The Hobbit in Esperanto, Chapter 5: Riddles in the Translation

Christopher Gledhill translated the text of The Hobbit into Esperanto, but William Auld translated the poems.

Unlike the poems in the earlier chapters, which tend to use words my dictionaries flag as "obscure" — I suppose we'd call them "+savant" in a feature analysis — Bilbo and Gollum's rhyming riddles just use common words playfully. They're perfectly matched to the English originals. The English

It cannot be seen, cannot be felt,
Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt,

becomes the Esperanto

Nevidebla, nepalpebla,
Neaŭdebla, neflarebla,

The rhythms are different, but the repetition turns both the original and the translation into eerie chants. (The construction ne...ebla is equivalent to the English

While Auld's translations have the same overall structure as Tolkien's poems — the same number of lines per verse, for example — he hasn't generally recreated the original meters. His poems often have a different number of syllables per line, say.

Although different English words are stressed on different syllables (in the sentence "He's a rebel and he'll rebel against whatever you've got", the noun "rebel" is stressed on the first syllable, and the verb "rebel" on the last), Esperanto words are always stressed on the next-to-last syllable. Furthermore, the last syllable is generally determined by the part of speech — so singular nouns always end in -o, past-tense verbs in -is, et cetera. That means rhyming Esperanto poetry has to end lines with similar types of words.

Auld takes advantage of Esperanto's endings, and its capacity for coining words, to create rhymes that are sometimes more complex than Tolkien's. For example,

Voiceless it cries,
Wingless mutters,
Toothless bites,
Mouthless mutters.


Senvoĉe kriaĉas,
sen-ale veturas,
sendente ĝi maĉas,
senbuŝe murmuras.

The Esperanto words have the same meaning as the English, but Auld gives them a little spin - krii is "to cry", but by adding the suffix -aĉ-, which makes it specifically a nasty cry, Auld can rhyme it with maĉas, "bites". Including ĝi "it" in the third line gives him two rhyming syllables instead of just one.

And I appreciate the hyphen in sen-ale, "without wings", to show where one root ends and the next begins. It would've come in handy last chapter when I was stumped by akrokulaj.

Written on April 25, 2016