Translate a poem

This workshop looks at 'Orb' by Estonian poet, Marie Under. This workshop is free to join, and open to all poets and translators, regardless of their level of proficiency with the original language. This workshop will remain open for submissions until 12 May, and then archived. All suitable submissions will be featured online, and one submission will be chosen for inclusion in a digital pamphlet focusing on Estonian poetry.

A literal translation is provided beneath, along with notes about the poem to help you create a version of the piece in English. We welcome all kinds of translation: from versions which cleave to the original and render it as 'faithfully' as possible, as well as 'freer' translations, versions, and responses in English.




Original poem by Marie Under

Maadligi, vettligi maja,
külgpidi sees –
laeni täis lainete kaja,
kajakad läve ees.

Orb oma ainsama lamba
õhtul koju tõi mäelt,
all poiste pilava kamba,
kinni pidades häält.

Istus ja nuttis siis hilja,
jalgadel merevaht.
Küpset ruugavat vilja –
põimis palmikut kaht.

Viires kas hüüdis ta nime?
Kuu kuldas lainetel tee.
Ühtaegu valge ja pime –
kaelas tal voogude kee…

Maadligi, vettligi maja,
külgpidi sees –
laeni täis lainete kaja.
Pisarad läve ees. 


Marie Under (1883 –1980) is considered by many to be Estonia’s greatest poet - she has been called ‘Estonia’s Goethe’. Her first collection Sonetid (1917) was a collection of sensuous love sonnets. Later, during the first Soviet occupation of 1940-1941, Under wrote brave and compassionate poetry about deportations and war. In 1944, before the second Soviet occupation of Estonia, Under and her family fled to Sweden where, without ever seeing her homeland again, she died in 1980. She was nominated for the Nobel prize in literature many times after the Second World War but never won, possibly because she was a political refugee.

In 2015 it was decided that Marie Under’s body would be taken from Sweden and reburied in Estonia, inspiring Maarja Kangro’s poem ‘Bones’ in the latest issue of MPT. As Marie Under is not widely translated into English, we asked Maarja Kangro to set a workshop on one of Under’s poems. Kangro’s first choice - a creepy, eighty-line ballad about a skin merchant - was sadly too long, so she instead chose this poem ‘Orb’, from the collection Kivi südamelt (A Stone Off My Heart), in 1935.

Please post your translations up by May 12th, and Maarja Kangro will pick the best one to go in our Estonian digital pamphlet.


It's not explicit whether it's a she or a he, as there's no gender in Estonian – not even in the personal pronouns. However, from some images (braids, necklace) one might deduce that it's a (young) woman, as back then hardly any men looked like that.

It is written in dactyls and has interlocking rhymes (ABAB).

The rhythm scheme is slightly irregular, the first and last stanzas differ from the middle ones:

1. and 5.
–uu –uu –u
–uu –
–uu –uu –u
–uu –u –

2. – 4.
–uu –uu –u
–u(u) –uu –
–uu –uu –u
–u(u) –uu –