‘Translation‘ by Anne Spencer is a sixteen line poem that can be divided into sets of four lines, or quatrains. Each of these quatrains tells one narrative portion of a journey. Although it is never described in full, the trip the speaker and her companion are on is clearly one of great spiritual meaning. The poem does not have a specific, or consistent, rhyme scheme. Instead, the poem is unified by its general tone of wonder, and two line speaking pattern.
The phrases in “Translation” are almost entirely separated into two line sections, or couplets. It takes two lines to complete one grammatical sentence. If the poem was to be read aloud, this would force the reader into a structured pattern. You can read the full poem here.
Summary of Translation
“Translation” by Anne Spencer describes a spiritual journey undertaken by the speaker and her companion. She expresses a wonder at the “far country” they experience and the calm of their souls.
The poem begins with an introduction of the journey on which the two are embarking. They are traveling somewhere quite distant from their homes. It is a place they have never before ventured and ideally, will provide them with experiences they have never before had. They are content with one another, so much so they do not need to exchange more than a few words. They know exactly the depths to which the other’s soul is delving.
As the poem continues the spiritual importance of the trip is emphasized. The man expresses to his companion that his soul has been considerably lightened and his stress decreased. He has found peace in the silence. The two travel for a time before lying down in the sand and watching the protective stars overhead. They have reached the pinnacle of their journey. Their thoughts have moved beyond the common to the transcendent.
Analysis of Translation
In the first section of this piece the speaker introduces the overarching journey on which she and her unnamed companion are embarking. While it does not become clear at any point in this piece where exactly the two are going, the reader is able to assume it is to a distant land yet untraveled.
The first line gives credence to that notion in that it contains the speaker’s description of the country they are trekking to as being “far.” It is not going to be, and is not currently, an easy journey. They are not simply traveling somewhere new, they are “trekk[ing]” to a wholly unknown place. It is going to take a lot of effort, and perhaps force them to hardships they did not expect.
The only description that the reader will receive regarding the speaker’s companion comes in the next line when he is described as being her “friend.” It is just the two on them on this trip, no one else to watch out for them or keep them company. The type of trip the two are embarking on is outlined in the next two lines. It is not an outrageous, boisterous, or physically thrilling journey, but one of contemplation. The two hardly speak to one another as they travel, “deeper content was never spoken,” but they each know what the other is thinking as they walk.
It is important to consider, before reading further into this piece, whether this trip is literal or metaphorical. Are the two travellers embarking on an emotional journey, the aim of which is to bring them closer together? Or is it a physical one with a specific destination in mind? It is likely that it is meant to be a combination of the two. It does not matter where, or when, these travellers are, all that is of any import is the conclusions they come to and the impact the journey has on their souls.
The second set of lines emphasizes this idea of a spiritual journey. The speaker provides interior details about the state of her companion’s soul that show that a transformation was taking place. The man tells her at some point during their journey, most likely as it is reaching its apex, that his soul has been overcome with calm. The man has had a change deep inside him, there is no longer the pressure of the “anvil and strife” on his mind and heart.
The poet has chosen to depict the stress of life as an “anvil” which presses down upon one’s daily routine. It is inescapable, and far too heavy to move on one’s own. It has required a companion, a fellow traveler, and a new way of being, to lift his burden.
The speaker replies to the man’s spiritual change with a complex, riddle-like statement. She speaks of a “wooing” or mating, “kestrel.” A kestrel is a type of bird, specifically, a member of the falcon genus. In her metaphor she is describing the new calm he feels to that of a kestrel who, “mutes his mating-note / To please the harmony of this sweet silence.” She sees his change as being like the necessary halting of instinctive noise.
It is a person’s instinct to follow physical needs, but one must shut this impulse down if they are to experience any calm in their life. This is what the speaker’s companion has been able to accomplish.
The following four lines of the poem introduce the concluding thoughts of the speaker. The travellers have reached a place in their journey where they are able to rest. One must consider the dual “rests” that the two are experiencing. They are at the end of a physical day, as well as at the end of a mode of thinking. They have passed the stresses of life, to find peace way out in the countryside, or, deep in the backs of their minds.
The day through which the two have been traveling is finally at its end. They have earned some moments of respite and lie down in the “loose warm sands.” They are extraordinarily tired from the new patterns of thinking, and hours of exhausting walking. The peace they find in the night is somewhat magical in nature. They are in world that is more like a dream than like anything that exists in reality. The “warms sands” that are spoken of as being their beds, should make the reader wonder where exactly the two travellers have ended up. Landscapes of sand exists throughout the world. Sand is also a consistent metaphor for time and sleep, making their point of rest a suitable ending.
The air that surrounds the two is said to be “fleeced” with “particles” of sand. These particles act as a “coverlet” for the man and the woman. The air is so densely filled with them, it is like a warm, all encompassing blanket.
In the final lines of the poem the speaker contemplates the night until it becomes morning. The tone and setting continue to be mysterious and mystical. There is no easy way to describe what the man and woman are experiencing, but they have entered “oblivion.” The two have moved beyond the regions of the everyday, into a realm that transcend the stresses of life. The stars are filling the sky and feel to the speaker as if they are there are “guards.” They are protecting the man and the woman as they lie in the sands. Additionally, in these final lines the reader’s suspicious are likely confirmed. The man and the woman are in fact lovers.
In the final two lines the speaker describes the joy in her soul at the progress they have made. It “so leapt” that night as she prayed, that her “evening prayer” ran into her “morning song.” The two have become one, and time has slipped away. It has lost its linear progression and become nothing more than a thought in the minds of those who have not journeyed.