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”