Emily Dickinson's poems in translation/Polish/Hope is the Thing with Feathers/Analysis of Kazimiera Iłłakowiczówna's translation

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An analysis of the translation[edit]

Kazimiera Iłłakowiczówna in her translation of „Hope” is the thing with feathers doesn't really follow the form of the poem. It has no capitalization and except for the dash after “soul” in the first stanza there are no dashes, a trademark of Dickinson’s poetry, which are replaced with regular punctuation marks. “The thing with feathers” is, like in Barańczak’s translation, called “the feathered creature”, making it belong to the realm of living individuals rather than creating the image of something not unusual. The second verse of the first stanza brings something surprising: the bird in Iłłakowiczówna’s translation sits not on a perch, but uses the soul as its roost. As the result the image of the bird that one coins in their mind while reading changes drastically. The only birds that use roost are chickens, flightless birds which don’t evoke connotations of freedom, lightness and ubiquity. The concept of hope is presented in the most successful way if it is compared to a light flying bird. In Iłłakowiczówna’s rendition this image is lost. By the end of the first stanza the quality of continuity is applied not to the bird singing, emphasizing the state of fulfilling the never-ending duty, but to the melody.


The second stanza starts with the line “The sweetest, while the storm rages…”, which differs from the original “And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard –” in the sense that Iłłakowiczówna’s version implies that hope is the strongest while one is in the middle of experiencing a true hardship, symbolized here by the storm, but Dickinson’s line states that we tend to feel much more hope when we are about to face a hardship, the omen of which is the Gale, a very strong wind. Instead of “storm” the translator uses “downpour”, the word which doesn’t evoke an image of something dangerous. As a result the situation in which the bird faces the downpour doesn’t emphasize the fearlessness of the bird as the original does, for “downpour” doesn’t have to be particularly challenging to endure. What Iłłakowiczówna actually does to render the image of a brave bird is the use of the word “scare” in the fragment “What a downpour would have to be |To scare the bird”, which doesn’t imply a huge bravery like the word “abash” in “and sore must be the storm -|That could abash the little Bird”, but it doesn’t imply that it may actually fly away after encountering the storm, like Barańczak’s rendition, with the word “startle”, may suggest. The last verse of the second stanza differ between the original and the translation. In the first we have a line “That kept so many warm –“, while in the second we read “That sang the weather to thousands”. The former suggests that the bird that embodies hope keeps people warm with its warm body, as if they were its chicks. The latter says that it sings a good weather to people, so they can warm in the sun while the downpour is gone. Iłłakowiczówna’s interpretation lacks this feeling of closeness between the bird-hope and people, for, even if it puts an end to the bad weather, we can feel the distance between it and persons it helps.


The beginning of the third stanza “It was heard during the harshest of winters” lacks the speaker addressing themselves, like in the original poem “I’ve heard it in the chillest land“. Generally speaking, from the translation we can draw a conclusion that its speaker probably never personally heard the bird singing, as if they spoke about hope they never experienced and knew about it from the accounts of other people. What is more, the phrase used in the line, that is “during the harshest of winters” sounds less metaphorical and poetic than “the chillest land”. The phrase “the strangest depths”, on the other hand, sounds quite sophisticated, which doesn’t fit Dickinson’s plain style. By the end of the translation Iłłakowiczówna replaces “Extremity” with “dying out of hunger”, which may suggest that the bird doesn’t eat and eventually dies. The translator again avoids the personal involvement of the speaker in the poem, for instead of rendering that the bird “[…]never[…] asked a crumb – of me” she writes that “[…]it didn’t ask anybody | For a single crumb”.