A BIG BANG – a mistranslation

My response to the prompt for Day 5 of National/Global Poetry Writing Month is essentially a misinformed translation of a Dutch poem, inspired by a random photo. The prompt is to find a photo and translate a poem, in a language not known to me, so that it refers to the photo. Of course, this means the resulting poem will have no resemblance to the true translation of the original poem – it’s a writing exercise! My initial reaction was to ignore the prompt, but I’ve decided to give it a try. Please don’t hold this against me!
(A memory of a childhood understanding of a few very basic German words, including numbers, was the only “help” I had in pretending to decipher the original poem.)

A Big Bang

Astronomy Picture of the Day
(Russ Carroll, Robert Gendler & Bob Franke)


There is nothing standing
between us and the shoals
we see arranged
in tide-like structures,
light taken or given,
enriching us.

There is nothing standing
between us: leaving fossils
instead. Defining, discerning
ones and zeros – data
telling us nothing
of the ending, only
the beginning.

Coming or going, whether
sevenfold or untold,
which doors open
to guide us
will define our world,

a binary dance that offers
nothing but the truth
standing between us:
one faulty reading
of an interstellar message

parsed light years too late,
and synapses glaze over,
neurons responding to nothing
more than a boring signal.

A BIG BANG (the original)

er is niet meer nodig dan afstand om ons te zien zoals we zijn
het aangroeien en afsterven van tijdelijke structuren, licht
in het donker in het licht wij groeien in alle richtingen, een

er is niet meer nodig dan afstand om ons te zien: levende
in steeds dezelfde banen die rekenen op enen en nullen omdat
niet tellen, niet snel genoeg om start van finish te

laat staan om thuis te komen. Roodkapje met de
haast zich door onderzeese glasvezeldraad een oor in aan de
andere kant
van de wereld. Een wolf, een grootmoe, een meisje en een jager

dansen samen een binaire chachacha. Ga van het pad schat
het vraagt niet meer dan afstand om ons te zien: een defecte cel
in een sterrenstelselhersenpan, een interstellaire boodschap

parasitair lichtgevend mos, synapsen van glasvezel maar dan
neuron aan / neuron uit, mens aan / mens uit
mensen als banaal signaal.

© 2014, Runa Svetlikova

A BIG BANG (translation, as provided at Poetry International Web)

nothing further is needed than distance to see us the way we are
the increase and decease of temporary structures, light
in darkness in the light we grow in all directions, rampant

further is needed than distance to see us: living fossils
perpetually in identical orbit describing ones and zeros, as we
don’t count, not quick enough to distinguish between the start and finish

let alone to come home. Little Red Riding Hood in seven-league boots
dashes through the undersea optic fibre into an ear the other
side of the world. A wolf, a grandma, little girl and huntsman

dancing a binary cha-cha-cha together. Get off the path my love
all that is needed is distance to see us: a defective cell
in a cranial firmament, an interstellar message of

parasitic, luminous moss, glass fibre synapses but quicker still
neuron on / neuron off, human on / human off
people as a banal signal.

NaPoWriMo 2018
(This is also linked to OpenLinkNight #217 at dVerse)


39 thoughts on “A BIG BANG – a mistranslation

  1. I can think of nothing harder than a prompt like this. I’d feel the original poet screaming NO, NO all the time I was writing. Your take was fine work even if it had nothing to do with the original. And I love the photograph!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sarah. That was one of my first thoughts when I read the prompt. That’s one reason I’d like to edit this further, to weaken the association with the original. For example, “sevenfold” was used to mimic the sound of the original, and that stanza can be improved.


      • Yes. For publication purposes, I think it would be better if the poem could stand on its own. I don’t like erasure poems either for that reason. I can see the original author cringing at someone taking his/her words out of context. I’ve never understood the appeal of that approach, unless it’s to pare the original down to its essence, and then I think that the original author must have wanted it in the original form for a reason. It’s a no-win for me.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Am I doing? How? | Unassorted stories

  3. Pingback: NaPoWriMo / GloPoWriMo 2018 – Day 5 – “Spectres Of Speeches And Letters” by David Ellis | toofulltowrite (I've started so I'll finish)

  4. That is quite a challenge and I admire your science inspired poem which reminds me of Dr. S. Hawking. Creative title but the mistranslation produced an original write, including a funny conclusion of the boring signal ~

    Liked by 1 person

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