Emily Dickinson's poems in translation/Polish/I died for Beauty—but was scarce

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Polish translations of the poem "I died for Beauty—but was scarce".

Emily Dickinson's poem “I Died for Beauty” is an allegorical work that depicts someone who died for beauty interacting briefly with someone who died for truth. An allegory is a metaphorical work in which the characters and actions represent larger ideas or themes. Often in an allegory, abstract ideas are given physical form, as they are in Dickinson's poem. The poem possibly equates the two as equally noble martyrs or shows ironically that what one dies for, noble or not, is unimportant, as their names are eventually covered with moss. In the end, the poem perhaps tell us, what one dies for is unimportant - one is still dead. Although it is uncertain when this poem was written, it is typical of Dickinson's work in its style, length, and content. It is a seemingly simple and straightforward poem that reveals deeper meaning and beauty in its simplicity, directness and precise use of wording. The length is only three quatrains (four-line stanzas), and the themes of death, beauty, and truth are frequent in her work. “I Died for Beauty” was written around 1862 and was first published in 1890. Editor Thomas Wentworth Higginson published the poem in a September issue of the Christian Union.[1]

Manuscripts and editions[edit | edit source]

[2] I died for beauty but was scarce Manuscript.jpeg

The layout of the following versions of the poem is the same as in the editions they were published in:

Poems1890[3] Johnson Poems 1955[4] Franklin Variorum 1998[5]

I died for beauty, but was scarce

Adjusted in the tomb,

When one who died for truth was lain

In an adjoining room.


He questioned softly why I failed?

"For beauty," I replied.

"And I for truth, the two are one;

We brethren are," he said.


And so, as kinsmen met a night,

We talked between the rooms,

Until the moss had reached our lips,

And covered up our names.

I died for Beauty -- but was scarce

Adjusted in the Tomb

When One who died for Truth, was lain

In an adjoining Room


He questioned softly "Why I failed"?

"For Beauty", I replied --

"And I -- for Truth -- Themself are One --

We Bretheren, are", He said --


And so, as Kinsmen, met a Night --

We talked between the Rooms --

Until the Moss had reached our lips --

And covered up -- our names --

I died for Beauty - but

was scarce

Adjusted in the Tomb

When One who died for

Truth, was lain

In an adjoining Room -


He questioned softly "Why I

failed"?

"For Beauty", I replied -

"And I - for Truth - Themself

are One -

We Bretheren, are", He said -


And so, as Kinsmen, met

a Night -

We talked between the Rooms -

Until the Moss had reached

our lips -

And covered up - Our names -

List of translations[edit | edit source]

Translation by Stanislaw Baranczak[6] Translation by Teresa Pelka[7]

Zmarłam szukając Piękna - ale

Gdy się mościłam w mrokach Grobu -

Kogoś, kto zmarł szukając Prawdy,

Złożono w Pomieszczeniu obok -


Zapytał - co mnie uśmierciło -

Odpowiedziałam - "Piękno" -

"Mnie - Prawda - one są Tym Samym -

Jesteśmy Rodzeństwem" - szepnął -


I tak gwarzyliśmy - przez Noc -

Przez Ścianę gliny - blisko -

Aż Mech dosięgnął naszych ust -

I zarósł - nasze nazwiska -

Dla piękna umarłam, ale było mnie mało

Upasowanej w grobie,

Gdy spoczął ten, co umarł za prawdę

W sąsiednim pokoju.


Gładko zapytał, dlaczego przegrana?

„Dla piękna”, odparłam.

„A ja dla prawdy — to jak dwoje;

My bratanki”, zagaił.


Jak krewniacy, kiedy spotyka ich noc,

Trwaliśmy przez izby w rozmowie,

Aż mech sięgnął naszych ust,

I zakrył imiona.


