Stellās galaxiāsque cano

Csillagok épitik-alkotják főképp a galaxist,

melyek fordúlnak diffúz s hideg gázmediumban.

Száz részecske jut ennek minden bő decijére,

tízszer több atomos hidrógén-fellegeikben,

s még százennyi a mólekulafelhők sürüjében:                                5

itt öt Kelvin-fok dermeszti az űrt nyugalomba,

íonizált teret százszor száz Kelvinnek a pokla

forral; csillagköznek a hidrogen adja a nagyját,

egynegyed részért héliumot illetne dicsőség,

minden egyéb elem apró részt vállal csak a térből:                    10

csillagszél s szupernóva mi nyújt nehezebb elemeknek

csillagközbeni tért dúsítani egyszerü módot.

Sok hullámhosszat figyelünk meg műszereinkkel,

innen nyert adatokból tudhatjuk, hogy a gázok

merre, miként s hogyan oszlanak el a galaxisi térben:              15

hogyha emisszíós s főképp Hα vonalba

botlasz hullámhosszon, amelyet az emberi szem lát,

tudd hát: íonizáltan hidrogén rejtezik arra;

centinyi hossza azon radióhullámnak, amelynek

hőkontínuum-sugarai ugyanerre utalnak,                                    20

míg az atomos hidrogen egy színképvonalával,

melynek hossza husz centi és egy (vésd észbe e számot!),

csillagvárosok kűlső részeire deritesz fényt

túl azon, mit szemed lát a galaxisok fénysugarából.

Végül az ezredméteres hullámhosszon a CO –                             25

melyet a szénmonoxid molekúlájának is ismersz –

húsz és hat tízezred méternél vonalával

hírnöke H2-nek, sűrű fellegeiknek,

s más molekuláknak, melyek (mint tudhatod azt jól)

centruma környékén gyűlnek csillagpoliszoknak,                      30

s tesznek eképp buzgóbban – hadd mondjam e szavakkal:

sűrűbben, tömörebben sokkal, mint atomos gáz.


9783540419273-0

I know, I know, it’s in Hungarian. Be warned: this is shaping up to be a multilingual website like this.

The text above is the Hungarian translation of the first paragraph of Chapter 2 in Françoise Combes et al.’s Galaxies and Cosmology.¹ Yes. That is translated from an astrophysics textbook, regardless of its looking like a poem, regardless of its being written in basically flawless classical hexameters, which it is, by the way.

This is the first of a we’ll-see-how-long series of posts, in which I provide a little bit of personal (sometimes even professional) context, background, and opinion on and related to some of my previously (or indeed, yet-to-be) published works.

The main idea was to mask the origin of the text, in a way. Clearly, this being a translation, I of course did acknowledge the source; in other words, nem próbáltam idegen tollakkal ékeskedni vagy ilyesmi. I mean masking it visually, by what the text looks like at first glance. Of course, “reading is a form of brainwashing,” meaning that when literate people look at any text legibly written in a language they speak, they cannot help reading that text. Yet still, there are certain layouts that are traditionally associated with certain specific types of texts.

Make it simple, aight? The two basic types of texts are poetic ones, which tend to look something like this:poetry layout

And then there are prose texts, which are more like this:

prose layout

The proposition behind this translation was that the way a text is structured, the way the text looks like, evokes a certain mindset for the interpretation of that text. With a piscine take on the matter, it can be associated with the question ‘How to recognize a poem when you see one?‘,² as posed by “America’s enfant terrible.” Through this Fish-eye lens (guess what, pun intended), we can see that by being embedded in a web of previously accepted and learnt knowledge, we recognize and interpret a text as a poem, if it is formatted according to our pre-existing set of formal characteristics, by just looking at it.

In this case, this gets particularly exciting when the Hungarian text is seen by someone who perchance doesn’t read or speak Hungarian, say, by someone who only speaks English. Our English-speaker could still recognize most of the letters. Some of them may have strange accents added, but nevertheless look familiar, which can lead our English-speaker to deduce that it is probably written in a European language of some description. This, in turn, may make them infer that the general rules and conventions regarding poetic texts in that unknown European language are probably much like those in English. At the end of this quasi-automatic chain of thought, which would run down in our English-speaker’s mind in a matter of miliseconds, they would look at the Hungarian text above and assert that it is a piece of poetry, or at least it certainly looks like one.

I’ll hear you out now.


¹ Combes, Françoise, Patrick Boissé, Alain Mazure, and Alain Blanchard. Galaxies and Cosmology. 2nd ed., Springer, 2002, p. 33. I originally used the 1st edition of the book, published in 1995, where this passage was on page 29.

² Fish, Stanley. “How to Recognize a Poem When You See One.” Is There a Text in this Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities. Harvard UP, 1980, pp. 322-337.

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