Translated World

My daughter before she knows
she is human
might be content
to nest with birds,
or feel in the likeness
of her blush to peaches,
the fruit itself plumping her cheek,

knows the languages of other animals:
chimpanzees and their kennings,
parrot talk like poetic refrain,
knows our garden and its flowers
without their name of tulips
that I announce,

Revels in the lawn, under the sky.
I ask what’s blue, what’s green?

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Translated World”?

Watching my young daughter learn language, from stringing syllables as a baby to her first toddling words.

What poetic techniques did you use in “Translated World”?

The music in the poem is created by assonance, the ‘I’ and ‘e’ sounds for example in “chimpanzees and their kennings”, by consonance, the ‘s’ sound that ends many of the lines: ‘likeness/peaches” is a form of off-rhyme.

Imagery or metaphor is at the heart of this poem, and rightly so because language is a kind of metaphor, words standing in for things, representing them. Similes compare one thing to another using the word ‘like’. The” likeness” or similarity “of her blush to peaches” compares the rosy colour of the child’s cheeks to the colour of peaches. And this is pushed further, the child’s relationship to the world is less filtered by language so the metamorphosis in metaphor becomes concrete, literal, and she feels “the fruit itself plumping her cheek,” as if the peach were rounding out her cheek, part of her, rather than comparing as the mother/poet does.

The poem ends in a couplet stanza, two lines, often used to close a poem, to bring its theme to a kind of conclusion. The two ways of knowing, the child’s and the mother’s follow one after the other. What the child is doing is reveling in the world, taking sensuous pleasure in it, that is how she ‘knows’ the world, through the body. The last line is the mother’s but it’s not the ‘last word’ about knowing. It is a question, the way we seek to know through language. There’s a tension between these two ways of ‘knowing” that the poem explores but resists resolving. Ending on a question keeps the poem open. A mother will ask a child to identify a colour through a thing, for example by pointing to a leaf she might ask the child what colour it is. But in the poem I think that this question is ambiguous. Another and rhetorical sense is suggested where the question is not meant to and cannot easily be answered; it’s the larger question that the poem asks about how we know the world, about perception and language: what is blue and how do we know it, can we know it without our eyes, without words, without the sky.

This is my reading of the poem now many years after it was written. It’s no more definitive than anyone else’s. I too can only guess at the ‘intention’ of the author at the time from the words in the poem itself. I cannot talk about techniques in this poem without talking about meaning as they are interrelated.

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