Michael R. Burch Translation Notes, Methods and Credits to Other Translators
This page explains how Michael R. Burch produces translations, why he calls his
results "loose translations" and "interpretations," and provides credits to
other translators who have informed and influenced his translations over the
years. The page is divided into three sections:
Translation Methods and Process
Credit to Other Translators
Translation Publication History
Michael R. Burch is an American poet, editor and translator who lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his
wife Beth, their son Jeremy, and two outrageously spoiled puppies. Burch's poems, translations, essays, articles,
reviews, short stories, epigrams, quotes, puns, jokes and letters have appeared
more than 6,000 times in publications which include TIME, USA Today, The
Hindu, BBC Radio 3, CNN.com, Daily Kos, The Washington Post and
hundreds of literary journals, websites and blogs. Burch is also the
founder and editor-in-chief of The HyperTexts, a former editor of
International Poetry and Translations for Better
Than Starbucks, a former columnist for the Nashville City Paper,
and is currently on the board of the International literary journal
Borderless Journal. Burch's original poetry and translations have been taught in high schools and universities,
included in textbooks, incorporated into three plays, set to music
by nineteen composers,
and recited or otherwise employed in more than forty YouTube videos.
If you would like to contact Mike
Burch for more information, to collaborate, or to obtain permission to publish
his poems, translations or other work, he can be reached via email at
email@example.com (email is preferable to
other methods such as social media and please be sure to note the "r" between
his first and last names).
As a translator, Burch subscribes to the idea of les belles
infidèles: Like women, translations should be either beautiful or faithful.
Of course women can be both beautiful and faithful, but the most faithful
word-for-word translations seldom if ever result in poetry in a second language.
As the great Rabindranath Tagore explained, he needed leeway when translating
his own Bengali poems into English, if he wanted the result to be poetry.
Therefore, Burch calls his translations "loose translations" and
"interpretations" and does not attempt to translate word-by-word with complete
fidelity. Rather, he attempts to "grok" the poet and the poem to the best of his
ability, then create poetry based on his interpretation of the original work and
its author and his/her intentions. What follows is his explanation of what he
does, in his own words ...
Translation Methods and Process
by Michael R. Burch
A legitimate question about my translations is: "Are they 'translations' if you
don't work directly from the source language and you are not completely faithful
to every word in the original poem?" This is why I often call my results "interpretations."
When considering a translation, which I typically call a "loose translation"
and/or an "interpretation," I begin by studying all the existing translations I
can find. I do not translate directly from the original language, even with
languages I have studied like German and French, because there are linguists who
are far more expert than I am, and my German and French are beyond rusty from
lack of use. But even if I were an expert linguist, there would always be
someone who was better. But the best linguists are seldom the best poets. Thus,
it seems better to work from the best available translations, taking advantage
of the work of the best translators, to achieve the best possible understanding
of what the original poet was trying to say. So here is what I do ...
Step 1: I begin with the existing translations and discussions pertaining to
them. With the more famous poets, like Sappho, Basho and Issa, there are usually
quite a few translations by different translators, and there are often in-depth
online discussions about how the poets came to write certain poems. Because the
translation process can occur over several to many centuries, depending on the
antiquity of the poet, there is a definite "group effort" involved. No
translator or interpreter can ever claim to have perfectly deciphered another
poet. They all, as far as I know, refer to the work of other translators. The best
poetry translators must consider a broad spectrum of existing work as
part of their jobs, unless they are dealing with a previously unknown poet. And the older the text(s) in question, the more debate there is
about what certain words and phrases meant at the time. Translators in online
discussions can go on for page after page about a single word or phrase. Trying
to credit everyone involved in the process of translating a poem like "Wulf and
Eadwacer" or any number of Sappho epigrams would require massive footnotes much
longer than the poems in question. And still many contributions would be left
out. So it really does seem like a group effort to me. One may mention primary
sources and references, as I have done on this page, but to name all
contributors would be, essentially, impossible. And in many cases most of the
work has been done by Anonymous.
Step 2: I take everything I have studied, then come up with my interpretation of
the poem in question. What, ultimately, does the poem say to me as a reader? I
try to "grok" both the poet and the poem, to the best of my ability. If I don't
think I can do better than the existing translations, I don't attempt one of my own.
