Poets in translation

jimenezThe other day at lunch a friend and I were talking about the wealth of wonderful poems in translation. Here is one, for which we are indebted to Robert Bly:

I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
And nothing
happens! Nothing….Silence….Waves….

—Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?

Juan Ramón Jiménez
translated by Robert Bly

The fascination of translation

I don’t know exactly why translating poetry is so fascinating. For me, it’s a way to work on a poem when I have no ideas of my own. The demands of translation–the fact that a literal translation just won’t do, and that you have to try to somehow capture the spirit of the poem without straying too far from the literal–is the challenge and the art. In some ways, I feel that all poetry is translation–sometimes I’m trying to translate my own glimmers of an idea, sometimes those of someone else.

A decade ago, when Bob Hass had his weekly poetry column in a number of daily papers, he printed a translation of a poem by the Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo. I’ve mentioned these columns before–they’ve been collected into two books, Poet’s Choice and Now and Then–great morning readings, both of them. You can find Bob’s original column on Vallejo in the Washington Post archives.

At the time I didn’t know about the column, and happened to read the one on Vallejo riding home on BART, chancing on it in an abandoned copy of the San Francisco Examiner.  Bob printed the Stanley Burnshaw translation and one of his own. Ed Hirsch, when he did his own version of Poet’s Choice, printed Robert Bly’s translation. Here is the Spanish: Continue reading “The fascination of translation”

A Sunday walk

We decided to head to Inspiration Point for a late afternoon walk yesterday. As we were leaving our street, we saw two tiny fauns and a doe in our neighbor’s yard, right by the car. The fauns were nursing. Though I’m not a huge fan of deer–those ravenous despoilers of gardens!–it was an amazing sight.

Then we walked the couple of paved miles up to the point which was unusually crowded. As we headed back down the trail, a woman coming up asked, “Aren’t you staying to see the eclipse?” Turns out there was a solar eclipse scheduled to occur in half an hour. This explained the crowds. But we didn’t have the requisite dark glasses, so kept on heading back down. As we came along the trail, a couple pointed out to us that where the leaves created a filter, shadows of the eclipse appeared on the asphalt. I didn’t believe it at first; the eclipse had barely started. But the crescent became undeniable as we walked through increasingly delineated moon shadows all the way back.

Continue reading “A Sunday walk”