A translation on the occasion of cousin Seth’s 50th birthday party.
Among the snake’s forms
and forms that search for crystal,
I will let grow my hair.
With the stumped tree that doesn’t sing
and the boy with the white face of an egg.
With the headbroken little animals
and the ragged water of dried-out feet.
With everything that is deaf-mute and languishing
and butterfly-drowned in the inkwell.
Stumbling around with a different face each day.
Original translation by David Backer.
Try this on for size:
HOME FROM A WALK
Assassinated by the sky,
between the forms that are moving toward the serpent,
and the forms that are moving towards the crystal,
I’ll let my hair fall down.
With the tree of amputated limbs that does not sing,
and the boy with the white face of an egg.
With all the tiny animals who have broken heads,
and the ragged water that walks on its dry feet.
With all the things that have a deaf and dumb fatigue,
and the butterfly drowned in the inkpot.
Stumbling over my face that changes every day,
assassinated by the sky!
FEDERICO GARCIA LORCA
Translated from the Spanish by Robert Bly
Your translation is too literal and didn’t “read” like anything by Garcia Lorca that I’ve ever read. Cousin Seth will no doubt appreciate the gesture, though.
Thanks for this. I read Bly’s translation before I did mine, though admittedly I don’t have a good sense for what Lorca’s poetry sounds like in general. I’ll have to delve more deeply for sure.
A friend has translated books by Polish writers and says there’s a world of difference between simply translating the words into the second language and maintaining the integrity and meaning and soul of the original work. You have to really know not just the language, but the infinite cultural meanings of the words as well, to be a good translator. I know I’m not there yet. I’m working on some of Neruda’s work and then comparing it to professionals’ work; even among them, there are differences that are too subtle for me to grasp just yet.
Completely agree. I’ve only ever attempted to translate writing when I have a palpable connection to the world that produced it. I lived in Quito, Ecuador for two years and translated a book of poetry by a living author there called “Peaton de Quito.” I walked around the city reading that book. I felt the book in the city and vice versa. At that point I felt comfortable translating.
Lorca’s different, though. On the train today coming home from my cousin’s birthday party I found myself arguing with you, giving you reasons for the decisions I made in this Lorca translation. Maybe none of this matters, but I don’t get to talk about translation a lot since I’m not studying it formally. (In this vein, would you feel comfortable sending along any of the Neruda you’ve been working on? I’ve read some of his stuff in Spanish and English and I’ve read a good deal of his autobiography.) You might also think I’m trying to defend myself as I write this. You’d be right. So, a couple things:
1) I’ll be attending Columbia in the fall as a graduate student, and I write quite a bit, so Lorca’s series of poems named after the university in “Poet in New York” felt real for me. I’m also returning to the US after living in Ecuador and the sights and sounds and colors of being in New York City are vivid in a new way for me, wondrous just as it might’ve been for Lorca.
2) The title. The word “vuelta” reminds me of the phrase “dar una vuelta,” which I understand as meaning ‘taking a walk around’ or ‘having a look around’ when there’s a festival or street fair or an exhibition. This is the first poem in the series that Lorca wrote about his experiences in New York as a young man, and I imagine him writing it either as he’s walking, caught in a fit of poetry, or after he’s returned to his dormitory, scribbling in bed about the sites he took in that day on his “paseo” or relaxed touring of the city. That’s why I rendered the title as I did.
3) “I will let grow my hair.” I didn’t want to copy Bly’s direct translation of the hair growing line, and reading the other poems in the series I detected a certain posing, a flourish in the language, that you can find even in that same poem with the exclamation mark at the beginning. This is coming from a young man in New York feeling the vastness of the city, a man who wrote to his parents that all of Granada could fit into three of New York’s buildings. There’s a certain release there, it seems. So I wrote “let grow my hair” because it sounds like “let go my hair,” like an exhalation, and it voices the flourish I detected.
4) I thought the “stumped” line was clever and gets at the image Lorca might’ve been intending in the second stanza.
5) I liked reading the poem as a series of compound adjectives (heaven-murdered, headbroken ((like heartbroken, but more cranial)), and butterfly-drowned). That’s just indulgent on my part, I admit. But that’s how I heard it.
This whole rant is indulgent, so I’ll stop here. Thanks for engaging me in this.
Beautiful piece… well done!
I hope you will take a moment to read my featured piece in Language Place Carnival, room 19.