This is why I have never attempted to
translate certain poems translated by, for instance, Robert Haas and W. S. Merwin. Some of
their translations were so good and pleasing to me that I saw no point in doing
anything further. However, if I think I can do better, I proceed. After I create a translation/interpretation, readers can decide if I
succeeded or failed. In pickup basketball games we used to say, "No harm, no
foul." I find it amusing that many self-alleged "literary critics" have nervous
breakdowns if someone produces a loose translation or interpretation of a poem.
Who is being harmed? Is anyone being forced to read the monstrosity, if that's
what it is? As long as there is no intent to deceive, as long as the translator
makes it clear that he/she is not claiming to have produced a word-for-word
translation, where is the harm and where is the foul? In the early going, I made
the innocent mistake of calling my translations "translations" because that is
what they are. But I came to realize that readers might assume that I had
translated from the source language directly, and that I was trying to be
faithful to every word (as if that is possible). So I voluntarily started using
the terminology "loose translation" and "interpretation" to make it clear that I
was not claiming complete fidelity to the original text. Do I think my
translations are translations? Personally, I do. The poem started off in one
language and ended up in another. There was a process of translation involved.
If a robot had translated the text and had done a terrible job, it would still
be called a translation. I like to think I can do a better job of translation
than a robot. Does it matter that I used the work of better translators
— in most cases the group efforts of many different
translators — rather than depending on some lesser translator, such as myself?
No, I don't think so. But if anyone disagrees, they can simply ignore my work
and read someone else's, so, "No harm, no foul."
Step 3: I employ what I call the "Tagore method" of translation/interpretation.
When the great Rabindranath Tagore translated his Bengali poems into English, he
said that he needed leeway if he wanted to create poetry in a second language. I
do my best to keep poetry from devolving into prose. In haiku circles I have
been roundly criticized for not sticking to word-for-word translations, so I
have been seen as "original, but in a bad way." However, in my opinion
translating word-for-word will seldom if ever result in poetry. The result is
almost always prose, and quite often flat prose at that. Unfortunately, there
are many "flat prose" translations of the great masters of haiku and waka. What
I do is different, or at least what I attempt to do is different ... Take, for
instance, this Issa translation of mine: "Petals I amass / with such tenderness
/ prick me to the quick." While this translation may seem "close" to other
translations, which is almost inevitable with such a short poem, I think my
translation is more poetic than any other I have found to date, due to my
assonance, consonance, slant rhymes with "amass" and "tenderness" and the rhyme
of "prick" with "quick." I consider such translations or interpretations to be
original, with the understanding that they are based on all the translations I
have been able to find, plus all the discussions and background information I
was able to find about how, when and why certain poems came to be written: for
instance, Issa's poems that were composed after his daughter's death, which he
mentioned in his notes. But in any case I doubt that most translators are
starting from scratch. If they are studying the same materials, they too may
pick up a word here, a phrase there, an interpretation that hadn't occurred to
them, etc. Once again, it's largely a group effort.
Credit to Other Translators
Most of my translations are of shorter lyric poems like epigrams, ghazals,
haiku, rondels and waka.
In my studies of haiku and waka online I have not generally seen other
translators adding footnotes to their translations about their sources, and to
have copious footnotes for such short poems seems counter-productive, but I will
credit the translators I have studied and used as references here. However, I will estimate
that 90% or more of the translations I have found online do not mention the
translator at all, so in this genre there is a lot of "public domain" work
compounded by a lot of cutting and pasting. Fairly frequently, others take my
translations and post them as if they did the work themselves, so I often see my
translations with someone else's name attached, or my name having been removed.
It is rare that a week goes by without such things happening. This is why I put
my name under the title of each poem, or at the end of shorter untitled poems,
hoping that if someone cuts and pastes the poem, my name will be included. I
would much rather put my name one time per web page, but in the real world that
simply doesn't work.
