Beginning Translation

February 13, 2012 § 3 Comments

Last year I attempted some translation for the first time.  Having read Lorca in English and conscious of a gap between what I was reading and the wrought experience of what he referred to as ‘deep song’ (Cante Jondo), I worked to understand the original.  My Spanish is okay, but not good enough for me as a reader to experience the poems at the moment of reading them.  What I gained in the sounds and rhythms of Spanish singing to me, I lost in the labour of translation (of words and phrases, but also of the culturally defined symbolism and metaphor that gives Lorca’s poetry its depth and richness).

Over several weeks in the summer, therefore, I tried to get inside the poetry through translation.  That is, I managed to translate three short poems from the Poema del Cante Jondo.  It was a liberating and worthwhile process.  I quickly found that close adherence to the original made little sense, in that the music went flat and the pictures blurred, or disappeared altogether.  So I took a step back and began working as a poet, using both the Spanish sounds and the English ones they made, and assembling a poetry which in its production brought me closer to understanding the source work.  As a result, the process also rekindled something of the sound of the original.

Here is one of the poems (I can’t add accents using this template, so apologies), with a literal translation and then my own reworking:

Topico Nocturno

En la casa se defienden
de las estrellas.
La noche se derrumba.
Dentro hay una nina muerta
con una rosa encarnada
oculta en la cabellera.
Seis ruisenores la lloran
En la reja.

Las gentes van suspirando
con las guitarras abiertas.

Night theme

In the house they defend themselves
from the stars.
The night is collapsed.
Within there is a dead girl
with a dark red rose
hidden in her hair.
Six nightingales weep
at the window bars.

The people go whispering
with their guitars open.


In the house they hide
from the stars.
The night is in ruins.
In the house a dead child lies,
a dark rose clustered in her hair.

Six nightingales weep for her
at the window bars.
The men are sighing the truth
with their guitars.


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