New in Collaborative Translation: ‘Half Life,’ by Gibran Khalil Gibran

A translation class at the University of Southern California, led by Afaf Nash, shares their translation of Gibran’s “Half Life”:

Half Life

By Gibran Kahlil Gibran
Translated by: Ciara Taylor, Emily Kennelly, Erica Behrens, Sara Watar, Tamar Fleshler & Afaf Nash

Photo from

Love not a half lover, nor befriend a half friend
Indulge not in the work of the half-talented
Live not a half life, nor die a half death
Choose not a half solution, nor stand in the middle of a truth
Dream not a half dream, nor cling to a half hope
If you choose to be silent, be silent to the end
And if you choose to speak, speak to the end
Let not your silence speak for you, nor your speech silence you
If you agree, express your agreement, do not feign your acceptance
A half life is a life you have not lived, a word you have not said, a smile you have not expressed,
A love you have not felt, and a friendship you have not known
A half life makes you a stranger to intimates, and your intimates strangers
A half life is what you reach but never attain and where you strive but never succeed
It is where you are both absent and present
It is where you are not yourself, for you have never known yourself
And thus whom you love is not your true soul mate
A half life is where you are present in different places at the same time
A half drink does not satisfy your thirst, nor a half meal your hunger
A half path leads you nowhere, and a half thought yields no result
A half life is a moment of weakness, but you are not weak, for you are not a half person
You are a person! You exist to live a full life, not a half life.

Students’ Translation Experience

As a small group of students enrolled in a first time-offered introductory course on Arabic Translation taught by Dr. Afaf Nash in the Middle East Studies Program at the University of Southern California, this was an exciting learning experience. We have addressed ourselves in this course to short stories, prose, and poems, translating these works from Arabic into English and vice versa.

One composition we enjoyed in particular is Gibran’s poem “Half Life,” in which the speaker exhorts us to live life wholeheartedly and pitch our aspirations higher. In translating this powerful poem, we faced a number of challenges, such as how to convey the meaning without straying too far from the original text, how to understand the message in light of possible cultural and generational differences, and how to keep the rhythm and natural flow of the Arabic rendition.

Using strategies such as analyzing the grammatical structure and working collectively, rather than individually, we arrived at translation decisions. The challenges of translation in general are many, and “Half Life” is rife with these challenges, but looking at the final product and recognizing the work that brought us there is a most gratifying reward. We are excited to share the product of our experience here and hope that students of Arabic find our work inspiring.

Afaf Nash, faculty at USC, Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. PhD in Applied Linguistics (UCLA), M.A. in Linguistics (CSUF), and B.A. in English Literature (University of Baghdad).