Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair (by )

I took it upon myself to translate the following into Lojban:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

I decided I wanted to aim for an idiomatic Lojban translation, rather than a word-for-word translation of the English (which would probably result in quite clumsy Lojban). However, this was a challenge, as it would mean making up new good-sounding idioms for things that I either didn't know, or hadn't actually developed as idioms in Lojban yet!

Here's what I came up with. There's plenty of problems with it, which I'll explain below, in the hope that jbopre will read this and suggest improvements. However, even if you don't know Lojban, please read on; I think you might find the breakdown of it (I give literal English translations of it) interesting:

.i .u'e re lo barda tuple ku se stuzi le cantu'a
.i cpana le canre fa lo se porpi be lo flira
noi .iiru'e lo du'u ke'a frumu ku
     .e lo du'u ke'a tolpluka turni cisma ku
   nibyti'i lo du'u lo zbasu ku pu te smuni
      le se cinmo poi lu'e ke'a za'o renvi
           zi'e poi fu lu'e ke'a xraci'a fi le na jmive
.ije rakci'a fi le zbepi
     fe lu ga'isai mi'e la'oi .ozymandyus.
           .i mi turni lo turni
           .i .a'onaidai ko catlu tu'a mi doi tsali li'u
.i zo'e bi'unai po'o renvi
.i lo .o'ebe'udai pinta canre ku po'o diklo le barda se daspo

Let's look at it line by line.

.i .u'e re lo barda tuple ku se stuzi le cantu'a

"[in awe] Two large legs stand in the desert"

So far so good, that bit was easy. I started with the attitudinal {.u'e} for awe, to set a tone for the whole poem, I seem to recall there's some syntax to apply an attitudinal to an entire span of text, rather than just one sentence, but I didn't feel inclined to look it up as I suspected it might not look very poetic, but I may be wrong.

.i cpana le canre fa lo se porpi be lo flira...

"On the sand are one or more pieces of a face..."

Again, simple enough.

...noi .iiru'e lo du'u ke'a frumu ku...

"...which, the [in fear] fact that it frowns..."

Continuing the sentence, we're specifying more properties of the face. The use of {noi} indicates that we're attaching incidental information about the face, rather than identifying information about it (that would be {poi}), which isn't always very clear in English.

... .e lo du'u ke'a tolpluka turni cisma ku ...

"...and the fact that it smiles in an unpleasantly commanding manner..."

This was my best stab at the "wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command". It doesn't really capture a wrinkled lip (I wasn't sure how to express that in Lojban), and I'm not sure if a smile really counts as a sneer, but I was having trouble finding many words for facial expressions in Lojban at all. I quite like {tolpluka turni cisma} as a "sneer of cold command", however; it's not a literal translation into English, but I think it captures the spirit well in Lojban.

...nibyti'i lo du'u lo zbasu ku pu te smuni...

"...together logically imply the fact that some creator did interpret..."

I think that's a reasonable translation of "Tell that its sculptor well those passions read", although we've not said that they're passions until the next line. In hindsight, perhaps I should have said {le zbasu} - the creator rather than some creator.

...le se cinmo poi lu'e ke'a za'o renvi...

"...the emotions which (it is a still-surviving symbol for)..."

This one sounds clumsy in English, but I think it's a valid use of {lu'e ke'a} in Lojban; literally, we're talking about some emotions, and specifying that we mean the emotions which a representation of still survive. Note the use of Lojban tenses: {renvi} means something survives, {za'o} is a tense referring to some event (the survival) continuing longer than you'd expect/hope, as in the English "Are you STILL eating?".

...zi'e poi fu lu'e ke'a xraci'a fi le na jmive.

"...and [still specifying which emotions we mean] which a symbol of is carved upon the non-living things."

I think this was quite a nice way of saying "stamped upon these lifeless things".

At this point, I discard the English line "The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:", because for the life of me I couldn't unambiguosly decide what it actually refers to. Does anybody have any idea? What "them" does it refer to?

.ije rakci'a fi le zbepi...

"And carved upon the pedestal..."

...fe lu ga'isai mi'e la'oi .ozymandyus.

"...is '[hauter] I am Ozymandius."

The attitudinal seemed appropriate. Note that we've opened a quotation here that lasts for a few lines.

.i mi turni lo turni

"I rule over rulers."

I could have literally translated "King of Kings", but it would come out as "Noble ruler-man of noble ruler-men"; and I think that the original intent was not so much a claim of nobility as a claim of ruling over others rulers (nobly or not), and the assumption that a ruler is male is just outdated. So I went for that instead.

