Poetry Translations

with  Susan McLean

The Passerby


Last night a woman passed me in the park,

a veil of mourning shadowing her face.

Dispirited, she walked the sombre place

alone, her pride dissembled in the dark.


I could not help but guess as to the stark

adversity she dared not have me trace.

She sensed my scrutiny, stepped up her pace,

fled down an alleyway, beyond remark.


My youth is like this woeful passerby —

many shall cross my path before I die;

they shall observe me fade and fall and curl


like dry leaves in the whirlwind of the night;

while I, disconsolate, shall ever swirl

unloved, misunderstood, out of their sight.


First published in Glad and Sorry Seasons.

Translation by Catherine Chandler.

The Wonderful Boat


Build me a boat as lofty as a thought . . .

then name her Star or else Obscurity.

The whimsies of the wind and hand must not

command a craft as bold and fair as she.


She’ll move to the pulsation of a heart

incarnadine with fierce vitality;

she'll make me strong as in the arms of God.

Trimmed to the wind her sails must always be!


I’m loading all my sorrow in my boat;

with no set course, a lotus flower, I’ll float

along the vague horizon of the sea . . .


O Boat, my soulmate, what uncharted land,

what unexpected truths may lie at hand? . . .

This life, these dreams, shall be the death of me . . .


First published in Glad and Sorry Seasons.

Catherine Chandler was born in New York City and emigrated to Canada in 1972, where she lectured in Spanish at McGill University. She is the author of five poetry collections, including the Richard Wilbur Award-winning The Frangible Hour and Lines of Flight.

La passante


Hier, j’ai vu passer, comme une ombre qu’on plaint,

En un grand parc obscur, une femme voilée :

Funèbre et singulière, elle s'en est allée,

Recélant sa fierté sous son masque opalin.


Et rien que d’un regard, par ce soir cristallin,

J’eus deviné bientôt sa douleur refoulée ;

Puis elle disparut en quelque noire allée

Propice au deuil profond dont son coeur était plein.


Ma jeunesse est pareille à la pauvre passante:

Beaucoup la croiseront ici-bas dans la sente

Où la vie à la tombe âprement nous conduit;


Tous la verront passer, feuille sèche à la brise

Qui tourbillonne, tombe et se fane en la nuit;

Mais nul ne l’aimera, nul ne l’aura comprise.



Émile Nelligan (1879-1941) is one of the most celebrated French-Canadian poets. His work, influenced by Verlaine, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and Poe, includes 170 poems written between the ages of sixteen and nineteen. He was institutionalized for schizophrenia in 1899.

La barca milagrosa


Preparadme una barca como un gran pensamiento . . .

La llamarán “La Sombra” unos; otros, “La Estrella”.

No ha de estar al capricho de una mano o de un viento;

Yo la quiero consciente, indomable y bella.


La moverá en gran ritmo de tu corazón sangriento

De vida sobrehumana; he de sentirme en ella

Fuerte como en los brazos de Dios. ¡En todo viento,

En todo mar templadme su ropa de centella!


La cargaré de toda mi tristeza, y, sin rumbo,

Iré como la rota corola de un nelumbo

Por sobre el horizonte líquido de la mar . . .


Barca, alma hermana: ¿Hacia qué tierras nunca vistas,

de hondas revelaciones, de cosas imprevistas

Irémos? . . . Yo ya muero de vivir y sonar . . .


Delmira Agustini (1886-1914), born in Montevideo, Uruguay, published her first book of poetry at nineteen. She is considered one of the foremost modernistas and the first major woman poet of twentieth-century Spanish America. She was murdered by her ex-husband.

On My Own


Living alone for the first time

I enter an ancient labyrinth


where every road leads

to the same solitary tower


Under a sky that never grows dark enough

for me to locate a star


I am visited by the same dream

every night


Someone else is walking around in my shape

and I want it back

This is Joris Lenstra's translation of his own poem.

Voor het eerst op kamers


Voor het eerst op kamers

betreed ik een eeuwenoud labyrint


waarin elke weg

naar dezelfde eenzame toren leidt


Onder een hemel die nooit zo zwart wordt

dat ik er een ster in kan ontwaren


word ik elke nacht

door dezelfde droom bezocht


Iemand anders loopt hier rond in mijn gedaante

en ik wil haar terug


Previously published in Schoon Schip.

Joris Lenstra, an English-to-Dutch translator and a Dutch text editor, has translated poems by Whitman, Kerouac, Wilde, and Ferlinghetti into Dutch, and also has published his own poems, short stories, essays, and articles.

Friends, leave me to my cup of wine.


Friends, leave me to my cup of wine.

On quiet joy pray don’t intrude.

Companions exercise the mind;

The soul takes wing in solitude.



Chris O’Carroll is a Light journal featured poet whose work has also appeared in New York City Haiku, Love Affairs at the Villa Nelle, and The Great American Wise Ass Poetry Anthology.  His latest collection is The Joke’s on Me.

Die stille Freude wollt ihr stören?


Die stille Freude wollt ihr stören?

Lasst mich bei meinem Becher Wein;

Mit andern kann man sich belehren,

Begeistert wird man nur allein.



Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), a giant of German Romanticism, wrote such landmark works as Faust and The Sorrows of Young Werther.  Compare what he says here with what he wrote about reading the Bible: “I found myself at once in the greatest solitude and the greatest society.”

This World’s Joy


Winter awakens my care

as leafless trees grow bare.

For now my sighs are fraught

whenever it enters my thought:

regarding this world’s joy,

how everything comes to naught.


Michael R. Burch’s poems and translations have appeared in hundreds of literary journals. He also edits www.thehypertexts.com and has served as guest editor of international poetry and translations for Better Than Starbucks.

Wynter wakeneth al my care


Wynter wakeneth al my care,

Nou this leves waxeth bare.

Ofte y sike ant mourne sare

When hit cometh in my thoht

Of this worldes joie, hou hit goth al to noht.

Anonymous author, from around 1300.

water and tree scape

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