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Lost in Translation - Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle”

I have learned some time ago that original and translated works are two completely different things and often, if not always, the original conveys something that escapes the translation. I enjoy nowadays reading in original books that I once read in Polish.

Over my short stay in Poland I had a chance to catch up with my older sister. We always got on very well and one evening while we were sitting in my dad’s favourite pub in the clouds of the cigarette smoke she quoted Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle” and I liked it so much I wrote the quote down.
It said:

“Co to za kuchnia
Skoro brak w niej rzeczy
Najpotrzebniejszej, ważniejszej niż wszystko?
Muszę mieć taki pojemnik na śmieci,
W którym się zmieści cała rzeczywistość.”

I loved it. I thought; hold on, this is just a Polish translation. The original must be even better.

I spent some time today to find out which chapter the quote came from and to locate it on the web in English. I found the quote in original and… I was disappointed.

“I have a kitchen.
But it is not a complete kitchen.
I will not be truly gay
Until I have a
Dispose-all.”

Even if you don’t know Polish, just by comparing the two quotes visually you will notice there is something terribly wrong. It felt… dry. It lacked the music and the rich rhythm of the translated quote.

Well. The wordplay from the original didn’t find it’s way to the translation (no surprise) and neither did the true sharpness of the verse. But the translation still was somehow better, more pleasing.

If I would have translated the Polish translation back to English it would become something like:

What is this kitchen?
Since it lacks the thing
Most needed, most important of all
I need to have such a large bin
That would contain the whole world.

Sadly, I have to say, being original doesn’t mean that you’re better. Sometimes it’s better to lose a little and gain a little in the translation.

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