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Indonesian poetry and translationBookmark

Learning area: English
Year level: Year 7
Country: Indonesia
General capability: Intercultural understanding

This learning sequence explores Indonesian poetry and translation. Students have the opportunity to interpret poems by listening, viewing and reading; explore poetry translation issues and poetry techniques; and develop inter-cultural awareness.

Key inquiry questions

  • How can one appreciate poetry from another country such as Indonesia?
  • How do elements such as sound, rhythm and repetition contribute to poetry?
  • How is meaning in a poem layered and what techniques contribute to this layering?
  • How does translation from different languages impact on the meaning of a poem?
  • How can learning poetry from another culture help develop empathy and self-awareness?


Chairil Anwar KesusastraanIndonesian poet Chairil Anwar

Acknowledgements

Image: Chairil Anwar, public domain

Related resources

Activity 1: Poetry in performance

In this activity, you will:

  • examine and discuss the meaning of the poem 'Aku' by Chairil Anwar
  • investigate three different versions of 'Aku' performed by young people.

Key inquiry questions

  • How can one appreciate poetry from another country such as Indonesia?
  • How do elements such as sound, rhythm and repetition contribute to poetry?

Task 1

  1. Watch the first video, Chairil Anwar 'Aku', and complete the following Thinking Routine: See • Think • Wonder routine:
    • Note all the things in the video that you see and hear.
    • What do you think about it? Why was the video made?
    • Wonder, or raise questions, about things you may not understand or want to learn more about.
  2. Read the poem below and use See • Think • Wonder to reflect on the poem:
    • Note all the things in the text that you notice.
    • Are there any repetitions?
    • Why do you think this is?
    • Does the language look familiar? If so, do you know any of the words? If not, do you have a reason to think it is from a certain country or region?
    • Wonder, or raise questions, about things you may not understand or want to learn more about.
Aku

Kalau sampai waktuku
'Ku mau tak seorang 'kan merayu
Tidak juga kau

Tak perlu sedu sedan itu

Aku ini binatang jalang
Dari kumpulannya terbuang

Biar peluru menembus kulitku
Aku tetap meradang menerjang

Luka dan bisa kubawa berlari

Berlari

Hingga hilang pedih peri

Dan aku akan lebih tidak perduli
Aku mau hidup seribu tahun lagi

Task 2

  1. Watch the second video of 'Aku' being read by Chairil Anwar.
  2. Use See • Think • Wonder and make notes on your reflections:
    • Note all the things in the video that you see and hear. What feelings do you get from this video? What images or sounds or camera angles give those feelings?
    • Why do you think this is? Why was it made? How does it change or add to your thinking from the first video?
    • This poem is very popular in Indonesia and many people present it. What do you want to learn more about?

Task 3

  1. View the other three different video versions of 'Aku' performed by young people.
  2. Divide into groups to reflect and discuss one of the videos using See • Think • Wonder:
    • What do you see or hear that adds to your evolving understanding about what this poem means?
    • If all these people are presenting the same thing, what do you think about the poem? Why might it be so important?
    • Do you have any clearer idea about what you think the culture of Indonesia is about?
    • How has your thinking changed after this last video?
    • What do you really wonder now and want to learn more about?

Activity 2: Understanding the poem 'Aku'

In this activity, you will:

  • examine layers of meaning in the poem 'Aku'
  • compare the original poem written in Indonesian to three different translations to investigate deeper meaning
  • conduct an analysis of other poetry for use of layering techniques, sound and rhythm, and metalanguage.

Key inquiry questions

  • How is meaning in a poem layered and what techniques contribute to this layering?
  • How does translation from different languages impact on the meaning of a poem?

Task 1

Like music, poetry is often used to express emotions and experiences. From expressions of love to outrage at injustice, cultures around the world have turned to poetry to communicate to their audience. Poems can have 'layers of meaning' – as you get to know a poem you can also see and understand its deeper meanings. This can be difficult when the original poetry is not written in English. Then a translation by someone who knows both languages is needed.

