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Choosing correlatives, use of conditional tense (for poetry translation)

fra hushpiper,2020 8 2

Meldinger: 19

Språk: English

hushpiper (Å vise profilen) 2020 8 2 21:22:25

I'm quite early in my Esperanto studies, but I learn best by doing: therefore, I'm trying to write in Esperanto as well as read, and I figured a good answer to "what do I write?" was "William Stafford poetry translations!", since his poems are plain-speaking free verse with very little idiom. I'm translating this short one first:
Indian Caves in the Dry Country
These are some canyons
we might use again
My tentative translation:
Indiana Kaverno en la Seka Lando
Tiuj ĉi estas iuj kanjonoj
ni uzus denove
But it brings up some questions:

1. What would be the best correlative for "some canyons"? I guess some of it depends on what you think Stafford meant, but I suppose "iu" would indicate something like "these specific canyons, out of the general category of canyons", whereas something like "iom" would mean "some unspecified number of canyons"? (Also, how correct is it to pluralize "tiu ĉi" at the beginning here? If I used "iom", would that sufficiently imply that we're talking about more than one canyon?)
2. I know that the conditional mood is usually translated like "would use (if certain conditions were met)"; does "uzus" get across the idea "might use", or is there a better way to say that?

(As a side note, I love being able to say "iam" at the end--I like to think if Stafford had such a short, simple word available to him for that final line, he would have used it.)

Metsis (Å vise profilen) 2020 8 3 10:01:56

Translating poems is always hard and I'm not a native English speaker, so…

These are

"These are…" seems to me to be an introductionary element, "see, what I have at hand". There is a specific word for that purpose in Esperanto, jen. Usually you see it without a verb, but I personally prefer with a verb to have a complete sentence, so jen estas.

Tiuj ĉi or ĉi tiuj either requires that you know the category or group of which you take some out or you assume that the group consists of persons. But since you are just introducing the topic, the canyons, neither of these interpretation will do. You could use the general demonstrative pronoun ĉi tio, but jen is definitely better, more punchy, here.

Some canyons

To my understanding "some canyons" emphasises an unspecific, usually a smallish amount. The corresponding word in Esperanto is kelkaj, so kelkaj kanjonoj. If you think, that there are several canyons, you can say pluraj kanjonoj, but I think kelkaj is better here.


We, ni in Esperanto, always(*) contains the idea, that you yourself and the person you are talking to are included. It may not be used in a passive voice sense as is done quite often in English. While vi can be used in the passive voice, it contains the idea, that the listener/reader must be able to do it, i.e. you can't say Vi farbos la domon : "You will paint the house" to a person in a wheelchair. Oni is for that passive voice sense. Without further context I would pick oni here.

*: Not counting mathematics where the idiomatic "Let us assume…" gets translated to Ni supozu…

Might use

The term conditional mood for the us-modo is a misnomer, because the use of it differs from the use of the conditional mood in several other languages. There are two uses of the us-modo, of which the polite asking is the simpler one:
  • Ĉu vi volus havi pli da kafo? : Would you like to have more coffee?
The mode is also used, when the action is imaginary, and this action must really be imaginary.
  • Se mi ne estus tiom riĉa, ĉu vi amus min? : If I weren't so rich, would you love me?
  • Se vi dirus al mi la veron, mi ne erarus : If you had told me the truth, I wouldn't have done an error.
The question is, whether "might use" denotes such imaginary action or just refers to the future – which is always more or less uncertain. I think the author refers to the future here, so uzos. To emphasise the uncertainty you can add eble.

You can speculate, what this "use" is. How you "use a canyon"? It could be as simple as walking, which is this case would likely mean walking along a path, padiri → eble padiros.


There are two possible words for "again", denove and ree. The former refers to time and the later to a location.
  • Li atendas kaj plendas kaj denove atendas : He waits, complains and again (after some short time) waits.
  • Li eniris ree : He entered (the same location) again.
Since the poem ends in a time reference, denove might feel a more natural choice, but what if the author wanted to emphasise the place.

Note, that adverbs in Esperanto are strongly associated with the verbs (stronger than in English), so the preferred place for them is just before the verb they modify, i.e. denove uzos is the preferred word order. You can put it after the verb, if required by the style. If you put the adverb at the end of a clause, make sure it is applicable to the whole clause (this is different than in English). Naturally the clause can end in the verb, as is the case here.


Iam is an excellent ending also rhythm-wise.

The poem

Putting all pieces together:
Jen estas kelkaj kanjonoj
oni eble padiros denove

sudanglo (Å vise profilen) 2020 8 3 12:53:50

Who knows with poets what they mean. The man doesn't even understand the difference between caves and canyons.

However it looks to me, as a native speaker, that 'might use' is eble uzos.

'Might' is going to have various translations in Esperanto.

