Saturday, 10 April 2010


The day before I went away, Dave Bonta posted at Via Negativa, together with a magical small video, a poem by Juan Ramón Jiménez, Mares (Seas), and his own translation. Here they are.
by Juan Ramón Jiménez 

Siento que el barco mío
ha tropezado, allá en el fondo,
con algo grande.
¡Y nada
sucede! Nada…Quietud…Olas….
—¿Nada sucede; o es que ha sucedido todo,
y estamos ya, tranquilos, en lo nuevo?—

I sense that my boat
has struck, deep down,
against some massive thing.
And nothing happens!
Nothing… silence… waves…
Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and we are already resting in the new life?
I loved this brief but infinitely evocative poem and also Dave's translation, as I often do. His approach to translating poetry, I think, is to go deep but not wide, to keep it simple and add as little as possible, just occasionally changing the order of words or phrases to keep or recreate the shape and pattern of the original. This approach, carried out with his own, both deep and wide, poetic sensibility, works very well for me.  This poem, I saw, was easy in a way and in a way very difficult to translate - a short poem of few and simple words, but infinitely subtle words. While I liked Dave's translation a lot, the more I pondered the poem the more I thought I might do it differently. I took it with me on the next day's train journey and came up with my own version. The spare words struck me, in Spanish, as studiedly laconic. So I tried to recreate that shockingly casual feeling by stretching out the words into colloquial phrases. I've almost never translated poetry and I think only poets can do so worthily. This was an enjoyable little exercise, though, in close reading, plunging into and playing with words.
I have a feeling this boat of mine
has run into something, down there in the depths,
something big.
                        And nothing's happening!
Nothing but this quiet... the waves...
Nothing, is it, or has everything happened already,
and here we are, calm as you like, on the new shore?


Dale said...

Wonderfully different translations -- especially given that you have I think very similar takes on the heart of the poem.

English all but forces you both to say the new... what? The new life? The new shore? And that brings marvelously to focus the fact that Jiménez escapes without even revealing that much. A new beginning maybe, the final shipwreck maybe. All we know is that we've struck something.

(I want to illustrate this poem with those old pictures of unwary mariners building fires on whales they suppose to be islands.)

Jean said...

I thought about 'somewhere new' or 'somewhere else', but the abstract is somehow more abstract, weaker, in English than in a Latin language and I was trying to go against that, the whole poem being a concretisation of the abstract.

Dave said...

Oh, that's marvellous. You see, I don't know Spanish well enough to attempt a more colloquial translation, so I'm glad you did this. I especially like how you handled the first stanza.

"New shore" is interesting. I had thought perhaps that "lo nuevo" had overtones from 16th-century writing about the New World, but I wasn't sure.

Dale said...

Oh, I thought you were both absolutely right. It wouldn't work in English, it would draw attention to itself and make the poem wordy and abstract at its climax.