Translators I have worked with, consulted with, studied and/or used for
reference in my translations, and whose work I admire and value, include:
Kajal Ahmad (Kurdish poetry)
Mandakini Bhattacherya (Indian poetry, credited as co-translator)
David B. Gosselin (German poetry, credited as co-translator)
Azfar Hussain (Arabic poetry)
Robert Hass (haiku reference)
Sonny Kerr (Scottish poetry reference)
Tom Merrill (French poetry consultant, occasional)
W. S. Merwin (Pablo Neruda translations)
W. R. Paton (Greek epigrams)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Italian poetry reference)
Joe M. Ruggier (Maltese poetry reference)
Norman R. Shapiro (French poetry consultant, occasional)
Rabindranath Tagore (Bengali poetry reference)
Iqbal Tamimi (Arabic poetry consultant, occasional)
Arthur Whaley (haiku reference)
Adi Wolfson (Hebrew poetry, a co-translator of his own poetry)
Nurgul Yayman (Turkish poetry, credited as co-translator)
Bob Zisk (Old English/Anglo-Saxon poetry consultant, occasional)
Translation Publication History of Michael R. Burch
Textbooks: Several Burch translations have been included in
high school and college courseware, including haiku translations in a high school textbook published
by National Geographic Learning and a book titled Reading Medieval English
Literature published by Yaroslav State University (Russia) with Burch's
translations of "Deor's Lament" and "The Wife's Lament"
Viral Poems with Google results/viewable pages: Sappho "Eros
harrows my heart" translation (3,560/285), Sappho "Your lips were made to mock"
translation (1,710/135), Bertolt Brecht "The Burning of the Books" translation
(1,540/285), Robert Burns "To a Mouse" translation/modernization (1,300/269),
Glaucus "Does my soul abide" translation
(1,010/189), William Dunbar "Sweet Rose of Virtue" translation (731/232), Sappho
"That enticing girl's clinging dresses" translation (685/90), Plato "A kinder
sea" translation (647/267), "How Long the Night" translation (529/227), Basho
"Awed jonquil" translation (495/176), Yamaguchi Seishi "Grasses wilt"
translation (445/200), Matsuo Basho "Kiri tree" haiku translation (413/180), Takaha Shugyo
"Fallen camellias" translation (363/147), Matsuo Basho "Frog leaps" haiku
translation (346/183), Fukuda Chiyo-ni "Ah butterfly"
translation (292/136), Vera Pavlova
"Shattered" translation (253/103), Sappho "She keeps her scents" translation
(233/62), Miklos Radnoti "Postcard 4" translation (232/101), O no Yasumaro
"Plumegrass wilts" translation (206/123),
Ko Un "Speechless" translation (149/79)
Translations, Interpretations and Modernizations: Basho, Bertolt Brecht, Robert Burns, Caedmon,
Paul Celan, Thomas Chatterton,
Geoffrey Chaucer, William Dunbar, Ahmad Faraz, Atilla Ilhan, Allama Iqbal,
Ono no Komachi, Primo Levi, Plato, Miklos Radnoti, Rainer Maria Rilke, Sappho,
Sir Thomas Wyatt,
"Bede's Death Song", "Caedmon's Hymn," "Deor's Lament,"
in the Frith," "Lament for the Makaris," "Sweet Rose of Virtue," "Whoso List to Hunt," "The Wife's Lament,"
"Wulf and Eadwacer," Native American blessings and proverbs, Urdu love
BBC Radio 3: A number of Burch's Sappho translations were read
on BBC Radio 3 by Diana Quick and Sophie Ward. Diana Quick is an English actress
best known for the role of Lady Julia Flyte in the television production of
Brideshead Revisited. Sophie Ward is an English actress who played
Elizabeth Hardy, the love interest of Sherlock Holmes, in the film Young
Reverse Translations: The poems of Michael R. Burch have been
translated into fifteen languages: (1) Arabic by Nizar Sartawi and Iqbal Tamimi;
(2) Bengali by Jewel Mazhar/Majhar; (3) Croatian by Teodora “Tea” Pecarina; (4)
Czech by Václav Z J Pinkava; (5) Farsi by Dr. Mahnaz Badihian, Farideh
Hassanzadeh Mostafavi and RahelYahia; (6) Gjuha Shqipe (Albanian) by Majlinda
Bashllari; (7) Greek by Γεράσιμος Κομποθέκρας (Gerassimos Kombothekras) and
published by the University of Athens; (8) Hungarian by István Bagi; (9)
Indonesian by A. J. Anwar; (10) Italian by Comasia Aquaro and Mario Rigli; (11)
Macedonian by Marija Girevska; (12) Romanian by Petru Dimofte; (13) Russian by
Yelena Dubrovin and Vera Zubarev; (14) Turkish by Nurgül Yayman; (15) Vietnamese
by Linh Vu (there are around a hundred Vietnamese translations of Burch's
original poems and English translations of Oriental poetry)
YouTube Readings and Other Videos:
YouTube videos by Lillian Y. Wong:
Miklos Radnoti "Postcard 1" translation
YouTube readings by David Gosselin: "Sappho
Fragment 16," "Sappho's Hymn to Aphrodite"
YouTube video of the mixed media play
Summoning the Spirit: Poems of Komachi features
several Burch translations of Komachi poems
YouTube videos (5) of musical performances by Dima Bawab and Eduard de Boer:
"The Children of Gaza" (song cycle)
YouTube recording of the music to An Ardent Love Affair with
lyrics by Burch
YouTube video by Shila Roshid: a poem Burch wrote as The Child Poets of
Gaza, "I, Too, Have a Dream"
YouTube reading by Vaishali Paliwal: translation of Mirza
Ghalib's "It’s time for the world to hear Ghalib again!"
