Once

This was one of the most difficult songs to translate so far, because the original Hungarian poem plays with ‘Egyszeregy’ which means 1*1 and is the common name for the multiplication table, is used to express what ‘easy as ABC’ is in English, and means ‘Once upon’ at the same time. I could have used ‘one time’ in English as well but it doesn’t invoke multiplying that strongly, plus it’s rhytmically off. I could have used the ABC and go for literacy instead of math, but the rhytm isn’t good either. Plus in Hungarian this little story is about the fairies who go over the ‘Glass mountain’ which is the mythical location of fairy tales in Hungarian but doesn’t exist in English and the best substitute that came to my mind was ‘oves the rainbow’. But as you may guess, that doesn’t fit rhytmically either (plus there aren’t any proper rhymes to rainbow, let alone 6 or 7 that is needed for this song). In Hungarian, the tales start like this: “Once upon a time, over the Operenzia sea and the glass mountain, where the curt tailed piggies dig…”.  Does English have something like that that? Since I couldn’t find anything, I decided to keep the little mathemathical connotation and the message: “Don’t give up, try again!”. And here’s the result:

Once a shy
butterfly
chose to learn to
multiply
he sang his folks
a lullaby
and donned his sunday
best: a tie
he went to join a
junior high
and when his apply
was denied
he didn’t cry
or ask me why
he had to just retry.

If you are that butterfly
and you aim for the sky
you’ll fly

(translation from Béla Rigó – Péter Huzella School of fairies – Tündériskola)

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4 thoughts on “Once

  1. Köszönöm szépen! What a delightful blog! I have been trying to learn some Hungarian vocabulary, and now you’ve taught me that egyszeregy means multiplication table. (Mathematics is one of my favorite things.) I’d love to try to read the poem in Hungarian. Was lepke or pillango used in the original?

    • Hi Ivassalay,

      I’m so glad you enjoyed my blog! How come you’re trying to learn Hungarian? The original rhyme used neither lepke nor pillangó, it talks about fairies. I guess this particular song cannot be called a translation, it’s rewritten to fit to the song and the theme, that’s all. Maybe I give it another go and try to stay more true to the original version. But here’s the original which is also very cute and might help you with your Hungarian studies :).

      Egyszer egy Üveghegy
      Ha csalogat csak eredj
      Látod, más is arra megy
      De te sose tülekedj!
      Hegytetőre keveredj,
      akár le is heveredj,
      S ha lecsúszol, egyre megy,
      El ne keseredj!

      Egyszeregy egy se több mint,
      egyszeregy egy se több mint
      Egy!

  2. Reblogged this on Find the Factors and commented:
    I very much enjoyed going to the school of fairies today where even butterflies can learn to multiply. The author translates a sweet poem from Hungarian into English. I hope you will remember the poem’s encouraging words whenever you try to solve one of my multiplication table puzzles or any other task that challenges you in life.

  3. Although my husband doesn’t speak Hungarian, his parents did and all of his ancestors. I visited Hungary two years ago. Someday I want to return, and I hope that I will understand what people are saying better.
    I really like both the original and your translation. I recognized many of the words. I know it is VERY difficult to keep the meaning of a poem or song while maintaining rhythm and rhyme. Thank you for sharing both with me! I look forward to reading more.

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