Tag Archives: Translation

What we feel most has no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.

19 Jun

The title is a direct quote from Jack Gilbert’s poem, The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart


Studying the German language, it is difficult not to think of the meanings lost in translation.

I recently read the article about the boy who scammed first the German police, and then the world with his story about living in a forest for nine years. It was discovered that he was just an average teenage boy from the Netherlands, running away from a broken home and troubled life.

Just an average teenage boy with a broken life.

When I was seventeen, my cousin Brent, who was also seventeen, killed himself on the front porch of his home.

Just an average teenage boy with a broken life?

Lives of other people enter our minds through sensory organs; whether we read or hear or see, part of their experience suddenly becomes our experience. And what do we do with it? Do we read and hear and see for entertainment? Do the stories move further than the eyes and ears? Do they linger in the mind or settle in the heart?

This young man was running away. One choice of many to make.

The article reports his story through the voice of the young man’s friend.

“His bucket was way too full. He just wanted to have a new bucket.”

I understand meanings lost when German is translated to English; as I want the meaning between language to be true, I strive in writing to narrow the gap, bring the meanings closer to a similar understanding.

What does this say for meanings of the heart? What is lost in translation between the eyes and ears and heart when we read the story of a troubled teenage boy, a suicide, a grieving parent? What are we losing by not dwelling, by not striving to bring the languages closer together?

Rilke writes that lament is not enough and Jack Gilbert that the words get it wrong.

In striving to understand can we come closer to knowing what it is to be human, and to help those dearest, and ourselves.