  1. Read the English versions of 'Aku' by Chairil Anwar (1922–1949)
  2. Make notes, and then answer the following questions:
  3. Indonesian
    Wikipedia
    IndoNotes Blog
    All Poetry
    Aku

    Kalau sampai waktuku
    Kumau tak seorang 'kan merayu
    Tidak juga kau

    Tak perlu sedu sedan itu!

    Aku ini binatang jalang
    Dari kumpulannya terbuang

    Biar peluru menembus kulitku
    Aku tetap meradang menerjang

    Luka dan bisa kubawa berlari

    Berlari

    Hingga hilang pedih peri

    Dan aku akan lebih tidak peduli
    Aku mau hidup seribu tahun lagi!

    Me

    When my time has come
    I want none to compliment me
    Not even you

    I don't need that snivelling!

    I'm but a wild animal
    From an exiled group

    Even if bullets pierce my skin
    I will still enrage and attack

    Wounds and poison I'll take running

    Running

    Until the pain leaves

    And I will care even less
    I want to live a thousand more years

    I

    When my time comes
    I don't want anyone coaxing
    Not even you

    The crying's not needed

    I'm a wild animal
    Thrown from the herd

    Let the bullets pierce my skin
    I'll still charge, aflame

    Wounds and poison I'll take running

    Running

    Until the searing pain goes

    And I'll care even less
    I want to live a thousand years more

    Me

    When my time comes
    No one's going to cry for me,
    And you won't, either

    The hell with all those tears!

    I'm a wild beast
    Driven out of the herd

    Bullets may pierce my skin
    But I'll keep coming,

    Carrying forward my wounds and my pain attacking

    Attacking

    Until suffering disappears

    And I won't give a damn
    I want to live another thousand years

    1. Read each version and highlight where the translators have made different decisions.
    2. Do a 'Think • Pair • Share' for the following questions:
      • Why are the English versions different?
      • Why don't they just look up the translation for each word and slot it into the poem?
      • Which version do you prefer?
    3. Using the same process of Think • Pair • Share, Post and Review, answer the following questions:
      • What emotions are being expressed?
      • Why was it written?
      • What is the message?
      • Who is it being written for?
      • What was happening in Indonesia when it was written?
      • Why might this poem be so important to the Indonesian people that school children and young adults perform it regularly as poem, song and video?
      • Which of the versions do you prefer and why?
    4. Read the brief Wikipedia entry on 'Aku' to see what the general opinion is about it. If reading this changed your thinking on the poem, in what way did it do this?
    5. Have a class discussion around these questions and review any of your responses to the earlier See • Think • Wonder experiences from the last section.
  4. You have now explored one poem of great importance to the Indonesian people. Independently answer the following inquiry question. Refer to any of the experiences you had in the last activities where you explored a significant poem, but had very little background and limited exposure to the Indonesian language. Answer this question in a reflective paragraph:
    • How can I appreciate poetry from another country like Indonesia?

Task 2

People are often asked what a poem means. Before offering an interpretation of a poem, you need to be aware of what is actually going on because of the way language is compressed to create layers of meaning in many poems. Knowing more about such poetic techniques will help you author an Indonesian poem in translation. How is meaning in a poem layered?

