Monday, October 29, 2018

The Black Heralds (Los Heraldos Negros), by Cesar Vallejo

I am fascinated with the process of translating poetry from Spanish to English, or vice versa.  It is a challenge, which ultimately is what draws me in.  To simply change the words of a poem from Spanish to English is easy, but to capture the soul of the poem, that is difficult.  It is the job of the translator to not just translate the words, but to find the power of the original poem and to implant it in the new version.  The translator must choose new words that convey the old meaning.  That is my goal--I'm not saying I'm good at it--but I enjoy the attempt.  Following is my translation of "Los Heraldos Negros" by Cesar Vallejo (published in 1918).  The original poem follows a rhyming scheme, which I did not attempt to replicate in English.  I am not that skilled.

The Black Heralds
By Cesar Vallejo
Published in 1918
English translation by Kevin Wasden

There come blows in life, so formidable . . . I do not know!
Blows, as if hated by God; as if standing before them,
the surge of all that is suffered
pools within our being . . . I do not know!

They are few; but they are . . . They open dark ditches
on the fiercest of faces and the strongest of backs.
They are, perhaps, the colts of savage Atilas;
or the black heralds dispatched by Death.

They are the deep falls of the Christs of the soul
from some revered faith that Destiny blasphemes.
Those bloody blows are the searing crackle
of the bread that burns us in the oven door.

And the man . . . Poor . . . poor! He turns his eyes, like
when we are greeted with a slap on the shoulder;
he turns his raving eyes, and all he has experienced
forms a pool, a puddle of guilt, in his glare.

There come blows in life, so formidable . . . I do not know!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Poem 20 (Poema 20), by Pablo Neruda

While serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (1990-1992) in southern Chile, I began to hear of Pablo Neruda.  I had always felt a fondness for poetry, and Neruda quickly became one of my favorite poets.  Following my mission, I took a class at Utah State University on Spanish Literature, which I absolutely loved and which expanded my interest in Neruda, as well as other Hispanic poets.  Unfortunately, for many years, I haven't read as much poetry as I would have liked.  Recently, I have sought to remedy that problem.  I have been reading W. H. Auden, Edwin Markham, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and, yes, Pablo Neruda (although I admire Pablo's poetry, I have come to hold little respect for him as a person, in light of his treatment of his daughter, wives, and others). To better understand his poem, Poema 20, I set out to translate it into English.  There are many translations of this poem available online, but I avoided reading these before completing my own translation.  My version follows:

Poem 20
By Pablo Neruda 
Published in 1924
English translation by Kevin Wasden

Tonight I can write the saddest verses.

To write, for example: "The night is full of stars, blue celestial bodies that shiver far away."

The night wind swirls in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest verses.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

On nights like this, I held her in my arms.
I kissed her again and again beneath the endless sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.
How could I not love her wide, unwavering eyes?

Tonight I can write the saddest verses.
To know she is not mine.  To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense sky, now more endless without her.
And these words fall on my soul like dew on grass.

What does it matter if my love could not keep her?
It is a starry night, and she is not here.

That is all.  Far away someone sings.  So far away.
My soul is incomplete without her.

Hoping to bring her closer, I watch for her.
My heart looks for her, but she is not with me.

The same night that whitens those same trees.
We, we from then, we are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, it is certain, but, oh, how I loved her.
My voice sought the wind to reach her ear.

To another.  She will belong to another.  Just as before my kisses.
Her voice.  Her lucent body.  Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, it is certain, but perhaps I do. 
So brief is love, so long is forgetting.

Because on nights like this, I held her in my arms.
My soul is incomplete without her.

Though this agony may be the last she causes me.
And these words may be the last I write to her.