.i .a'onaidai ko catlu tu'a mi doi tsali li'u

"[empathic despair] Look upon one or more events involving me, O mighty!'"

I kind of like how this came out, but I wonder if I should have been more specific than the hyper-vague {tu'a mi}, "one or more events involving me". {lo se gasnu mi} more literally means "the events I deliberately cause", but seemed to bulk out the sentence in a way I didn't like. Opinions welcome! Also, note that we have finally closed the quotatin.

.i zo'e bi'unai po'o renvi

"That stuff only persists"

I had some trouble with this one, as I started off trying to translate it as "Of all the things other than that, nothing survives", closed to the original English of "Nothing beside remains". However, this is kind of like making positive statements about the members of the empty set, which any logician will laugh at you for. I had to go and ask on IRC for help, whereupon it was suggested that I simply specify that the things I've just described ONLY survive, basically flipping the sense of the sentence into something that's a positive statement about a non-empty set. I'm still not entirely happy about {zo'e bi'unai}, which I've translated back into English as "that stuff"; it's a very vague statement. I could have tagged the broken legs and the shattered face parts as A and B and then said "Only A and B survive", which is precise, but comes out as far too academic and un-poetic. Is there a middle ground, I wonder?

Also, this sentence is demonstrably false; many things other than the face and the legs (and perhaps the desert would count under "That stuff", too) persist - the sun, moon, and planet also persist. In English, it's fine to make absolute statements like that with an implied scope, and it's a bit naughty in Lojban, but again, I didn't see a way of being correct without over-explaining everything in un-poetic ways.

.i lo .o'ebe'udai pinta canre ku po'o diklo le barda se daspo

"Only [lonely] plains of sand are near to the enormous ruins"

I felt this captured the sense of the original more concisely than the English, with the use of the attitudinal!

So, that's that. I'd be glad to hear of any suggested improvements from Lojban folks, and I hope that any beginners to Lojban find the above discussion of my thoughts useful 🙂

EDIT: A revised version now exists in the comments!


  • By John Cowan, Tue 11th Mar 2014 @ 2:08 am

    The phrase "The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed [them]" is the object of "survive", which in this case is a two-place verb. That is, the poet says that "those passions" (which is the antecedent of "them") have outlived both the sculptor's hand that replicated ("mocked" as in "mock-up", with a pun on the sense "made fun of") them in the statue, and Oz's heart that fed them.

    When Oz says "Look on my works", he doesn't mean just events associated with him, he means things he has made or built, perhaps a city on the site.

    "Nothing beside remains" means (a) no other parts of the statue survive; (b) none of Oz's just-mentioned works survive.

    While I'm at it, Horace Smith, a friend of Shelley's, also wrote a poem on the same topic: less great, but still interesting (and easier to translate). Here it is:

    On a Stupendous Leg of Granite, Discovered Standing by Itself in the Deserts of Egypt, With the Inscription Inserted Below

    In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone, Stands a gigantic leg, which far off throws The only shadow that the desert knows: “I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone, “The King of Kings; this mighty city shows The wonders of my hand.” The city’s gone, Nought but the leg remaining to disclose The site of this forgotten Babylon. We wonder, and some hunter may express Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness Where London stood, holding the wolf in chace, He meets some fragments huge, and stops to guess What powerful but unrecorded race Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

    Lastly, here's a third poem about a great statue, this one still standing:

    The New Colossus

    Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. "Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"      (Emma Lazarus, 1883)

  • By alaric, Thu 17th Apr 2014 @ 9:30 am

    After some discussion with John and others, I've finally settled on this version:

    zo ozymandius cmene di'e
    .i tu'e .u'e
    .i re lo barda tuple ku se stuzi le cantu'a
    .i cpana le canre fa lo se porpi be lo flira
    noi .iiru'e lo du'u ke'a frumu ku
         .e lo du'u ke'a tolpluka turni cisma ku
       nibyti'i lo du'u lo zbasu ku pu te smuni
          le se cinmo poi lu'e ke'a za'o renvi
               je prina be le na jmive
               li'e lo zbasu xance .e lo cinmo ruxse'i
    .ije rakci'a fi le zbepi
         fe lu ga'isai mi'e la'oi .ozymandius.
               .i mi turni lo turni
               .i .a'onaidai ko catlu lo mibyfinti doi tsali li'u
    .i zo'e bi'unai po'o renvi
    .i lo .o'ebe'udai pinta canre ku po'o diklo le barda se daspo

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