  1. View Layered Meanings from Dragon's Cave to find out what techniques contribute to layering.
  2. Working alone or in pairs, choose at least three poems from the links below. These poems are short and listed roughly chronologically with the older poems at the top. For each poem, you'll find links to the text and to a short biography of the poet.
  3. As you read, focus on one of the three aspects of poetry identified in the inquiry questions: meaning, sound and metalanguage.
  4. Use online collaborative software such as PrimaryPad or a Google Doc to record your learning.
  5. Use the online space to jot down notes, details and the answers you want to remember.
  6. Following the links to the poems, you will find the three main story features (character, setting and theme) and some related questions with two links.
  7. Decide in your pair who will focus on which story feature and which one you will share. Your teacher will help you skim the links' content for what is suitable for Year 7 to use and apply to the poems you read.
  8. In groups of three, perform each of the translated versions.
  9. Poems:
  10. Analysing poetic features: Use one or two of the poems as an example of how meaning is layered.
  11. Identify and highlight key words, phrases or lines that build meaning in the poem. Pay special attention to any repetitions of exact words or kinds of images so you can see if the poet is trying to build layers of meaning.
  12. Sounds: How does sound and rhythm contribute to poetry?
  13. Use one or two of the poems as an example of how the poetic device of 'sounds' are used. Identify use of sounds and how they repeat, build or give a feeling in the poem.
  14. Copy specific words, phrases or lines from the poem and identify what the poet is doing by naming the strategy or poetic device. Your work will overlap with the 'layers and sounds'. You will also help other students give words to the things they notice.
  15. As a class, share your learning by finding out what others have written in their PrimaryPad or Google Doc to increase understanding about 'layers,' 'sounds' and 'metalanguage' and how they work in the sample poems. Understanding metalanguage will help you to learn the most useful metalanguage in order to have a stronger vocabulary to describe how a poem works.

Task 3

  1. In small groups, choose one of the poems to focus on for layers, sounds and metalanguage, either one that you have already studied or a fresh one from the list above.
  2. Answer the following three inquiry questions as fully as possible, making sure to justify your opinions with evidence:
    • How is meaning in a poem layered and what techniques contribute to this layering?
    • How does sound and rhythm contribute to poetry?
    • What metalanguage describes how the layers of meaning are created in a poem?
  3. Use the Poetry Analysis Sheet from ReadWriteThink.org, which asks specific questions about how you read and understand a poem. By answering the questions, you are guided to an understanding of the theme.
  4. Print out one of the poems and highlight where you identify as many of the features as you can.
  5. Conclude with a solid paragraph explaining what you think the poet was trying to achieve with these poetic devices. Include answers to these three inquiry questions.

Activity 3: Translating Rendra

In this activity, you will:

  • translate and analyse the poetry of W.S. Rendra, nicknamed 'The Peacock'
  • conduct a webquest of Rendra's poetry.

Key inquiry question

  • How can learning poetry from another culture help develop your empathy and self-awareness?

Task 1

  1. The webquest's over-arching questions are:
    • How can you translate and interpret a poem from a different language?
    • How can you do the translation in a way that shows your empathy with the original poem and its culture, and also communicates something meaningful to you?
  2. Individually, in pairs or group begin by learning about Rendra, 1935–2009, who is influential in today's Indonesia:
    • learn more about Rendra's life
    • read a series of short poems with illustrating photographs
    • watch a short interview profile on Rendra. The video is in Indonesian and you aren't expected to understand what is said, but seeing Rendra in virtual reality will reveal his personality and style.
  3. Conduct research using the following links and use online collaborative software like PrimaryPad to record notes, details and answers:
About Rendra
Rendra and his poetry

