This is a rough translation of a line in Arabic poetry and I can't seem to find a good equivalent to it.

'Ones chest/bosom has straitened/has narrowed so much/distressed/heavied (no more room in his chest (seat of his feelings), there's no appeal for anything in the world anymore, this person has been crushed and has been subject to extreme hardship and rigor. He's had enough and has worn to a frazzle. Life has thrown a lot at him and burdened him with far more than he can bear.) Yet his tongue doth not utter. (Maybe out of self-esteem, he doesnt want to share in other people with his worries). Imagine your chest is so constricted, when you're distressed you try to breathe deep and what have you. He is so full of anguish but still keeps his tongue tied and confines his misery inside and keeps to himself. Has become a captive of himself.

'Ones bosom has straitened' is also used in prayer as in 'O Lord my bosom has straitened and I have sated, so do widen my endurance and lighten my worries, you are most merciful'.

I need a good way of translating this. Is there a good English saying in poetry or prose or anything? Any ideas are welcome.

  • 3
    You probably want to avoid "straitened" because most people are unaware of the meaning of "strait" and will understand it to mean "straightened." – phoog Mar 18 '16 at 3:47
  • In English, the chest is not the seat of feelings, but of breath. (The heart is the metaphoric seat of feelings.) So this is probably not directly translatable. A straitened chest is a tightened or narrowed chest, one pressed with no room for breath. In that circumstance, it would be hard to speak, so the yet is inapt. – deadrat Mar 18 '16 at 4:30
  • 5
    @jamesqf that's a fair point, but I consider myself to be fairly literate and I misread it as "straightened" several times before I realized what was going on. It is, anyway, something to be aware of. – phoog Mar 18 '16 at 5:05
  • 2
    I love the word "straitened" there, btw, although I did think it a typo of "straightened" until I read the body of your question. The thing is, if I am reading poetry I will expect to see uncommon words because sometimes there is just the perfect word due to meaning, metaphor or meter. So personally I like it that way. Poetry is supposed to be as much about the beauty of the words as the meaning of the sentence. – TomMcW Mar 20 '16 at 0:25
  • 1
    @KhalidItb Mina and I would like to know what phrasing, if any, you settled on. – deadrat Aug 13 '16 at 3:58

The closest English idiom I can think of is to be of heavy heart. It seems like the mood is melancholy and the behavior to be conveyed is stoicism. So something like:

One's heart heavy with a lifetime's woes, yet ne'er a word doth he utter


In William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Romeo’s observation that “she {Juliet} speaks, yet she says nothing is similar in structure to the lovely line you quote, but it has no image of “chest tightening” and its true meaning is subject to debate.
For example, in the annotation (granted, un-reviewed) next to Romeo’s line at the above link, a paraphrased version of the idiom “[His/her/your] silence speaks volumes” is given as a possible explanation of what Romeo meant.

Although, again, no image of “chest tightening” is present in that idiom, it does, however, directly address the notion of the possible significance of/reason for someone’s silence and depending on the context ...

[i]t can express lots of different emotions [perhaps even those caused by physical exhaustion] ranging from joy, happiness, grief, embarrassment to anger, denial, fear, withdrawal of acceptance or love ...

... which could perhaps make it relevant to your context.

(Romeo’s line with annotation from ‘Genius[dot]com’ and the quoted interpretation [with emphasis added] of “Silence speaks volumes” from ‘Gordon Training International’)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.