Wednesday, December 03, 2003

A friend asked me what I thought of Tapscott's translation of Neruda.

Love, how often I loved you without seeing-
without remembering you-
not recognizing your glance, not knowing you, a gentian
in the wrong place, scorching in the hot noon,
but I loved only the smell of the wheat.

Or maybe I saw you, imagined you lifting a wineglass
in Angol, by the light of the summer's moon
or were you the the waist of that guitar I strummed
in the shadows, the one that rang like an impetuos sea?

I loved you without knowing I did; I searched to remember you.
I broke into houses to steal your likeness
though I already knew what you were like. And, suddenly,

when you were there with me I touched you, and my life
stopped: you stood before me, you took dominion like a queen:
like a wildfire in the forest, and the flame is your dominion.

This is from Neruda's 100 Love Sonnets translated by Stephen Tapscott of course.

I have to admit that any sort of analysis, either of poetry or prose, makes me squirm. I'd rather take things as they are and not dissect them. But I am fascinated by the art of translation.

I think a translation is best viewed as an original work of its own, an inspired variation of the source. A good translation is one that stands well on its own. The "best" translation may not even be the most faithful. A faithful attempt might be too literal, too grounded in the original phrasing, too clunky.

That said, there is not much to discuss when Neruda writes, as he does in another poem, "Beso a beso recorro tu pequeno infinito,/tus margenes, tus rios, tus pueblos diminutos" and it is translated as "Kiss by kiss I travel your little infinity,/your borders, your rivers, your tiny villages." That is almost word for word, rendered strong and succinctly.

In the poem up top though it might be surprising to learn that the phrase "I broke into houses to steal your likeness" can be translated literally (by me) from the Spanish as "In the empty houses I entered with a lantern to steal your portrait"

Here, Tapscott has made some alterations. Neruda didnt explicitly say he was breaking in to the houses but it is implied. The original "retrato" means "portrait" to me but "likeness" may in fact fit in better with the overall theme. Sacrifices have also been made to render a translation which sounds smooth in the rhythms of english.

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