YouTube analysis of the ghazal by Anupam Mishra: used a
translation of the Nasir Kazmi poem "What Happened To Them?"
YouTube video by Sarah Ahmed of the Livingstone Sonnet Project:
William Dunbar "Sweet Rose of Virtue" translation
YouTube video by Jenna Thiel and Jake Owens:
rap/singing version of William Dunbar "Sweet Rose of Virtue" translation
YouTube reading by Jordan Harling:
William Dunbar "Sweet Rose of Virtue" translation
YouTube reading/video: O no Yasumaro "plumegrass wilts"
YouTube musical performance by Devan Wardrop-Saxton: "A Kinder
Sea" Plato translation
YouTube video by Book Feast, in English and Tamil: a discussion
of Burch's translation of "The Burning of the Books" by Bertolt Brecht
YouTube video by Literally Yours (Malayalam): using Burch's translation of "The Burning of the Books" by Bertolt Brecht
YouTube musical performance by Sigrid Vipa: “I Have a Yong
Suster” translation, singing with a 12-string Celtic harp
YouTube reading by Himel Khandakar Himu: "Deor's Lament"
YouTube cello interpretation by Jenny Jackson: "The Wife's Lament"
YouTube reading by PoemNeverDies of "Iz" by Abdurehim Otkur
used my English translation as a reference
YouTube reading by SongofAndred: "Song of Amergin" translation
YouTube reading by Tadj Abdelhafid: Burch's interpretation of
Albert Einstein quotes as the poems "Relativity" and "Solitude"
YouTube "kinetic type" video by Jeffrey Michael Miller: Burch's
interpretation of Albert Einstein quotes as the poem "Imagination"
Other Publications and Collaborations:
Burch served as an editor and translator of the book Hiroshima: Bridge to
Forgiveness by Hiroshima survivor Takashi "Thomas" Tanemori (published by
MBooks of BC, Canada).
Burch provided English translations of Hebrew poems by Adi Wolfson, the 2017
winner of Israel's prestigious Levi Eshkol Prize for Literature, in two books: I Am Your Father
Burch's translation of the poem "Let us Be Midwives"
by Hiroshima survivor Sadako Kurihara has been published on a Hiroshima
University Facebook page (seminar of Professor Mari Katayanagi, Department of
Peace and Coexistence, IDEC, Hiroshima University).
Burch's translation of the Robert Burns poem "Comin' Thro the Rye" was published
in the book Guide to Enjoying Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Franny and
Zooey, and Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenters by John P. Anderson.
In the notes to her poetry collection A Kinder Sea, the Australian poet Felicity Plunkett
said the title was “inspired by Michael Burch’s translation of a poem attributed
to Plato: ‘Mariner, do not ask whose tomb this may be, but go with good fortune:
I wish you a kinder sea.’”
The Canadian writer Julian Smith took the title of his book The World of Dew
and Other Stories from a Burch translation of a haiku by Kobayashi Issa.
