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This is one of my favorite works of poetry, a bravura indictment of hubris and arrogance:
Who lives in the desert. For starters
High blood pressure
It falls on the author.
World Health Organization
Words for him in the letters of the language.
King of Assyria.
People know that there are those who work before God.
These stars are needed
This is one of the most expensive products.
You don’t recognize it? Well, it is a bit obscure because I translated it through 60 different languages using Google Translate, then back into English. Here’s the original:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
As you can see, this little game of telephone turned an exquisite verse into nonsense. This is lots of fun; there’s even a young lady who makes a living out doing it on YouTube.* But it shows that there are limits on what Mr. Google can do for us. Try translating the poem into just one language, then back to English and you get this:
I met a traveler from the ancient world
Legs stretched out and worthless stone
Stay in the desert. In the adjacent sand
With a half, deep vision,
Cold lips, crazy pressure,
Show that the sculptor reads these desires
Who found all these things?
The satirical hand and the working heart
These words appear on the veranda:
My name is Azimidia, King of kings.
Look at my business, my mighty man, and do not give up! “
There will be nothing in the next house. About expiration
Then there is the great devastation without borders and nakedness
Isolated and flat sand is far away.
The complex rhymes have disappeared, some of the lines have completely opposite meanings, others are nonsensical, there is no meter–the poetry is gone. I don’t speak Afrikaans, but I doubt that someone who did would think this is a great work of art.
Though I would bet that some person has actually translated that poem into Afrikaans and it has most of the power of the original. The poetry of Ovid, the Psalms, French romantic rhymes, Beowulf; amazingly, they’ve all been translated into modern English by real human beings without anything like a computer.
The information revolution has been a wonderful thing. I have an object in my pocket that is an address book, calendar, camera, photo album, flashlight, detailed map of the world, newspaper, radio, portable stereo, calculator, compass, level, tape recorder, alarm clock, and a homing device. I can find the date of the Treaty of Westphalia or the name of the bass player on the White Stripes’ first album in seconds. Oh, and it has a telephone.
It is such a powerful tool that its shortcomings are not readily apparent. Yes, it has a calculator, but it’s useless if you don’t know how to set up a calculation. If you can’t do manual calculations, you won’t be able to recognize a bad result caused by an incorrect input. You have a map that will guide you anywhere in the world, but what happens if you lose it or the power runs out? If you don’t have a sense of direction and a basic knowledge of geography, you are lost. I can use Google Translate to ask how long the pus has been draining from the wound, but it turns poetry into gobbledegook.
The people rioting in the streets have never known a time when there wasn’t an answer at their fingertips. Unfortunately, they’ve never been trained to do the calculations so that they can recognize if the answer is off. Their view of history has been run through Google Translate. After being translated into Woke and Politically Correct and back to English, the result is a bunch of mumbo jumbo and the word ‘racist.’
So, yes, the first poem is an indictment of arrogance and hubris, but not in a way that Shelley could have ever imagined.
* Here she runs opera through Google Translate:Published in