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

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An analysis of the translation[edit | edit source]

Barańczak while translating Dickinson’s poem tried to be faithful to the imagery as well as to the form. He’s the only one out of the three translations who capitalized words in his translation and did it quite extensively, for out of the nine words Barańczak capitalized only “Gale” and “Sea” were capitalized in the manuscript version. In the first stanza instead of “the thing with feathers” he uses “the feathered creature”, emphasizing the liveliness of the bird that embodies hope. He also pluralizes a few nouns that were originally singular: we have “melodies”, ”Storms”, “Seas” and “Lands”, which, as a result, extends the size of the world created in Dickinson’s poem. Additionally, the use of singular nouns by Dickinson makes them more symbolic. The picture of the bird is rendered well – “creature on the twig of the Soul” and the one that “perches in the soul” create a similar cognitive image of a bird that sits on a wooden stick, whether it is a perch or twig. The kind of bird presented in the poem as well as in translation is definitely a flying one, the one which is also able to produce beautiful melodies. Such a bird works perfectly as a metaphor for something light, elusive, but so longed for, just like hope is. In the first stanza of the poem the bird-hope “sings the tune without the words | and never stops – at all” – in Barańczak’s translation the quality of this continuity is applied not to the bird but to the melody – the difference in meaning may not be very striking but in the original the focus is placed on the bird, emphasizing its duty to sing for people in the need of hope and the fact that it will be doing it forever, while in the way Barańczak puts it such a reading cannon be performed.

In the second stanza Dickinson calls the bird “small” - the translator makes it even smaller, for he calls it “tiny” – the resulting image presents the bird as something much more delicate and petite. Nevertheless, its characteristics concerning its nature tell us something different. Dickinson writes that “sore must be the storm - | that could abash the little Bird” , where this abashment is a quality we could apply to a human being, not to an animal. The word plays a significant role, for it states that it is extremely hard to confuse the bird that is hope and it is virtually fearless. Barańczak replaces “abash” with “startle”, more suitable one when referring to a bird, but because of that the imagery changes: the bird seems less fearless, because when it encounters “a sore storm” it flies away, whereas Dickinson’s bird is merely bemused. He also adds an additional piece to the imagery – in the last line of the second stanza where Dickinson writes that the bird “kept so many warm”, in the translation the line goes “ that managed to warm and feed so many”. In the original there’s no mention of the feeding process, but this addition doesn’t ruin the verse – probably Barańczak had in mind an image of a bird taking care of its chicks by warming and feeding them.

The first verse of the third stanza of the original and of the translation can be read differently. The speaker in the former informs that it witnessed the signing of the bird “in the chilliest land”, not implying whether they were the sore listener or the singing was for everyone who was listening. In the latter, in contrast, the speaker says “It already sang me […]”, which suggest that the speaker was the bird’s exclusive audience. In Barańczak’s translation “the chilliest land” and “ the strangest Sea” are rendered “the Lands of Chill” and “the Seas of Strangeness” – these two phrases seem much more metaphorical or even mythological that the original ones. It makes the reader think of something more refined and less tangible. The word “Extremity” is replaced with the line that appears as the last in the translation, that is “Though it was dying of Hunger”. The word in the context of the original poem implies that no matter how hard a situation the bird-hope encounters it never wants something in return for its service. In Barańczak’s version the variety of the hard situations is narrowed down to dying out of hunger, which also changes the meaning, for it may suggest that the bird after a period of starving dies.