Harrison Middleton University

Try Your Hand at Translation

Try Your Hand at Translation

We’re excited that you’ve joined the conversation! At HMU, we want to continue the great authors’ conversations in a contemporary context, and this blog will help us do that. We look back to Aristotle and the early philosophers who used reason and discourse to gain wisdom and now we endeavor to do the same every day.


June 18, 2021

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.

Have you ever attempted to restate another person’s idea in your own words? Often, we listen to a discussion and get the gist, but when asked to recreate the argument, we stumble. At Harrison Middleton University, listening is key. We try to identify logic and reasoning behind someone else’s ideas, whether the argument is presented in conversation or from a text. When we fail, we ask questions. It is important to say that questions lead us to understanding, not necessarily agreement. Sometimes, arguments are outdated or ill-informed. Sometimes, time and progress corrects the argument. But sometimes, an idea is of such value that we cannot dismiss it.

When I truly struggle to understand or even see an opposing argument, or if an idea captivates me, I often like to restate it in my own words. I play with how the other’s idea fits into different contexts and how it can be addressed in a variety of terms. I find that this technique demands respect, courage, disagreement and agreement, understanding, and effort.

Recently, I have been playing with some of Milton’s poetry. For today’s blog, I rewrote one poem in my own words. Obviously, I do not intend this to be a masterpiece. That is a different kind of writing, though efforts in translation can certainly help develop that type of creativity also. I continue to work on phrasing while attempting to capture an essence of the original. Yet, I also want this poem to fit into a 2021 worldview. I struggled to recreate the majority of the poem, but particularly the phrase “Delphick lines.”

Through this exercise, you can identify potential paper topics, holes in your understanding, holes in the author’s argument, or clarify ideas and language in the original. Therefore, I encourage you to explore passages that speak to you. As for my experiment, Milton’s original poem comes first, and below that is my own interpretation.

On Shakespear 1630” by John Milton

What needs my Shakespeare for his honoured bones,

The labor of an age in pilèd stones,

Or that his hallowed relics should be hid   

Under a star-ypointing pyramid?

Dear son of Memory, great heir of fame,

What need’st thou such weak witness of thy name?

Thou in our wonder and astonishment

Hast built thyself a live-long monument.

For whilst to th’ shame of slow-endeavouring art,   

Thy easy numbers flow, and that each heart   

Hath from the leaves of thy unvalued book

Those Delphic lines with deep impression took,   

Then thou, our fancy of itself bereaving,   

Dost make us marble with too much conceiving;

And so sepúlchred in such pomp dost lie,

That kings for such a tomb would wish to die.

“On Shakespeare” by John Milton, rephrased by Alissa Simon

Why on earth would Shakespeare need

his bones honored under piles of stones, need

his sacred gifts hidden beneath

some pyramid or heavenly monument?

Dear son of memory, great heir of fame,

how will our weak display honor your name?

Yet to our wonder and astonishment

you built your own monument.

Slow, uninspired art withers

against your easy flow, each heart

receiving wealth from the priceless book and

Delphick lines that leave a deep impression.

Then, robbed of our own fancy

you marble us with so much thinking.

Now you are sepulchred in such splendor,

such fame and grandeur as Kings most desire.

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