19 dic. 2007

Here's a literal version of a Lorca poem I just did.

Blackberry bush with gray trunk,
give me a cluster just for me.

Blood and thorns. Come closer.
If you love me, I will love you.

Leave your fruit of green and shadow
on my tongue, blackberry bush.

What a long embrace I would give you
in the penumbra of my thorns.

Blackberry bush, where are you going?
To look for loves that you are not giving me.

Now for the critique: C. rhythmically there's nothing going on here. This is essentially a folk song: it needs to be set to music, and it is not presently cantabile. The original rhymes, with one distinct rhyme per couplet. My version just kind of comes to a clunky stop at the end of each line.

There are a few phrases or lines that might be salvageable in a final version" "Blood and thorns," "in the penumbra of my thorns." The version is literal where it doesn't need to be. I don't like the verbs "leave" or "look for." Would the bush really say "What a long embrace I would give you?" So here's version 2:

Blackberry with your gray stalk,
give me some berries of my own.

Blood & thorns. Come near.
If you love me then I will love you.

Put your fruit of green & shade
onto my tongue, blackberry.

How long our embrace
in the penumbra of my thorns!

Where are you going, blackberry?
To find the love you won't give me.

The tone and the rhythm are still off. The third couplet is still weak. It needs to be recast somehow. Lorca uses two parts of speech, "verde y sombra," adjective and noun. Shade is probably better than shadow. The implication is of a plant that grows better in the shade.

It's a courtship song. The blackberry bush is a woman (zarzamora), maybe, then, a "mora"? (Moorish woman). It's a childlike but very erotic dialogue. The man approaching says, "give me some of those blackberries." She seems willing, but the juice of the berries is transposed into blood. Her embrace is dangerous, maybe even fatal--though this is in the "penumbra" of the poem's meaning. At the end, the approaching lover is too afraid, and the Mora is going to choose someone else.

So how much of that does my translation convey? I feel I'm still at the C+/ B- level, yet I don't quite know how to fix it either. I can't make it more sexualized because that has to be implicit. You can't say "But you / are rich / in savagery— / / Arab Indian / dark woman" as Williams once did. (How embarrasing!) Spanish folk songs about Moorish women are not that crude. Think of "Tres moras me enamoran en Jaén..."


I looked at an early edition of Canciones today in the library and the exclamation point was there in the next to last stanza, as i had intuited in my translation. (It is left out in the version I was working from originally.) Of course it was syntactically an exclamation all along, so I can' claim that much insight: ¡Qué largo abrazo te daría / en la penumbra de mis espinas!"

There are popular songs with the figure of the zarzamora (blackberry), such as

"A la zarzamora
que en el campo se regaba sola
sola se regaba
con agua de la mar salada"

[The blackberry who in the wild watered herself alone, alone watered herself with water from the salty sea.)

In other words, she thinks she is self-sufficient, watering herself, but she is ultimately watering herself with tears.

13 comentarios:

Andrew Shields dijo...

If Lorca did not use ampersands himself, then they seem out of place here, making him into O'Hara, say.

But I will admit to having an aversion to ampersands!

Jonathan dijo...

Andrew: those were my homage to Rothenberg. Surely you noticed reading his translation of the Suites recently that he never uses the word "and"? Always the ampersand... It is a mannerism that marks the translation as his own. Since Lorca's "y" occurs quite often the & is going to appear on almost every page.

Mark Statman dijo...


You do well at commenting on the complexities of translating Lorca, who does not write n Spanish as you well know but who writes in Lorca, which looks like Spanish but is not Spanish (as Koch does not write in English but in Koch and I dare anyone out there to try and translate When the Sun Tries To Go On into Spanish, I'd pay for that, or even poems from Sun Out or, if that seems like too much of a challenge, New Addresses). Translators have to make decisions--look at Lynn Coffin's translations of Ahkmatova which are so respectful of Ahkmatova and form that they make her seem wooden and worthless, which she most certainly is not.

Pablo and I faced a lot of challenges in translating Poet in New York (your review copy went out in the mail today, I believe). But challenges are not the same thing as options, as I think you are suggesting in looking at other translations of Lorca. Still, one is left with decisions to make, for which one expects to be criticized, I suppose, but hopefully praised when the decision is a good one or at least intelligent. I don't think there are really any "correct" translations--just ones that make the poet that much more alive and vital in a language he or she did not write in, did not know, and did not expect to have to respond to in any meaningful way, which is one of the multiple challenges the translator does face (and which the critic of the translator--and the poet-- does not).

All best,


Jonathan dijo...

I think translators should look more at the process that textual editors call "versioning," I know the standard editorial practice demands the translator just reach a decision: it's this and not that. After all, the book cannot be 500 pages! But I'd much rather have multiple translations at hand as a reader than be handed a single book and told "this is it."

I'm tired of those translations that are so "respectful" that they forget why translation exists.

Andrew Shields dijo...

Homage to Rothenberg! I was actually going to say "Rothenberg," but since he is not the writer I think of as the "first" to start using lots of ampersands, I tried to think of someone who might have been.

Actually, that's an amusing question: who *did* introduce the ampersand into 20th-century poetry? (And a genuine question, as I don't know the answer.)

Matt dijo...

Andrew, did O'Hara actually use ampersands? I'm not sure he did...

Andrew Shields dijo...

A quick skim through the Collected makes clear that I imagined all those ampersands in O'Hara!

Mark Statman dijo...

Sorry for not getting involved in the ampersand and O'Hara question--I'm more interested in the translation one. I think Jonathan makes a good point when her talks about versioning--this is one of the strengths of the Ilan Stavans' edited Poetry of Neruda with its occasional multiple translations. Pablo and I try and acknowledge this in our intro to Poet in New York (a discussion of the use of the words chino and polo, for example) and in our notes on the poems (discussion of repetition and form, for example, and the word hueco which has always been mis-translated in every previous translation). But we also acknowledge the previous translations in our books for further reading. I was talking with Anne Waldman the other day, who years ago actually worked with Belitt on his Poet in New York, which she said she now knows is terrible but back then it was exciting that it even existed. Bill Zavatsky (who translates from French) has talked about every generation needing a new translation of any poet.

Of course, in a way I'm not sure how interesting versioning would be to the reader of poetry who doesn't actually know the original language--what difference would the differences make? And, if one can read the original, how significant is any translation, unless the reading of it is to provide commentary for those who don't know the original language?

Mark Statman dijo...

I should add that versioning is interesting to me as a translator because I like watching other translators at work and thinking about what I would have done in the same situation. But this seems like a small audience, which would explain why publishers would shy away from it (the cost could be prohibitive and really cut down on the number of writers actually translated, which, small as it now is, would be a huge loss).

Tom dijo...

I thought (thot) ampersands were out of the Black Mountain poets. Like yr and sd. Shortening.

Tom King

Jonathan dijo...

I think some of that comes to BM poetry through Ezra Pound's correspondence style, though I haven't looked at his letters in a while to see if he uses the ampersand a lot. The use of a typewriter is also influential (WCW). I still can't draw an ampersand by hand very well, but I can sure type it fast &&&&&&&&&

Joseph Duemer dijo...

Blackberry plants don't have "trunks," they have canes.

Andrew Shields dijo...

I learned about "canes" in blackberry plants from Richard Wilbur's "Blackberries for Amelia," a veritable gold mine of botanical vocabulary.