Word

by Ribka Sibhatu

Holy word
inscrutable essence
land of the wandering
woman!

Touch the daughter
who walks between
shadow and light
courage and fear.

Play melodies
that give shape
to the world
where she belongs.

Speak words
that emit a fragrance
and carry the soul
through time and through space.

The literal translation of this poem was made by Andre Naffis-Sahely

The final translated version of the poem is by The Poetry Translation Workshop

Notes

This touching poem, written for Ribka's young daughter, works like a charm that initiates her into the magical world of language.

Italian is a gendered language - 'word', 'parola' is feminine - and Ribka uses this to its full extent; a quality that, of course, is lost in English. In the first stanza, Andre's literal translation captures this by referring to the 'she-stranger'. We changed this to 'wandering / woman', which sounds more natural in English.

We realised that the verbs beginning the second to fourth stanzas - 'Touch', 'Play' and 'Speak' - are imperatives (commands) rather than the third-person singular (even though they look identical in Italian) and this helped us with the perspective of the poem: Ribka is commanding words what they must do on her daughter's behalf.

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