Malika Favre requested permission to use the “cliff” stanza from a Burch
translation of Baudelaire in her upcoming art book the Kama Sutra
Project. “Malika Favre is a French artist based in London. Her bold,
minimal style – often described as Pop Art meets OpArt – is a striking lesson in
the use of positive/negative space and colour. Her unmistakable style has
established her as one of the UK’s most sought after graphic artists.” Malika’s
publishers include The New Yorker, Vogue, Marie Claire and “many
Australian writer Diana Jarman requested permission to use five Burch translations in her work of
historical fiction, The Philatelist's Album. The translations requested
"night flies" and "wild geese" translations of two Masaoka Shiki
haiku, his "bonfires" translations of an Issa haiku, his "victor" translation of
an Ouchi Yoshitaka poem, and his "arrow" translation of a Tomoyuki Yamashita
The poems and translations of Michael R. Burch have been taught, recited,
published and/or otherwise used by secondary schools, high schools and
universities in the following countries: Canada (Alberta Science Teachers
Association, Albert Einstein "Solitude" translation), Greece (University of Athens,
"She Was Very Strange, and Beautiful" as translated by Gerassimos Kombothekras),
Iran (secondary, "Brother Iran" in a Farsi translation), Japan (Hiroshima
University, "Midwives" translation), Jordan (Jo Academy, "To a Mouse"
translation), Kenya (Kenyatta University, eight poems), Pakistan (Salu Ghotki
University, Bertolt Brecht translations), Russia (Yaroslaval State University
"Deor's Lament" and "The Wife's Lament" translations), Ukraine (Borys Grinchenko Kyiv University, "To a Mouse"
translation), and the United States (Auburn University "Wulf and Eadwacer"
translation, Kent State University, SMU, Wichita
State University, Tennessee Technological University, and many others). Burch's
most popular translations with educators and students have been his Holocaust
poetry translations and Robert Burns
"Caedmon's Hymn" was cited in "Famous Sonnets of English Poets" by Mohsin Mirza
"Frail Envelope of Flesh" appeared in a Vietnamese translation in Tho Tru
Tinh ("New Romanticism") by Ngu Yen on Academia.edu
Burch's “boneless” Anglo-Saxon riddle translation was used in “Los Aspectos
Sonoros” by Celene Garcia-Avila on Academia.edu
Burch's translation was cited twice in Translating "The Wife's Lament" to
Modern English by Hussein Medlej on Academia.edu
Burch's translation of “The Burning of the Books” by Bertolt Brecht was used in
War Machines by David Brian Howard on Academia.edu
Burch's translation of "To the Martyrs of Çanakkale" by Mehmet Akif Ersoy was
used in the Routledge Studies essay "Reflections on the Gallipoli Campaign in
Turkish Literature" by Safak Horzum
Burch's translation of “Postcard 3” by Miklos Radnoti was used in the essay
“Reweighing Genocide on an International Legal Scale” by Souryja Das on
Burch's translation of "Fragment 42" by Sappho was cited in "Examples of Figures
of Speech" by Aysegul Safak on Academia.edu
Burch's translation of “Comin Thro the Rye” by Robert Burns was used by Cavdar
Tarlasinda Buyumek in an essay with the same title on Academia.edu
Burch was cited twice in “The Existence – The Dimension of the Mind” by Anne
Henriques on Academia.edu
An interview Burch did with Esther Cameron was cited in “Tracing the Journey of
Paul Celan’s Poetry” by Jana Vytrhlik on Academia.edu
Burch was quoted and his translations of Robert Burns were cited in “The Poet,
the President, and the Preservationist: Robert Burns, Abraham Lincoln, and John
Muir” by Walter G. Moss on Academia.edu
Burch was the first contemporary writer mentioned in Katarzyna Poreba’s
dissertation "THE LEGACY OF WILLIAM BLAKE IN CONTEMPORARY CULTURE" published by
TARNÓW STATE COLLEGE, Poland
Michael R. Burch Related Pages:
Literary Devices: Definitions and Examples,
Epigrams and Quotes,
Nature and Animal Poems,
Free Love Poems,
Poetry by Michael R. Burch,
Poems about Time and Death,
Poems about EROS and CUPID,
Poems about Icarus,
Auschwitz Rose Preview,
Did Lord Bryon inspire the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley?,
Understatement Examples from Shakespeare and Elsewhere,
Ancient Egyptian Harper's Songs
You can find Burch's analysis of his poems here: "Auschwitz Rose" Analysis,
"Will There Be Starlight" Analysis,
"Davenport Tomorrow" Analysis,
"Passionate One" Analysis,
"Self Reflection" Analysis