Experiments in translation: Emily Dickinson


Emily Dickinson


Between my Country — and the Others —

There is a Sea —

But flowers — negotiate between us —

As Ministry.

Emily Dickinson


E tra la mia Patria — e le Altre —

Esiste un Mare —

Ma è il Fiore — tra noi come Ambasciatore —

A trattare.

Emily Dickinson, like most authors, wrote about what she was most familiar with, and the things that interested her. She observed the world around her: nature, religion, law, music, and even domestic activities. She delved into universal themes, and their mysteries, using humour, pathos, and a sharp wit.

Dickinson’s poems are lyrics, short poems with a single speaker (not necessarily the poet), using the first person, “I”: “When I state myself, as the Representative of the Verse – it does not mean – me – but a supposed person” (Letter 268).

This poem, like most of her poems, has no title: Emily Dickinson titled fewer than 10 of her almost 1800 poems.

In Letter 315, Dickinson describes how the flowers she cultivated were able to transport her to faraway places. She wrote, “My flowers are near and foreign, and I have but to cross the floor to stand in the Spice Isles”. The flowers erased the distance between her location in Amherst and the Spice Isles. Flowers were her connection to other places, and she used them to transcend her own environment and experience a new place, a place she would not otherwise be able to access.

In this poem, “Between My Country—and the Others—” she uses nature to imagine moving between two distinct places. And flowers are her means of communication, while the sea is the barrier. The speaker is stationary, the flowers are not: they cross barriers. They are not the bearers of messages, but the messengers themselves, the “Ministers”.

Dickinson punctuated her poems with dashes, rather than periods, commas, etc.. They often served as bridges between sections of the poem, but probably also to indicate pauses when reading aloud.

Rhyme (country, sea, ministry); simile (flowers as ministry); personification (negotiate between us); assonance (country, others, us). as always, much is lost in translation. – M.C.

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