The Blue & Gold

The Hidden Poetry of Google Translate

Ethan Rotnem

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Most people might think that Google Translate has only one usage: to translate phrases from one language to another. And while that is arguably its most important function, there lies inside a more clandestine usage, one which has multidimensional ramifications for every person in the world: Google Translate will write your poetry for you.

Have you ever been deep in your feelings and just wanted to pull out a Whitman or a Shakespeare? No? Me neither. Regardless, in the case that you had wanted to do so, I suggest reading a poem from Google Translate, an entity much more talented than those two lowly, ancient creatures.

Don’t believe me yet? Feast your eyes on a few examples:

Taylor Swift’s “Clean,” translated from English to Chinese to Somali to Bosnian and then back to English:

Original

The drought was the very worst, ah ah
When the flowers that we’d grown together died of thirst
It was months, and months of back and forth, ah ah
You’re still all over me like a wine-stained dress I can’t wear anymore
Hung my head, as I lost the war, and the sky turned black like a perfect storm
Rain came pouring down when I was drowning
That’s when I could finally breathe
And by morning, gone was any trace of you, I think I am finally clean

Translate

Drought is the worst thing.
When we grow up together, they die of thirst
A few months later, a few months and months
You still love the alcohol I carry, I can not carry it anymore.
When my battle is lost, my head is crushed, the sky has become white like a reed.
When I covered it, the rain slowly descended
It’s the last time I can breathe.
In the morning you go, I do not think I’ll clean it at all.

Ok, so it’s quite obvious that all of the translated together still resemble the song too closely to make them your own poetry. But if you take certain lines out, you might just find yourself capable of making art you never knew you could. Ahem:

You still love the alcohol I carry, I can
Not carry it anymore.
My battle is lost, my head is crushed. 
And the sky was white like a reed.
It’s the last time I can breathe.
I do not think I will clean it at all.

So, technically speaking, this has no meaning, but I can see a group of English PhDs huddled around it, trying to decipher any type of significance from it. And though I might not be able to find one, they certainly will. And that’s art.

As further evidence, let me translate Lorde’s classic, “Royals,” from English to Arabic to Filipino to Latvian to Igbo to Afrikaans and back to English.

Original

I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh
I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies
And I’m not proud of my address, in the torn up town
No postcode envy

[…]
We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair
And we’ll never be royals
It don’t run in our blood
That kind of lux just ain’t for us
We crave a different kind of buzz
Let me be your ruler, you can call me Queen B
And baby I’ll rule (I’ll rule I’ll rule I’ll rule)
Let me live that fantasy

Translated

I have not seen anything in the flesh
I have my teeth in a wedding ring
I’m glad I’m talking in a state of uncertainty
There is nothing more jealous

[…]
We do not care for you, we do not treat your relationship with love
We will not be kings
It does not work in our blood
This type is not for us
We see different kinds of machinery
To be your leader, please contact me with Queen B
The child will go to court (I will judge)
Let me live in this fantasy

Again, there are more than a few gems in this version that I can arrange into a poem.

I’m glad I’m talking in a state of uncertainty.
This type is not for us.
To be your leader — please contact me 
With Queen B.
There is nothing more jealous.

The child will go to court,
I will judge.

You simply cannot make this stuff up. My grammatical knowledge is just not geared towards writing in such a convoluted manner, and since poetry often requires such writing, I must use Google Translate from here on out to make my work the best it can be. I rest my case.

About the Writer
Ethan Rotnem, Editor-in-chief

Senior Ethan Rotnem is an editor-in-chief. He enjoys walking his dog, recommending music to his friends, and looking at cities on Google Maps. This is his third year on the staff.

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