Lisa’s Literal Translations #4 – “Rent” by Jane Cooper


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.
“Rent” by Jane Cooper The Original:
If you want my apartment, sleep in it
but let’s have a clear understanding:
the books are still free agents.If the rocking chair’s arms surround you
they can also let you go,
they can shape the air like a body.I don’t want your rent, I want
a radiance of attention
like the candle’s flame when we eat,

I mean a kind of awe
attending the spaces between us—
Not a roof but a field of stars.


Lisa’s Literal Translation:

If you crave my rented living abode, hibernate therein
but let’s keep a transparent agreement of ideas:
the tomes are yet liberated spies.

Should the shuffling seat’s limbs circle you
they may likewise release you,
they may mold the atmosphere like a corpse.

I don’t wish your house money, I wish
a brilliance of concentration
kin to the light’s fire when we ingest,

I intend a sort of wonder
listening to the emptinesses betwixt us—
No ceiling but a meadow of planetary lights.

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!