I recently translated a poem by Hone Tuwhare from kupu māori into kupu pākehā. The poem in question is ‘Waipuke’ published in Small Holes in the Silence, an anthology of Hone Tuwhare’s work spanning his lifetime. The process of translation was an interesting one. Firstly, I am only a beginner speaker of te reo māori; for the activity of translation in this instance I did use a Māori-English dictionary as well as an English thesaurus. It was also an interesting experience because it felt like a strange kind of sacrilege. Hone Tuwhare is a Great poet; translating his poem felt as though I was rewriting his work, as though I didn’t think enough of it and thought I could do better (which couldn’t be further from the truth). Additionally, the first version of this poem, the one written by Hone Tuwhare, was in English (I covered the English version so as not to let it influence my translation or the Māori) which made it feel all the more like I was rewriting it. The Māori version was already a translation; it was translated by Patu Hohepa. So my version seems like an usurpation of the original, hence my feelings of sacrilege.

However, this can’t be the end of my wading into translation. There are many forms of translation and many fine points to doing it. Translation offers a new understanding, or rather an involved learning of the original. I know the poem Waipuke better now than I would had I only read the English version and left it at that. Questioning the use of each word, the context of that word and the choice of that word, widens the knowledge of the original. Further, there are other methods to translation and I am especially interested in cross media translations, such as poems translated into culinary dishes, or more conventionally into paintings; and limited focus or limited knowledge translations, such as translating the sounds of one language into the sounds of another irrespective of meaning or context.


For now, here is the original poem in te reo māori with my translation beneath it.


I te tua whenua
ua whakarere
e tākehe ana

I konei
i te mārama kūiti
ka pararē whakaharahara
te awa

I runga kāhiwi
e tohu ana au
e rua kapa whiro ringaringa taretare
pakiaka kapokapo
ana haurangi nei
e huna wāhi papa piriti tawhito
he tinana karereha
puku tetere
whārōrō kau ana ōna wae muri

Ka ui ahau
ā hea mā ai te wai
kia ngā pai anō ngā tuna?

E whiti wawe rānei au i te awa aini:
kia pā atu ki
tētahi whaea tūwai?

Swollen Water

The other side of the land
is struck by rain
water flowing.

the moon is narrow
the river calls

Over the ridge
I instruct
two teams of willow
shabby arms
clutching these drunk roots
stockpiling old bridges
an actual animal
hugely swollen
stretched alone, his feet back.

I ask
when will the water be clean
for the tuna to breathe well?

Will I soon cross over the river
to connect back to
a water thin aunty?


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