Interpreting Borges

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
by
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.

A little taste of Borges

For a change of pace, how about a little Borges?

The Nightmare
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.

 

Garcia Lorca

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

I sat
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)

The Influence of Form

I have written about my approach to translation from one language to another here.  Recently, it occurred to me that recasting a poem from one form to another in the same language is also a form of  translation. Let me illustrate.

In April of this year, I posted my translation of the introduction to Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil.  The fourth stanza reads as follows:

The Devil holds our puppet strings,
He leads us through the murk and mire
Nearer to Eternal Fire
And makes us like disgusting things.

This simple verse  is shaped by my stated goal, which was to preserve the sense and the rhyme scheme of the original French.   But suppose we decide to express the same concept in another form , say, a cinquain.  Then we get this:

The Devil’s
Fingers pull our
Strings; he make us like the
Vilest things; he carries us down
To Hell.

By eliminating the requirement to preserve the rhyme scheme and changing the form of the poem, we have lost some detail, but we have gained a more natural progression of ideas.

At some point in the future, I intend to do further experiments with this kind of translation.

On Translation With an Example

Elsewhere  I promised to discuss my philosophy of translations.    First and foremost, my goal has always been to produce a satisfactory poem in English that represents to the best of my ability the meanings, nuances and rhythms of the original poem.   If the original poem has an underlying rhyme scheme, I attempt to produce that as well.  A secondary, but very important factor, is my affinity for the poet him or herself.   I have, in my time, tried my hand at translating three important nineteenth century French poets – Mallarme, Rimbaud, and Baudelaire.  My Mallarme translations all remain unfinished; I have one satisfactory Rimbaud translation, which I may choose to share at some point.   Almost all my translations are of Charles Baudelaire, and I have begun to reflect on what my affinity for his work says about me.

Baudelaire’s imagery is overripe; mine sometimes verges on the nonexistent.   Baudelaire was frank about what he called his nostalgia for the gutter; I have tended to suppress and hide my scarier emotions.   As I begin to work with the techniques I have learned from my friend and business partner Cathy Wild , who specializes in helping writers and other artists to bring out their full creative powers, I have come to realize that I have ripeness inside me, and that my scarier emotions can be turned into art,   We shall see in the months to come.

Oh, yes, and here is another example from Les Fleurs du Mal:

A Little Chat
(Causerie)

The sky is pink and clear – a perfect day,
But sadness sadness rises in me like a tide,
Which then flows out, and when it’s gone away,
–The stinging taste of bitterness inside.

You stroke in vain my swooning breast,
You search, sweet friend, for a hollow core,
Woman has sunk her claws into my chest,
My hear is eaten; search no more.

My heart’s a palace for crowds to wreck.
They drink and pillage, sack and kill.
–A perfume swims about your neck.

Oh, Beauty, scourge of souls, oh, work your will,
With your eyes of fire, shining like a torch.
The mob has left some scraps for you to scorch.

Another French Translation

This is my translation of the famous introduction to the Flowers of Evil, just as I wrote it some twenty years ago.   My goal was to reproduce the rhyme scheme of the original  ( so much easier in French) and to give the English reader a sense of the poet’s overripe imagery.   You can judge for yourself how well I succeeded.

 

TO THE READER
By
CHARLES BAUDELAIRE

Tr. Guy Conner

Drunkenness and error, stinginess and vice
Occupy our spirits and make us sweat.
And we feed on our oh-so-sweet regret
Like beggars nourishing their lice.

Our sins are stubborn; cowardly our regret.
Our vows exact a handsome price.
Our innocence makes the muddy road seem nice,
For we believe that tears can make us cleaner yet.

Satan, the Great Alchemist, from Evil’s bower
Enchants our spirits, makes them still
And the rich metal of our free will
Is vaporized by his magic power.

The Devil holds our puppet strings,
He leads us through the murk and mire
Nearer to Eternal Fire,
And makes us like disgusting things.

Just like the whoremonger who’s paid for the night
To suckle a poor martyred breast,
Our clandestine pleasures are carefully pressed,
Like an orange that has shriveled up tight.

Like a million maggots, swarming and packed tightly,
Our brains are filled with demons, and our breath
Breathes into our lungs that greater Demon, Death,
Flowing like an unseen river, groaning lightly.

If rape and poison, the dagger and the flame
Have not yet embroidered our poor fate,
There is a reason! We hang back and wait.
Our lack of boldness puts our soul to shame.

But among the jackals, panthers, monkeys, lice
The scorpions, vultures, serpents and the ape
The monsters crawling, screeching, howling, mouths agape
The infamous menagerie of our vice,

There is one of them, Oh, foulest and least fair!
Although it neither howls nor makes a fuss,
It gladly makes its environment a muss,
And with a yawn, it sucks up all the air.

Boredom! He smokes his hookah; it is the Mother
Of Dreams. Guillotines descend; his eyes are filled with tears.
You’ve known him, Reader, for, lo, these many years.
Hypocrite Reader! My Look-Alike! My Brother!