You might have said (you didn't) - vi povintus diri
He might have said (I am not sure) - li eble diris
that you might see me better- ke vi povu vidi min pli klare

Yahweh (Å vise profilen) 2020 8 3 20:29:53

Hi. I've read the grammar section of this site, but I'm not sure about everything. So I start questioning...

It seems the original sentence omits a relative pronoun here.
These are some canyons
which we might use again
Can we omit it in Esperanto too?

nornen (Å vise profilen) 2020 8 3 21:51:15

No, in Esperanto you cannot omit relative pronouns. You can however omit their antecedents.

Kion mi volas, estas biero. = Tio, kion mi volas, estas biero.

hushpiper (Å vise profilen) 2020 8 4 02:39:32

Ah! And so we get into the interpretation of poetry! This is my favorite part. I think for translations some liberties can be taken if they are in the spirit of the original, and consistent with how the author would write, had he written in Esperanto--that's my opinion.

Thank you all for this feedback, it's wonderful.

I think "jen" is perfect for the beginning of this poem, for all the reasons you mentioned, Metsis. Simple, straightforward--that's how Stafford should always sound. I'm not so certain about "estas"--Stafford's speaking is not as spare as some poets, but free verse poetry usually cuts all unnecessary words, and I wouldn't want to overspeak.

"Kelkaj" sounds good for "some"--I imagine he's expressing a scene in which he and the reader are standing on some high ground, looking out at one or more of these canyons, and the poem is the comment he makes to the reader.

By "we"... He could be speaking about himself and the reader (who is presumably standing beside him, looking at the canyons), but I think he's more likely speaking about "our people" or even "humans" in general. (Speaking of humankind as being part of a group or tribe was also a common theme with his poetry.) So I suppose in that case "oni" would be the best pronoun?

Regarding "might use"--there's some interpretation to be done here. (And thank you sudanglo for your clarifications!) Stafford has a tendency to speak about very specific things in extremely vague and general terms (his poem "At the Bomb Testing Site" is another example). In this case I suspect "the dry country" is specifically the former Pueblo communities in the Four Corners area of the American southwest, most of which were mysteriously abandoned by their inhabitants about 700 years ago. (Since some of these dwellings were in natural caves or carved directly into the sides of overhanging cliffs, both "caves" and "canyons" could be accurate descriptions.)

That being the case, when he says we may "use" these canyons gain someday, he likely means that we (humans) may live in them again, as the Ancestral Puebloans did before they disappeared. But I don't think he would have wanted to be specific about it--he would choose the most general verb possible.

I considered ree but wasn't sure what the difference was between it and denove--that is a very helpful distinction, thank you! The note about adverbs going before the verb they describe is very interesting. Usually in free verse poetry, the choice of where to place a line break (and what word comes at the end of the line) is very important... But my instinct here is that the word "again" being emphasized is not so important as "sometime" being on its own line at the end. So "uzos denove" would be more faithful, but I think "denove uzos" would probably work as well--and since "natural-sounding, colloquial speech" is the watchword for Stafford's poetry, I want to go with whatever sounds most natural in Esperanto.

Taking the line breaks away, would
"Jen (estas) kelkaj kanjonoj oni eble denove uzos iam."
sound like a natural sentence in Esperanto? I'm not talking about something William Auld would have written (most of my reading has been his translations and Zamenhof's writing), but something you might hear in conversation.

nornen (Å vise profilen) 2020 8 4 03:05:11

This thread is getting interesting.

I would omit "estas" after "jen". I understand that "jen" works more or less like "lo" or "behold" in English.

You still cannot omit the relative pronoun in Esperanto; poetic licence cannot affect such deeply rooted grammatical features:

Jen kelkaj kanjonoj, kiujn oni eble denove uzos iam.

Me personally would render the poem maybe as follows:

Jen kelkaj kanjonoj
eble uzindaj

If you want to express, that maybe one day we might be forced to live in caves again (apocalypse, Mad Max, covid-22), you can also say:

Jen kelkaj kanjonoj
eble uzendaj

hushpiper (Å vise profilen) 2020 8 4 06:51:50

I'm very glad that someone other than me finds it interesting 😂 This is a favorite pasttime of mine, so I'm excited.

So (referencing the question of the original post) -u would probably be the correct correlative suffix for the caves/canyons, then? As in "Jen kelkaj kanjonoj, kiuj oni..." (In casual English we often omit commas in these situations, but I do see those commas very often in Esperanto. Is that a hard rule, or just for clarity?)

Another question that occurred to me--does the order of the adverbs matter in this instance? That is, is there a difference between "eble denove uzos" vs "denove eble uzos" in terms of clarity, or is it just a matter of emphasis?
Jen kelkaj kanjonoj
eble uzindaj
I never thought of adjectivizing "use", that's a very cool approach. So "uzinda" would be "useful" or "worthy of being used", while "uzenda" would be more like "necessary to use"? I suppose "uzinda" would imply that the canyons are not worthy of use now, but were in the past and may be again in the future?

