Bilingualism, Language and Linguistics, Music, Third Culture

Can you really translate poetry or lyrics?

I wish I had another Norwegian speaker to help me out here, but I’m sure some other bilingual reader might have input.

I have loved this girl band from my home town* of Bergen for years. I’ll give you their iTunes and wiki page links below, don’t worry. I particularly love the remix by Souldrop which you can see on YouTube below this paragraph.  I have tried to spread the word about this track many times.


The track speaks to me about going ‘out’ in Bergen ca 1992. At least what it was like for me back in those ancient times. I sometimes try to translate the lyrics. The track is called “Aldri” – which is easily translates. It means “Never” and the direct translation does not really detract from the meaning on the lyric in any way.

It doesn’t quite hit the mark either. The translation is more correct as “Never-Ever”. But the so-called ‘correct’ … literal translation if you will … does not do the poetic, lyrical title justice.

I often have this feeling about translation. Being bilingual, I see a lot of atrocious translation. Sometimes it is so literal that it totally ignores the tone of the original. Sometimes it is so tonally correct it loses a subtlety that only the literal translation could capture.

Roughly speaking, the lyric is spoken by a girl who is sick of chasing this boy at the end of the night – “You’ll never never, never ever be mine.” She ‘searches through the city’s streets’, it’s wet it is cold, this is something she hates. Here is an excerpt of my translation:

I have to get a clue; Between us it is through; With my jacket out the door; Find myself another boy.

Original: Eg e nødt til å forstå, mellom oss e det slutt, tar eg jakken min og går, finne meg en annen gutt

The original has a spectacular rhythm that fits with the rhythm of the track but loses none of it’s amazing faithfulness to the Bergen dialect and natural rhyme. And ‘boy’ and ‘gutt’ aren’t exactly the same thing.

I wish I could translate this track’s magic, but I find myself inadequate. I hope you’ll enjoy at least trying to hear what I hear:

*(well one of my home towns, depending on who I’m speaking to)