Snowy garden

The NaPoWriMo prompt for today seemed so way out that I wasn’t even going to attempt it. Choose a random photograph, then choose a random poem in a language you don’t know, and translate the poem as if it’s about the photograph. This seems to my translator’s mind a strange way to proceed, but that’s the challenge, I suppose.

Anyway, I did it the wrong way round inadvertently, chose a random poem, by Tua Forsström, the Finnish poet writing in Swedish. I don’t know any Swedish, except in so far as it has links semantically with English, and I didn’t read the translation. Once I’d ‘translated’ it, I chose a photograph.

If I’d chosen a photograph of a Chinese pagoda before I started on the poem, I’m pretty sure I would have chosen a poem in an Asiatic language, not Swedish, and the words I imagined would have described a Chinese pagoda, not snow. I’m pretty sure that even if I’d chosen a poem in Swedish and a photo of a Chinese pagoda, I’d have ended up writing the same poem about a pagoda. So apologies for not following all the prompt rules, but translating from Swedish was quite challenging enough!

Here is Tua Forsström’s poem.

Snön yr över innergårdens rosor.
Tog inte stövlar och halsduk med, bläddrar
i böcker, vet inte vad jag skall göra av allt ljuset!
Ni skulle inte godkänna färgerna.
Det är alltför anslående, Andrej Arsenjevitj, alltför
mycket, alltför mycket av allt!
Ni bytte ut vingarna mot luftballongen, en tafatt
skapelse snodd ihop av rep och trasor, jag minns så väl.
Förr hade jag mycket och mindes inte. Svårt
att hålla sig till sak. Svårt att hålla sig till sak.
Hoppas få återkomma. Hoppas få återkomma till principen
om vingarna. Faktum kvarstår: kölden konserverade
rosengården i natt. ”Zonen är en zon, zonen är livet,
och människan kan antingen gå under eller överleva när
hon tar sig igenom detta liv. Om hon klarar det eller
inte beror på hennes känsla av egenvärde” En hare
skuttade nästan in i vestibulen här på Stiftelsen,
spräcklig mot snön; i harens almanacka är det ju oktober.
Ni verkar ha ett ganska svårartat humör,
och det är möjligt att inget av detta intresserar Er.
Å andra sidan klagar Ni rätt ofta själv.
Jag skriver för att Ni är död och för att jag vaknade
i våras på mitt hotell mot gatan i Benidorm till det underbara
höga kvittret. Man bör inte be om ursäkt oavbrutet, man bör
inte tacka oavbrutet, man bör nog tacka. Mälaren som
bly där nere. Resten är vitt och rött.


This is my interpretation of what I think the poem is about. WordPress uploaded it like this, with random line breaks, so I decided to leave it the way WP decided.


Snow, in the courtyard garden falls like dew,

I gather it into the hearth, in bloodred
bucketfulls, like sharp flowers in the hall vase.
No school teaches us the way to find hope,
Andrej Arsenjevitj, but it it everywhere, Andrej, everywhere

in the smallest dust specks, flying high.
No balloons float above the
snow-covered vineyards, hiding autumn treasure.
Small as dust specks are the seeds, beneath the dark
earth like people in an empty hall. Dark and hollow.

Hope will follow, hope will follow this germing seed
of a vineyard, held ready for spring, like the rosegarden, conserved
by the night cold. The sun fills the air now, fills it with light,
melting the frost on furred-over not-yet-born petals,
letting the sap rise. Filtering
into the henhouse where new eggs lie. A hare
skitters into the hallway speckled with snow,

playing by his own wild calendar, October games.
He has no hidden thought, no dark asides
nothing that diverts him from his game.
Unlike you, Andrej.

From this brisk whiteness of yours, I would turn my tail,
seek the fleeting warmth of anonymous company

Benidorm perhaps, in a new hotel, smelling of paint,
I’d curl up on the Costa, curl beneath the sun,
curl and crisp and forget the dark,
curl in duckfeathered sand, forget the night.
Stay there until I rot.

This is the image I chose after I’d written ‘my’ poem, but I should have chosen a random photo beforehand.


Photo ©Rennett Stowe


Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

43 thoughts on “Snowy garden”

    1. I think I deserve a medal, to be honest 🙂 Already the idea of translating a poem because of the way the words ‘look’ seems like a very odd idea, but if you have to first pick an image then pretend to be translating a poem about the picture…Maybe it’s the remains of the migraine but I really couldn’t cope with that idea!

      1. Maybe I just misunderstood how to tackle it, but it seemed to me to be throwing too much into the mix, and some of it was contradictory. Was the inspiration to come from the photograph or the shape of the words? If the premise is that the foreign words ‘look’ like words we recognise and can ‘translate’, where does the image fit in? I was confused.

      2. It’s certainly not my idea of translation which is communicating the same idea to people who don’t speak the same language. This isn’t communication at all, in any cross-barrier sense.

      3. If I get another one today I’ll know why. It was probably the remnants of yesteday’s migraine that unplugged the bit about adding the photo into the mix.

  1. I’m not planning to follow the prompt today. I read the interview and visited the author’s sites. There’s is a collaborative work, each writing a poem about the same photo. Taking a look at a poem in a language I’m not familiar with and then writing what I think it’s saying while writing about the photo seems a useless exercise if the foreign poem is about a random thing…not at all what the featured authors did. I considered finding a language that uses hieroglyphs such as Mandarin or Arabic, but writing from the visual, to me would be a horrible mangling of what, in another language could have been a beautiful poem. And why choose a photo at all if the foreign poem is not in any way inspired by it. Seems like too much stretching to me. You rose to the challenge beautifully Jane. Kudos to you.

    1. My thoughts exactly Kat. One or the other inspiration but using both they each cancel one another out. I didn’t see much to be gained poetically from the exercise, but I gave it a whirl so I couldn’t say I didn’t try. I tried 🙂

  2. What a wonderful poem. You can feel both the cold and the yearning.
    I like the idea of “translating”, but I agree, finding a photo too seemed a bit much. I ignored that part and used my own artwork. (K)

    1. I have a feeling that choosing Swedish (I chose Finnish really but the poet writes in Swedish) was a bit of a cheat since it does resemble English if you squint at it. No doubt if I’d chosen Mandarin Chinese or Arabic I would have got absolutely nothing.

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