I hadn't even considered the Mad Max scenario, but that would be an appropriate interpretation--this is the poet who spent four years in a work camp as a conscientious objector, war is a common topic with him. ("No one knew how civilization would find ways to destroy itself," he said about the time just before WWII.) The more I think about it, the more I like it.

nornen (Å vise profilen) 2020 8 4 15:49:12

If you allow me to quote one of my favourite poets, Humberto Akʼabal (1952 – 2019):


Are qʼaq ri, aqajtzij
kaporon chupan jun
xuqujeʼ chikipam ri nikʼyaj chik.

We man kakʼulmaj ta wa,
maj aqajtzij.

My very poor translation:


Poetry is a fire
burning inside oneself
and inside the other.

If it didn’t burn, it would be anything
but poetry.

Obviously the same poem will burn differently inside each reader. Depending on the personal experiences of the reader and on the shared experiences of his culture, the reader will interpret a poem differently, the poem will resonate differently with the reader. When I read the poem you posted, my first associations were “war”, “recruitment”, “run to the hills”, “shelter”. In my country Guatemala, caves serve two main purposes: places of worship and shelters. This might seem to be a weird combination, but bear in mind that e.g. also in the christian faith, places of worships are sanctuaries, which is basically just a fancy way of saying “shelter”. Every nation is a slave to its own history and every individual is a slave to his own experiences.

After the CIA-led coup d’état “PBSuccess” in 1954, the US installed a military regime in Guatemala under the leadership of General Carlos Castillo Armas. This cleared the path for a 36 years long proxy war between the US on one side and “the commies” on the other, fought on Guatemalan soil, spilling Guatemalan blood. During this time the key to survival on the Guatemalan highlands was to run to the hills in order to avoid recruitment. It didn’t matter at all who was recruiting, be it the US-backed government army or the URNG or any other guerrilla army. The modus operandi was mostly the same on all sides: drive into a village, accuse the village of colluding with the enemy, shove all the boys and men onto trucks (the cannons of war need an endless supply of fodder), rape the women, kill the elders, slaughter the livestock, burn the crops and the buildings. Leave some live hand grenades under the bodies of slaughtered animals and humans for good measure, as a welcome-home surprise for those villagers who eluded the raid. And this shite went on and on for more than three decades.

Hence, the most common survival strategy was: at the first sign of troop movement, run to the hills, hide in canyons and search shelter in caves. Once again, I beg your pardon for quoting Akʼabal, but he as a child of these times and a survivor, summed it up perfectly:


Kyebʼ, oxibʼ waʼ
inxiʼl atzʼam,
inxiʼl kʼatan.

Ri nunan jeta ri kubʼano
che kutzukuj kotzʼiʼj
pa taq uqʼabʼ bʼe.

Pa taq siwan
ri nutat kurawaj ribʼ
rumal ri chapanik kech ajbʼanal chʼoj.

Ri nunan kurawaj ribʼ
kukʼambʼi ri uwa.


Two, three tortillas,
a pinch of salt,
a pinch of coffee.

My mother was pretending
to pick flowers
on the roadside.

In some canyon,
my father was hiding,
fleeing the military recruitment.

Secretly, my mother
brought him something to eat.

The poem you posted burns inside myself thus: Any day we might be forced to hide in caves again. For me, it is a reminder that the thin veil called “humanity” with which we cover our faces, is just a gossamer mask over the atrocious beast we refer to as “human”. It doesn’t take much to rip off this ephemeral façade and unleash the blood-thirsty predator hidden beneath. And the poem reminds us that every day and every minute we must actively take steps to maintain this self-imposed masquerade or else…

The beauty of poetry is that it burns in a different –and a very personal– way inside each and every reader. Another person might read this poem as an idyllic, pastoral, Arcadian, romantic piece, promising us a possible escape from our accelerated lifestyle towards a simpler life. That’s the beauty. And that's at the same time the problem with translation: every translation is at the same time an interpretation.

At school, the ever recurring question by the teachers “What does the author want to tell us?” nauseated me. Firstly, I think the question is moot, vain and arrogant: Who are we to pretend to know what the author was thinking. Secondly, I think the important question is: How does this piece of poetry burn inside myself.

Zam_franca (Å vise profilen) 2020 8 4 16:06:59

The poem you posted burns inside myself thus: Any day we might be forced to hide in caves again. For me, it is a reminder that the thin veil called “humanity” with which we cover our faces, is just a gossamer mask over the atrocious beast we refer to as “human”. It doesn’t take much to rip off this ephemeral façade and unleash the blood-thirsty predator hidden beneath. And the poem reminds us that every day and every minute we must actively take steps to maintain this self-imposed masquerade or else…
«You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty»

«Vi ne devas malhavi fidon je homaro. Homaro estas kiel oceano; se kelkaj gutoj de la oceano estas malpuraj, la oceano ne malpuriĝas»

- Mahatma Gandhi

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