“It is impossible to translate the poets” —Voltaire¹
“Simply type the words you want to translate” —Google²
This site was created to showcase Google Translate‘s amazing poetic abilities. The basic idea is simple: take a poem written in English, translate it into other languages, then translate it back into English and see what it looks like. The resulting poems are often silly or nonsensical, but they are sometimes surprisingly profound. Sort of.
Essentially, we’re forcing Google Translate to play the role of eccentric literary critic qua translator: while its translations are not always faithful either to the original poems’ forms or their apparent meanings, they may nevertheless have something to teach us about some of the classic (i.e., canonical) poems we thought we “knew.” These translations may also have something to teach us—albeit in a rather exaggerated sort of way—about the inevitably creative and deformative nature of translation. If nothing else, perhaps these machine-translated poems provide a worst-case-scenario glimpse of the posthuman future of poetry.
If you’re interested in this project, please feel free to read more about Googly Poetry. You are also welcome to submit a new translation. In any case, I hope you take a moment to enjoy the growing list of poems in the collection. Feedback is always welcome.