The Trick to Translating

In the past few months, whenever I’ve been able to grab a few minutes, I’ve worked on some Filipino songs for Acid42. Things I’ve realized: composing lyrics and music in Filipino is pure gut feel. You create using your gut and the end result usually comes out strangely honest. You can’t hide behind fancy twists of phrase. Or at least, I can’t. And because I haven’t written in Filipino in years, it felt strange at first. But afterwards, it just started flowing more naturally than ever. Liberating, yes.

Except, how do you translate it to English without losing the rhyme or original flavor? Not that easy. You can’t simply do a word-for-word “formal equivalency” translation and expect the essence of the song to be understood. You need to bring some more context that may not have been obvious in the original material into the translation. Things such as mood can thus be expressed. And idiomatic phrases given more context.

Below are some attempts at translating the Filipino lyrics to my 2 newest songs into English in order that a more international audience can follow along.

LUPAIN NG PANGARAP (LAND OF DREAMS)
by Lionel Valdellon [2008-09-11]

1
Naghihintay pa rin ng bus (Still waiting for the bus, alone)
Ako ay naghihikahos (I am still wanting, and I groan)
Malamig na ang hangin (The wind is cold and biting)
Nag-hiyelo ang hangarin (Ambitions freeze like icing)
Pati pangarap ko’y ubos. (And even dreams have turned to stone)

Mga dahon dumidilaw (The leaves are yellowing again)
Umiikli pati araw (The days are shorter and mundane)
Usok paikot-ikot (Pollution all around me)
Ang bus pasikot-sikot (The bus runs mazes tightly.)
Nabihag ang aking sigaw. (I shout alone, inside my brain.)

REFRAIN
Eto na ba’ng lupain ng pangarap? (Is this the land where all dreams can come true?)
Dito na ba tayo magsisikap? (Is this now where we labor, me and you?)
Nasaan na ang kinukwento nga nilang: (Is this the place where they promise us that)
May ginto sa bawat kanto, (Every corner, gold is flowing)
Gamit mo –lahat ay bago (All you own is new and running)
Masaya lahat ng taong (People are ecstatic, chasing)
Humahabol sa anino. (Shadows and their hollow feelings.)

2.
Nagtatrabaho tuwing gabi (So every night I work away)
Nakakulong sa ‘sang tabi (Chained to my desk, slave to my pay)
Tagapindot ng letra, (I press the keys like Samson)
Alipin ng sistem, (Though I’m enslaved to Mammon)
Nakakadena ang labi. (I seal my lips, avert my gaze.)

Parati lamang ganito: (And this is how it always ends)
Tinitipid ang sweldo ko. (Somehow the money’s always spent)
Sa ‘yo paa ng kuwago (You hold the “paw of monkey”)
Sa ‘kin puntod na bago (I hold a grave that’s empty)
Sa pagitan laging bagyo. (Between us: thunderstorms and winds.)

REFRAIN
Eto na ba’ng lupain ng pangarap? (Is this the land where all dreams can come true?)
Dito na ba tayo magsisikap? (Is this now where we labor, me and you?)
Bakit pa ba tayo naghihirap? (Why in the world do we break our backs when)
Ngalan ng siyudad ay santo (Every city’s named for angels)
Ang nakatira’y demonyo (Every citizen’s a devil)
Ginagamit lang ang tao (Finding joy in using people)
Gantimpala ay anino. (Their reward: a shadowed evil. )

BRIDGE:
Pangarap mo’y wala rito. (Your dreams were never really here)
Kalahi mo’y mga bigo. (Your people are enslaved in fear)
Mabubusog ka ba rito? (You’ll never get your fill round here)
Hangarin mo’y walang anyo. (Your dreams are shapeless and unclear)

SA WAKAS (FINALLY)
by Lionel Valdellon (Acid42) [20080910]

1.
Sa wakas [Finally]
Naklaro ang bakas [The path has been made clear]
Nagkaroong daan [The road has now appeared]
Patungo kung saan [The path that leads me to…]
Ka ngayon [Where you are.]
Eto na’ng panahon [This is the season when]
Magiging tunay na [We can proclaim a true]
Ating pagsasama [Union between us two]

REFRAIN
Dati naro’n tayong dalawa [Once upon a time, we were apart]
Pinaghiwalay ng tadhana [Separated by the hand of fate.]

2
Naro’n ka, nag-iisa pa ba? [There you were. Are you alone right now?]
Anong pagbabago [What are the changes you ]
Ang hinahanap mo [Keep searching for in you?]
Nariyan ka: [There you are.]
Kamusta ka na ba? [I’m asking: how are you?]
Napatahimik ka. [You answer – silently]
Ginulat ba kita? [Did I surprise you? ]

REFRAIN
Dati naro’n tayong dalawa [Once upon a time, we were apart]
Pinaghiwalay ng tadhana [Separated by the hand of fate.]

3
Ang landas nati’y minamalas [Our path is an unlucky one.]
Ang tagal ng hintay: [The wait has been severe]
Mga manlalakbay. [We are still pilgrims here. ]
Nawala pati ang maskara. [And we lost even the masks we wore]
Nasan na ang daan? [Where is the road we’re on?]
Di ko na malaman. [All is confusion.]

REFRAIN
Narito ako sa tabi mo [I am here right now, just beside you.]
Bakit pa kailangan magbago? [What is there to change, what must I do?]
Ang hinihintay nating dal’wa [Everything we’ve waited for is here.]
Nakamit na dapat masaya [Why are we still drowning in our tears?]

Dati naro’n tayong dalawa [Once upon a time, we were apart]
Pinaghiwalay ng tadhana [Separated by the hand of fate.]

CODA:
Sa wakas naririto ako [Finally, I find myself with you ]
Sa wakas magkasama tayo [Finally together — just us two]

3 thoughts on “The Trick to Translating

  1. I read Robert Pinsky’s translation of The Inferno when I had to read it for my Lit class and although I loved his translation I cannot find any translations of Purgatorio or Paradisio done by him.

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