 1966; Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1995), 133.
2. Irving Howe, Ruth R. Wisse, and Khone Shmeruk, eds., The Penguin Book of Modern Yiddish Verse, trans. Marcia Falk (New York: Viking, 1987), 218.
3. Jules Chametzky et al, eds,. Jewish American Literature: A Norton Anthology, trans. Kathryn Hellerstein (New York: W. W. Norton, 2001), 265.
4. Barbara Mann, “Picturing the Poetry of Anna Margolin,” Modern Language Quarterly 63:4 (2002): 510.
5. Shirley Kumove, Drunk from the Bitter Truth: The Poems of Anna Margolin (Albany: SUNY Press, 2005), 3.
6. Benjamin Harshav, ed., Sing, Stranger, trans. Benjamin Harshav and Barbara Harshav (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2006), 650.