Diversions: Poem Translations from Nine Languages

With over fifty poems from ten languages, this Diversions ebook is both an handy compilation of some of the world's most famous poetry, and an introduction to the translator's art. Most pieces are faithful renderings, reproducing the form, content and rhyme schemes of the original. Each poem is accompanied by notes on the literary conventions in force, a glossary of unfamiliar words, and a comment on the accuracy of the translation.

deiversions poetry translations book cover


There is great variety, from four- or five-line pieces in Sanskrit and Chinese to extended compositions by Darío, Valéry and Apollinaire. Many will be familiar to poetry readers, though possibly not with such close harmony of phrasing and meaning.

As the Introduction explains, the translation brings different aims together, and shows that it's possible to create faithful renderings that read as good poetry if the full resources of English verse are deployed. What is powerful, eloquent and moving in the original has more than echo of such qualities in these translations.

The ebook is in pdf format, and free.

Excerpts from Collection


Inconsolable winds
bring violins,
and autumn's part
is monotonous
and languorous,
pain to the heart.

Suffocating, pale
halting and stale,
slowly hours creep,
gather and fall.
So I recall
past days and weep.

Tossed this way
and that as winds may,
one with the grief.
Hither and yon,
carried and gone:
dead the leaf.

Chanson d'Automne from Paul Verlaine's Poèmes saturniens (1867)


Ever dear to me was this small hill,
the hedgerow round it that obstructs the view
of boundless distances where the earth and sky
merge as one. My sitting there, my gazing out
on spaces limitless, unending silence, on
the depths of quietness my thoughts can sense
undo the heart almost. I hear the wind
ruffle the hedgerow and I must go on
balancing an infinite silence with this voice.
So come to mind the eternal and the dead
seasons, the present and the living, the sound
of them: immensities in which my thoughts drown,
though sweet to me the foundering in such sea.

L'Infinto from Versi (1826) by Giacomo Leopardi.


A lofty summer, Lord! It's time to lay
your shadows on the sundials now, and let
once more in meadowlands the winds hold sway.

Command the fruits to fullness and consign
another two more days of southern heat
to bring them to perfection and secrete
the last of sweetness in the bodied wine.

He who has no house will not rebuild,
and he who is alone will long stay so,
and wake to read, write endlessly, and go
up and down through avenues now filled
with leaves and restlessness, blown to and fro.

Herbsttag from Das Buch der Bilder (1906) by Rainer Maria Rilke.


All conquering love, you level wealth
and furrow cheeks of girls asleep.
You reach from sea to meanest farm.
No god escapes, not one, and man
succumbs to madness, brief day spent.
Honour fails and kinsmen fight.
In eyelids of the bride who yearns
for wedded joy lies sheathed your power.
Even the great from the beginning,
when Aphrodite mocks them, yield.
To strain the edict, through the tears
we cannot staunch, Antigone
takes up her room where all may sleep.

After Antigone by Sophocles (c.496-406/5 BC)


Cloud raining, and I from my friend am separated:
how can, on such a day, the hearts be so separated?

You and rain and cloud are standing to make farewells
and I weeping, and you and the rain separated.
Though leaves are new risen, passion is fresh, and the garden green,
the nightingale is silent, from its sanctuary separated.

As the hair grows, from root to head-top, I am bound in service:
how can all that longing suddenly be separated?
Let not, when tearfulness holds you in the pupil of vision,
my eye from that tearfulness be separated.

My pride in observance that stays on from this
retains its luxury of looking though so separated.
In its hundred conceptions the eye is of dust
make haste if you'd not from acceptance be separated.

What would you think, that my soul would leave
with the guardian and garden then so separated?
Nor will your beauty continue if from Khusraw kept
as a flower from its thorn when so separated.

Abu'l-Hasan Yamînuddin Amîr Khusraw (1253-1325)


Emptiness. Mountains. No one unless
in these low voices overheard.
Sense falling into forest depths,
green in suncast mosses overhead.

Wang Wei (699-761)