More about Stanislaw Baranczak

More about Teresa Pelka

Interpretations[edit | edit source]

The above translations of the poem differ in the way they represent the original. Variations are visible from the very first line and determine the interpretation of the whole work. While Barańczak translates “I died for Beauty – but was scarce/Adjusted in the Tomb” as “Zmarłam szukając Piękna – ale/Gdy się mościłam w mrokach Grobu –” (I died looking for Beauty – but/when I was making myself comfortable in the darkness of the Tomb), Pelka does the following: “Dla piękna umarłam, ale było mnie mało/Upasowanej w grobie,” (I died for beauty, but there was little of me adjusted in the tomb). The meaning of “scarce” in the original is that the speaker was hardly adjusted to her tomb before a man was laid in a tomb next to hers. Barańczak’s translation preserves this sequential order but the impression that the man’s burial happened quickly after the speaker’s one is gone. So is the passive voice in the part “ was scarce/Adjusted in the Tomb”, which is replaced by a metaphor of snugging down in the grave before sleep. Also, both the speaker and the man “who died for Truth” died searching/ looking for the values rather than “for Beauty/Truth”, meaning “in the name of…”. Pelka treated “scarce” literally, which suggests that the speaker is little and fragile. The translator chooses the form “umarłam dla piękna” and “umarł za prawdę” - “died for”, which are more faithful to the original.

The last line of the first stanza (“In an adjoining room”) also differs in the Polish translations: “Złożono w pomieszczeniu obok –” (Barańczak) and “w pokoju przyrodnim.” (Pelka). Barańczak adds enjambment to his version, which is absent in Dickinson’s one, whereas Pelka keeps the form of the original. “Pomieszczenie obok” is quite neutral in its meaning and connotations, but “pokój przyrodni” evokes an association with “przyrodnie rodzeństwo” (half-siblings),so it correlates with an idea of brotherhood and kinship with the man buried next to the speaker.


Barańczak’s translation of the question asked by the man in the second stanza and the answer to it clearly states that “Piękno” (“Beauty”) is the direct reason for the speaker’s death. Barańczak also stresses that “Piękno” and “Prawda” (“Truth”) “są Tym Samym” (“are One”). In this version, the man in the tomb “szepnął” (“whispered”) to the speaker that they are “Rodzeństwo” (“Siblings”/”Brethren”), while in Pelka’s translation he “zagadał” (“chatted up”), which suggests very relaxed manner, and said they are “Bratanki” – a phrase that is quite archaic in Polish and often connotes an old proverb about Poles and Hungarians who both fight and drink together.


In the translation of the third stanza, Barańczak moves “talked” from the second line to the first one, rendering it as “gwarzyć” (“chat in a friendly manner”), which somehow makes up for the omission of “Kinsmen”. Pelka translates “Kinsmen” as “krewniacy”, which may serve to highlight that they both come from beyond the grave. In the second line, Branańczak decided to specify that the wall the speaker and the man are talking through (though there is no mention about the wall in the original) is made of clay and he adds a word at the end of the line – “blisko” (“close”), once again altering Dickinson’s work. Pelka’s choice of “mówiliśmy” to render “talked” deprives the relationship of emotions and intimacy that is the main theme of the poem. Like Barańczak, Pelka translated “between Rooms” as “ściany”, which sounds more natural in Polish, however she chose the plural form – it emphasizes the fact that the speaker and the man lay in square and cramped tombs. Last but not least, in Barańczak’s version, “the Moss” covers up “nasze nazwiska” (“our surnames”), which allows an interpretation that the couple are no longer strangers, but true “brethren”. On the other hand, in Pelka’s translation “names” are “imiona” (“first names”), which ensures anonymity to the speaker and her soul mate.

Feel welcome to talk on the language use for the word "name": Talk:Emily Dickinson's poems in translation/Polish/I died for Beauty—but was scarce

Scansions[edit | edit source]

Scansion of the original poem

References[edit | edit source]

Ode on a Grecian Urn

Criticism[edit | edit source]

Thorough Analysis and Interpretation for students

I died for beauty but was scarce analysis by Samuel Hague

I died for Beauty—but was scarce... Summary and Analysis on Sparknotes

I died for Beauty—but was scarce...Blogger Melani's interpretation

Nebo Literature - InterpretationI died for Beauty—but was scarce by Emily Dickinson

Prowling Bee's Interpretation

  1. http://www.encyclopedia.com/article-1G2-3079300020/died-beauty.html
  2. http://www.edickinson.org/editions/2/image_sets/75101
  3. http://www.edickinson.org/editions/3/image_sets/91113
  4. http://www.edickinson.org/editions/2/image_sets/75101
  5. http://www.edickinson.org/editions/1/image_sets/235714
  6. http://xbw.blog.onet.pl/2007/11/02/i-died-for-beauty-emily-dickinson/
  7. https://edickinsonpoetry.wordpress.com/2014/11/28/i-died-for-beauty/