November 11th, 2006

I know that I often complain about (bad) poetry, but sometimes – it’s true – a poem can say things that no other form quite can. If I could write a poem as beautiful as Jorge Luis Borges’ “Ausencia“, I would write such in memory of Simone. As a lesser artist, I will have to satisfy myself with the work of translation instead, and hope that I do not diminish the work with my efforts.

Absence by Jorge Luis Borges (translation mine)

I shall have to lift the vast life
that even now is your mirror:
every morning I shall have to rebuild it.
Since you have gone away,
many places have turned vain
and senseless, like
lights during the day.
Afternoons that were alcoves for your image,
songs where you waited for me,
words from yonder time,
I’ll have to break them with my hands.
In which ditch shall I hide my soul
so it will not see your absence
like a terrible sun, at constant zenith,
shining calculated and ruthless?
Your absence surrounds me
like a rope around my throat,

like the sea in which I drown.

For grins, and to show you just how limited my translation skills are, here’s Google’s run at the same text.

Absence by Jorge Luis Borges (translation Google’s)

I will have to raise the vast life
that still now is your mirror:
each morning I will have to reconstruct it.
Ever since you moved away,
how many places have become vain
and without sense, equal
to lights in the day.
Afternoons that were niche of your image,
musics in which always you waited to me,
words of that time,

I will have to break them with my hands.
In what depression I will hide my soul

so that he does not see your absence
that like a terrible sun, without decline,

shines definitive and ruthless?
Your absence surrounds me
like the cord to the throat,
the sea to which it sinks.

I read these at my writer’s group back in July. Several people mentioned that places publish translations and that I ought to submit my version. It went like this :
“You should submit that for publication.”
“I didn’t write it.”
“Places take translations. That counts.”
“Yeah, all sorts of places small presses, university presses…”
“Nah, really?”
“Yes. Really.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. You should submit this.”

Heh. It’s still kind of mindboggling. I can see why someone might hire someone to translate a work. But just sending out an unsolicited translation somewhere? That seems like crazy talk, to me. And you know, I didn’t write it. That’s the bottom line. But then, I was two seconds from thinking “I could translate all of Borges. I could fix the brokenness in the translations I’ve read of Ficciones. That would rock.” It has its appeal. But almost certainly in mending some words and sentences I would break others. Translations are doomed to be approximations, imperfect. As for submitting the poem, I think I succesfully undercut that by posting it here. Not to mention that you have to do your own work of securing the copyright. What a pain. So if I do end up translating all Borges’ work, you’ll never see it.

One of the myriad tiny ways Spanish is not like English : there are no separate words for “worse” and “worst” nor for “better” and “best”. Sometimes, you can say “lo peor” or “lo mejor” and convey that this is the single worst thing, but essentially, there’s not a lone superlative word like there is in English. Another way the two are not the same: I’ve spent long minutes trying to come up with the English word for when you put a half lemon on that little conical ridged thing and press down to squeeze out the juice, and I was blank. Is there not a single verb for that? Is it the generic “squeezed”? There’s no sense of wringing out in squeezed, no sense that you’ve stripped the lemon. How disappointing. I’m looking, of course, for the equivalent of “exprimir”. My handy-dandy Spanish/English translator tells me I’m looking for the word “express” but ugh, how inelegant. And were I to use “express” how many people would assume I was using it in the far more common “to convey” sense and not the “to squeeze out the juice” sense?

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