Learning about Indonesian language, history, society and culture

Month: January, 2012

Translation – Chairil Anwar: I (Aku)

As well as my own comments, I am also aiming to post a range of my translations of Indonesian works of historical, political or cultural significance.

I thought I’d start off with a poem by Chairil Anwar (1922-49). Aku (meaning ‘I’ or ‘me’) is one of his most famous poems and has been translated many times before. However, I wanted to give my own interpretation, and translating is a good language learning exercise too.

My translation of Aku uses simple language to try and capture something of the tone and flow of the poem. It is impossible to convey more than a little of the power of the original’s rhyme scheme and somewhat staccato rhythm – when I re-read my version I am struck by how flat it sounds in comparison to the Indonesian.

A caveat should be made about the first and last lines of my translation. In the first line I have translated kalau as ‘when’ where it could also be translated as ‘if’. In the last line I have translated mau as ‘want to’, but it could be translated as ‘will’. For me the meaning of the translation hinges to a significant extent on these choices, as they determine the extent of certainty conveyed. How far is Aku a statement of defiance, or how far does death and uncertainty creep in? Part of the enduring interest in Chairil Anwar is due to the possibility of such alternative readings.

Note on copyright: Chairil Anwar’s poems are in the public domain under Indonesian law as more than 50 years have passed since his death.


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 heard

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

Wounds and poison I’ll take running
Until the searing pain goes

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


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
Hingga hilang pedih peri

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


Introducing Indonotes

Indonesia is highly populous, geostrategically important and Southeast Asia’s largest economy. However, the study of Indonesia is very much a niche subject in Europe and the U.S. So I decided to begin a blog with the aim of making information about Indonesia a bit more accessible. Having spent several years studying the country in one way or another, I have come across lots of useful sources of information, and thought that it would be useful to share them. At the moment my aim is to post around once a fortnight, with a link, comment or translation relating to Indonesia.

(Photo: Street art in Yogyakarta, Photo Credit PWBaker, shared under the Creative Commons Attribute License)