Task 2

  1. Create your own translation of a famous poem by Rendra. The main task is to listen to the poem in Indonesian and then to use three different translating sites that will give you 'machine' translations. From these three versions, draw the best bits together, combine them with your own poetic sense of what Rendra was striving for and finally produce a translation of the poem ready for publication and performance.
  2. Through all this work, draw on anything learned or used in the earlier activities (PrimaryPad, Google Doc, Padlet, etc). Remember that you are not just translating words on a page, but you are actually creating a new poem, one that takes advantage of many poetic devices such as layers of meaning, sounds and other figurative language.
  3. Use the links below to complete the steps that follow the links.
The Poem
  • Paman Dobling – Text and Audio read by Rendra
Machine Translators
Instructions:
  1. Cast your eyes across the text of the poem. Notice how it is structured into sections. Look for and highlight repeated words and phrases.
  2. Listen to the audio of Rendra reading his poem. What emotion or feeling do you think he is trying to communicate?
  3. Drag across (highlight) the text of the poem Paman Doblan and copy it.
  4. Go to each of the translators in a different Web browser window or tab.
  5. Paste the text of the poem into the left window at each of the three sites. Make sure the window is either set to 'Indonesian' or 'detect language'. If the site doesn't automatically translate the text, look for a button like 'Translate'.
  6. Read through each of the translated versions a few times, so that you get a sense of what the poem is about. Try to feel the meaning and theme of the poem. Do not worry about unusual translations of specific words because translating from a dictionary by itself is not enough. Much of a word's translation, especially a poetic use of the word, depends on the context – how and when it is used.
  7. You now have three similar, but different translations – not of the poem – but of the words of the poem. Your job is now to use parts of the different translations to create one version that makes sense. You might want to start with the one translation that gets closest to the way you think the real poem is. If so, copy and paste this text into a word processor.
  8. Once you have an 'intelligible' translation of the poem, you have now become the poet! You got a sense of the poem from both the meaning of the translated words as well as Rendra's reading. Try to recall aspects of his life that relate to the subject of the poem that you want to include. It's up to you! Keep reviewing, redrafting and revising the poem until you are happy with it.
  9. Share your version of the poem with another student and help each other to make sure the poem sounds right for you – so it shows excellent poetic vocabulary, accurate spelling and correct punctuation to communicate just what you want. You and your partner may have to go through this proofreading and feedback process a few times. Try exchanging your drafts with other students to get even more feedback.
  10. When you are completely happy with your own version of the poem, it's time to recite it. Try an oral or video recording of yourself performing the poem or present it in class or at a special function.
  11. If you are very lucky, you may have a sister-school in Indonesia, and may be part of the Asia Education Foundation's BRIDGE school partnerships programme. If so, you can share or perform some of your poems with students in Indonesia through Skype or your websites. See what they think about the translation you've created!

Task 3

  1. Now that you can translate a poem from a different culture in a completely different language that you are not fluent in and you have gained insights into more of the key inquiry questions for this Webquest:
    • Write a reflective paragraph that shares your thoughts and personal insights about this question:
      How can you translate a poem from another culture in a way that shows your empathy with the original poem and that also communicates something meaningful to you?
    • Consider the process involved in the translating or about the meaning of the poem itself.

Acknowledgements

Image: W.S. Rendra public domain

Activity 4: Reflection

In this activity, you will reflect on what you have learned about poets and their poetry from Indonesia, and issues involved in translating from one culture to another.

  • Complete the following rubric
  • Join the questions and your answers into full sentences
  • Keep your reflections in your personal blog

Circle Yes/No and/or write comments in this rubric:

My pre-learning I am an Indonesian language student. Yes/No
I knew a little about poetry. Yes/No
I knew quite a bit about poetry. Yes/No
I had listened to Indonesian poems before. Yes/No
Activity 1:
Poetry in performance
I was interested in listening to the different versions of 'Aku'. Yes/No
Which performance did you prefer and why?
Activity 2:
Understanding the poem 'Aku'
The real Indonesian poems by famous poets challenged me but I liked it. Yes/No
Activity 3:
Translating Rendra
The real Indonesian poems by famous poets were easier for me after the webquest. Yes/No
I wrote an interesting poem. Yes/No
I performed and recorded my poem. Yes/No
Overall What aspects of Indonesian culture in the poems and in the poets' lives seem familiar?
What aspects of Indonesian culture in the poems and in the poets' lives seem different?
Now I understand why translating word-for-word from a dictionary does not always work, especially with poetry. Yes/No
My favourite experience in this unit was ...

Useful websites

About poetry
How to read a poem
About Indonesian poetry
Sounds
Metalanguage

It is recommended that teachers preview websites to ensure they are suitable for their students prior to use in class. Content accessed via these links is not owned or controlled by Asia Education Foundation and is subject to the terms of use of the associated website.

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