HCDE 512 – Week 6 – Machine Translations & Poetry


I conducted an analysis of how well the machine translation engine translated and communicates the concepts of my poem in the target language. I do not fluently speak another language, so I first translated a poem into French since I have familiarity with that language. After translating it into French, I translated it back into English.

I choose a poem about happiness called Fear of Happiness by A. E. STALLINGS. I was looking for a poem that I felt confident about the meanings of in English so I could judge it’s translation. The MT translated a surprising amount of the text correctly. My poem had a fair number of fairly straightforward sentences (at least in content construction) so it did better than I expected with those.

As many do, my poem contained some poetic language, symbolism and emotional ideas. There was a concept that was about a “nothingness rising underfoot” that was completely missed and translated as “The increase no feet.” This completely lost the meaning of the emotional idea of nothingness rising underfoot and had really nothing to do with the root word pertaining to feet in the original language.
The poem also refers to an “it” that is not defined and this is missed in the translation when it converts this symbolic “it” to a “he” because of its proximity to the word “kid” in the same sentence. The line was “he was a glass floored elevator” when translated back, but the original was “As a kid, it was a glass-floored elevator” – this idea was referring to a yet unnamed feeling – not a specific person.
I am very surprised at how well this translation worked. The places that it could be improved are ones that refer to abstract concepts and I am not sure how one would go about improving this in the MT. These seem like very human concepts to get the subtlety of. I am not sure if this is something that MT could ever get this right. It does rely heavily on the content and context of the poem, as well as the culture that the poem originated from. What are the metaphors of that culture? How are they localized to comparable concepts without the deep knowledge of that culture? I feel that this is where a human element is important and that even with a lot of data crunching it will be very difficult to cross this bridge without human artistic translation.

Original: Fear of Happiness   By  A. E. STALLINGS

Looking back, it’s something I’ve always had:
As a kid, it was a glass-floored elevator
I crouched at the bottom of, my eyes squinched tight,
Or staircase whose gaps I was afraid I’d slip through,
Though someone always said I’d be all right—
Just don’t look down or See, it’s not so bad
(The nothing rising underfoot). Then later
The high-dive at the pool, the tree-house perch,
Ferris wheels, balconies, cliffs, a penthouse view,
The merest thought of airplanes. You can call
It a fear of heights, a horror of the deep;
But it isn’t the unfathomable fall
That makes me giddy, makes my stomach lurch,
It’s that the ledge itself invents the leap.

Translated into French and back to English:
Looking back , it is something I ‘ve always had :
As a kid , he was a glass floored elevator
I crouched at the bottom of my eyes squinched tight
Or staircase whose gaps I was afraid to slip through ,
If someone always said that I would be right mouse
Just do not look down and see it is not so bad
( The increase no feet). and later
Up – the diving pool , the tree – home pole
Large wheels , balconies , cliffs, views of luxury ,
The slightest thought of airplanes. You can call
He is afraid of heights, a horror of the abyss ;
But it is not the unfathomable fall
It makes me dizzy , makes my stomach lurch ,
It is what the rim invented the jump.