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  • Seeking an Artistic Translation of Emily Dickinson:A Thai Perspective
  • Chanthana Chaichit (bio)

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[End Page 140]

proa chan mai mee waela ror kuamtaai— Because I could not stop for Death—
kaa joeng mee nam jai ror koi chan— He kindly stopped for me—
nai rot maa mee piang rao song— The Carriage held but just Ourselves—
lae cheevit amata And Immortality.
rao dern taang cha cha—prao kuamtaai mai reeb ron We slowly drove—He knew no haste
lae chan yorm tod ting And I had put away
rung parah lae kuam plern plerd My labor and my leisure too,
hate tee waa kuamtaai nun saen dee— For His Civility—
rao paan roong rain hen deck len soo gun We passed the School, where Children strove
rawang waela pak—nai wong lor— At Recess—in the Ring—
rao paan tong toong dhanyaharn— We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain—
laew paan duang tawun yaan lub faa— We passed the Setting Sun—
ryy ja waa—duang tawun pun paan rao— Or rather—He passed Us—
numkaang tum hai chan naaw yeark— The Dews drew quivering and chill—
proa aporn tee sai nun baw baang— For only Gossamer, my Gown—
pa klum lai—kor piang pyyn prae— My Tippet—only Tulle—
laew rao yood naa baan til doo meun We paused before a House that seemed
dung roi buam neu pyyn din— A Swelling of the Ground—
kearb mai hen lungkaa The Roof was scarcely visible—
luad laaj pradub—fung jom nal gong din— The Cornice—in the Ground—
nub jaak nun—laaj roi pee paan pon—tae Since then—tis Centuries—and yet
klub roosyg waa saen sun Feels shorter than the Day
chan peng tranuk waa maa kumlung mong naa I first surmised the Horses Heads
soo dean nirund— Were toward Eternity—

It is hoped that a translation might help Emily Dickinson be more appreciated among Thai readers. However, the translator has to face various problems. The first problem hinges on the fact that Dickinson's versification varies from traditional metric forms. The second problem lies in the poet's highly individual imagination. Dickinson's life was centered around a combination of abstractions including religion, philosophy, and her feminine response to her inner fancy. These abstractions obstruct the Thai understanding, which is primarily concerned with Buddhism, a religious philosophy of right living, right thinking, and self-denial.

The first and second problems lead to the difficulties in translating based on the vast cultural gulf between Thailand and America.

The third problem is caused by Dickinson's use of language, idiosyncratic punctuation and capitalization, which make her thoughts seem disconnected. Without accompanying notes, the reader might find it impossible to ferret out what Dickinson wants to express. [End Page 141]

The following is an analysis of one of Dickinson's famous poems of imaginative fantasy: "Because I could not stop for Death—." The analysis is based on the overall problems of culture and language. In addition, the art of translating Dickinson's poetry into Thai is explained. The discussion focuses on some specific examples.

I. Culture and Language: Problems and Solutions

The simplicity of the language in the beginning encouraged the translator, but, as the translation went forward, problems arose. The word "Death," which would appear easy, was actually a difficult word to translate into Thai. In the poem "Death" is the poet's imaginative lover, not only polite but also handsome. The problem is that the image of "Death," neither female nor male, could not in any way slip into the Thai language in such a way as to maintain the deep figurative meaning of the poet's fantasy. In Thai culture, death means death or the state of being dead, very frightening to think of. Never in Thai literary works has "Death" been described as a gentleman; nor can "Death" be conceived in a romantic, optimistic way. If there were any image of "Death" as a person, it would not be a mortal person, and not a kind of genteel Dickinson lover. In Thai culture, "Death" is sometimes personified as Yompabaan or "God of the dead," that is, not a human being...


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