Literal Translations #3 – “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

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So… I’ve been fighting with my laptop a lot. And I moved, and went to Salt Lake Comic Con and have been working way too much. And did I mention fighting with my laptop? Let’s ignore that my last post was in July, hmm?
What a Literal Translation is: A word-for-word translation that swaps words out with literal synonyms
Why a Literal Translation: They help dissect hard-to-understand poems. Most of the time.


Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shellye, the Original:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.
Lisa’s Literal Translation:

I acquainted a wanderer from an old (and possibly collectible) piece of place
Who spoke: “Double large and supportless lower appendages of rock
Keep upright in the hot lands. Close to them on the dry soil
Partially submerged, a fractured face reclines, whose stern look
And crinkled mouth and glare of fosty leadership
Speak that its creator thoroughly those fires studied
Which still sustain, impressed on these dead stuffs,
The palms and fingers that scoffed them and the blood-pumping organ that ate.
And on the raised spot these bits of speech show:
`My title is Ozymandias, Emperor of Emperors:
Gaze on my doings, you strong, and grieve!’
Not anything near survives. By the remnants
Of that enormous mess, endless and empty,
The single and even dunes reach long afar”.
I love this poem, a true testament to the meaningless of pride and greatness in the vast span of humanity.

Lisa’s Literal Translations #2 – Emily Dickinson #294


What a Literal Translation is: A word-f0r-word translation that swaps words out with literal synonyms

Why a Literal Translation: They help dissect hard-to-understand poems. Most of the time.

Emily Dickinson’s poem #294, the Original:

The Doomed – regard the Sunrise
With different Delight –
Because – when next it burns abroad
They doubt to witness it –

The Man – to die – tomorrow –
Harks for the Meadow Bird –
Because its Music stirs the Axe
That clamors for his head –

Joyful – to whom the Sunrise
Precedes Enamored – Day
Joyful – for whom the Meadow Bird
Has ought but Elegy!


Lisa’s Literal Translation:

The Condemned – look at the Emerging of the Sun
With altering Happiness –
Because – the time soonest again it fires far away
They question to see it –

The Male Person – to expire – the day after today –
Listens for the Field Small Winged And Beaked Animal –
For The Reason That its Song moves the Bladed Hammer
That calls for his uppermost appendage –

Ecstatic – to whom the Lifting of the Sun
Comes Before Love-Smacked – AM
Ecstatic – for whom the Field Small Winged And Beaked Animal
Holds nothing but Lament for the Dead!


This poem implies that even someone on death row might be looking forward to the new day (their death day). I’m guessing because death means freedom. I chose a Dickinson poem at random, because I just love her, even if her poems are a bit hard to understand sometimes.

If you have a poem you’d like to see me translate literally, just let me know!

Lisa’s Literal Translations #1 – Shakespeare’s Sonnet #18


Sonnet #18 by William Shakespeare (Literal Translation):

Should I balance your qualities with those of a 24 hour period in the hottest season?

You are prettier and milder.

Callous movements of air rattle the dear flowerettes of May,

And the season of sun’s rental agreement possesses totally too brief a calendar length.

Once in a while overly high in temperature the visionary organ of paradise gleams,

And usually is his yellow metal coloring darkened by some degree;

And each decent from decent occasionally slopes downward,

By luck, or Gaia’s altering route, unshaven;

But your forever hotness won’t diminish,

Or fail to keep hold of that nicety you are in debt of,

Or will afterlife crow you meander within his darkness,

When in unending single dimension pictures to passage of days you syretch.

As opposite of short as males can take in oxygen, or ocular lenses can perform their primary function,

As opposite of short exists such, and such presents animation to you.



The Original:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

What a literal translation is: A literal translation is taking something and rewriting it in literal synonyms. For example rewriting “house” as “home,” or if you want to be less pretty about it, “living abode.”

The trick is you can’t use any of the same words as in the real poem, minus the’s and and’s and whatnot. Any word you can replace, you do replace.  This is something my favorite professor had us do in college with poems that were hard to understand, or when she wanted us to think about them a different way, and it was one of my favorite things to do in her classes.

Every Thursday I’m going to be doing a literal rewrite of a poem for you. They may be long or short, but I hope they’ll be fun! I’m going to start out with some more familiar poems just to get things started. And I might throw in a song here and there for fun. If you ever want to see something literally translated, just let me know in the comments!