Mangling Keats through online translation to get a cheap laugh

Had a lot of fun today putting the first verse of Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” through an online translation facility. Translating into Swahili and back wasn’t amusing enough for me, so I then ran subsequent English versions through Icelandic, Filipino, Welsh, Arabic, Afrikaans and traditional Chinese.

Here’s the original…

“My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thy happiness,
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.”

And here’s the end result, having been translated consecutively into seven languages and back again. Actually, I’m pretty impressed – it captures the gist to a certain extent, though I daresay Keats would have wanted to tweak it a tad. Anyway, well done,, for a sterling attempt.

“Pain in my heart, pain and numbness sleeping

my heart, I drank hemlock,

or reduce the number of poor color hypnosis

one-minute things – ward immersion:

This is not a lot of fun does not envy,

but happy for your happiness,

you, fairy wings and light the trees in some sweet plot

Beecher shades of green, less

[# singer summer], to reduce the diver completed.”

I wonder if the “This is not a lot of fun” line is the website’s plea to me to stop making it translate ludicrously old-fashioned English multiple times in order to get a cheap laugh; and go and do some work.

Pic credit: Tom Curtis,

(Yes, I know it’s not a nightingale, but I couldn’t find one. I’ll link to anyone who can correctly identify the chap in the picture. )

0 thoughts on “Mangling Keats through online translation to get a cheap laugh

  1. Martha Charis Shively says:

    Now what would be a real treat is if the translator could handle ASL and Signed English. There is a generation gap between those who were raised only with ASL and those who learned Signed English. It shows up in letter and business writing quite a lot. Those who learned Signed English learned the way the hearing world communicates, while those who only learned ASL use many short cuts. ASL users do not use articles or filler words as they like to call “as, in, but, the, if, and, or, a, be” just to name a few. This is most noted in the prison system. ASL prisoners and Signed English prisoners treat each other the way racial prisoners do.

    I just wish I could find someone who could teach ASL where I live, but then I would be the only one to understand it anyway so I guess I’ll have to depend on the old pen and paper when my hearing goes.

    1. Sue Fenton says:

      Thanks for explaining the difference between the two systems, Martha – I knew there were two but wasn’t sure quite how they differed. Fascinating to learn there’s a snobbery between users of the two. Is ASL the same as B[ritish]SL by the way?

      1. Martha Charis Shively says:

        No, BSL is totally different than ASL and Signed English. ASL and BSL also have their differences, just as spoken American English and British English have theirs.

        While ASL is predominantly used in most of the English speaking formats of the world, Signed English has many words that can also be used in the Mexican Language but that is not commong with most sign language. Most of the major countries have their own sign language which is particular to their native tounge. The Gallaudet University Library
        has a site titled “Sign Languages of the World by Name”. This site contains a list of 271 identified sign languages, dialects or other sign system used throughout the world.

        So while ASL is said to have gotten it’s start in Britian by some and in France by others, just like everything else we took what we liked of both, got rid of what we didn’t and created our own formal Sing Language. Of course we had deaf in our country long before we had sign language so they added their own signs into the mix to make ASL.

        This is probably more than you wanted to know, but it’s just a crash course on why ASL and BSL are not the same. The one thing about ASL or any Sign Language spoken in the language of the country, is that you cannot tell if you are talking to an red blood, blue blood, white collar or blue collar unless you look at the fingernails closely. No accent shows in the fingers.

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