For this translation of Borges, I decided to start with the fact that the original poem (Un Ciego) is a classical Shakespearian sonnet. The decision to respect the form of the original poem when translating leads to a new poem that, while preserving the essential themes and sense of the original, adds and subtracts details for the sake of the form. I call this kind of translating “interpreting” to emphasize that a poem arises from the process that is both the original poem and a new poem in and of itself.
The Blind Man
Jorge Luis Borges
(interpreted by Guy Conner)
I try imagining my face
Reflected in that mirror there.
Would I see an old man with a trace
Of weary rage, or perhaps despair?
Slowly does my hand explore
My features – not so old in fact.
The vision comes to me once more
Of you as I knew you in our youth.
I agree with Milton when he says
That blindness is a state of mind.
Vision deals with surfaces,
I see images of a deeper kind.
But still, if I could see my face,
I’d know myself and knowing, know my place.
For a change of pace, how about a little Borges?
Jorge Luis Borges
(trans. Guy Conner)
I dream of an ancient king,
His crown of iron, his look of death,
There are no faces like that nowadays,
You sense his firm blade will obey him, loyal, like a dog
I do not from where he comes – Northumbria or Norway;
I only know that he comes to us from the North,
Close cut red whiskers everywhere;
Never have I seen the like;
Such empty eyes.
From what strange looking-glass,
From what wild sea-faring adventure,
Has this man, this gray and grizzled man,
Burst forth to oppress me with his bitterness?
I know that was a dream, and I treat it as a dream.
Day becomes Night;
I don’t know where it has been.
I chose Garcia Lorca for my first Spanish translation attempts, because of the many short poems in his oeuvre. Short poems, I thought, wouldn’t take long to translate and that would give me a sense of accomplishment. In fact, reading the poem and understanding the words has not been the problem, the difficulty has been to achieve a coherent poem in English without losing the flavor of Gracia Lorca’s exotic style. Here’s my latest attempt:
The flower of dawn is open…
Do you remember yesterday?
The moon is spouting cold dead oil…
Think back, think back to August.
I had expected to return to this blog with a number of essays on politics, but so far, I’m having trouble finishing the ones I have started. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, I am trying my hand at translation again, this time of Spanish poetry. I began by reading through the Complete Works of Federico Garcia Lorca, whom I admired greatly when I first read him in college (in English). It quickly became clear that, in order to understand many of the poems, I need to brush up on the history of his time (1898 – 1935) in Spain. Most of his poems are rooted in his historical moment (he was a major political activist) and can’t be fully understood out of context. I did find one short abstract poem (Claro de Reloj) that I felt I could do a sort of justice to, as I learned this new craft.
Hanging Out with Time
In Time’s green glade,
A haven of silence,
Of pure, white silence,
An amazing ring
In which the stars collide
With twelve black numbers.
What do you think, my Spanish-speaking friends? (Yes, I know that “Claro de Reloj” doesn’t mean “Hanging Out With Time”- it is not a literal translation)
It was only to be expected, I guess. When I was young, I felt affronted by the prospect of death; as I age, death seems , while still frightening, increasingly natural.
Death’s Blue-Eyed Boy
My father was certain
What would happen.”Like snuffing out a candle,” he’d say.
“Like turning out all the lights in the world at once.”
I have a different take on death:
I think I’ll pass
Into an alternate universe
Where I’ll get another chance
To do it right.
The following verse is from 1969. As is the case with many of the pieces I wrote at that time, I have no memory of composing it. It seemed to spring, fully-written, into my mind. I think is is a reflection of my state of mind at that time, which was that the loneliness I felt was a hopeless condition.
The floor is made of matted straw —
Enough to make his blisters raw,
Enough to make a catch-as-can
Pallet for a weary man.
At each new dimming of the light,
Begins a wakeful-watching night.
He gazes at the distant stars,
Checkered through the criss-cross bars.
His face seems old, or maybe tired,
The spark of youth long since expired.
He’s dressed in ragged, khaki shorts —
Large holes expose his nether parts.
Tonight, a woman with a pin
Tries to pick-lock her way in.
From her, a sharp, triumphant shout —
And, suddenly the gate swings out
The man runs out, and pulls up short,
A sudden wrenching at his heart,
He’d better take it stage-by-stage,
His only home has been a cage.
He squints at his new and larger room,
And makes out nothing in the gloom,
Nothing but a dreary night,
Somehow the outside isn’t right.
Is he free? Or trapped? Or who can tell?
He looks back at his former cell,
And slowly, seeming satisfied,
The woman locks herself inside.