Translating a language I don’t speak

A few years ago, I helped a friend with a poetry project for her Spanish literature class. She spoke fluent Spanish, whereas I could barely count to ten in the language. Still, I agreed to help her out, 1) because I was up for the creative challenge, and 2) because she was my ride home for winter break. The assignment was to write a poem (in spanish) inspired by Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío. We decided that I’d do all the research and writing, and my friend would translate my work from english to spanish.

My research was limited to the english language and whatever translations of Darío’s work that I could find. What I found out was that he was a modernist poet who tended to write about social and political issues, naturalism, and eroticism, and many of his poems didn’t focus on a single theme. His writing was nonconforming to traditionaly literary styles, which was evident in his free verse and lack of rhyme scheme. So lucky for me, I didn’t have to worry about rhyming, which wouldn’t have effectively translated into spanish. Darío also wrote about mythical creatures, war, greek mythology and biblical references, and even broke the fourth wall by referring to the poem itself. He liked using big words and sometimes used exclamation points. Of course, I got most of this information from translations of his poems, and I’m not even sure if they accurately depicted his stylistic choices. Using these notes, I wrote a 12-verse poem in what I believe to be an adaptation of Darío’ style. I’ve included two verses, as well as my friend’s translation of them, below. 

Verse 3: Seas of green roll out as if to prepare the field.

The blood of the nymphs will soon stain nature’s carpet 

Poisoning the Earth, making Mother Nature wince.

Verso 3: el océano de verde se enrolla por la batalla

         La sangre de las ninfas se mancharán la alfombra de la naturaleza

         Envenenando la tierra, haciendo se estremece la Madre Naturaleza

Verse 6: In the distance, mountains shudder and quake

Quiver and shake

The sight of brothers killing one another

Brings them eternal sadness, they’d crumble into dirt if nature allowed it.

Verso 6: En la distancia, las montañas se estremecen y tiemblan

 El temblor y agita

 Las vistas de los hermanos se matando el uno con el otro

 Les da tristeza eternal, se desmoronarían en la suciedad si la naturaleza se permite

Still unable to speak Spanish, I’m not sure if her translation does my work justice, nor am I sure if my work did Darío’s justice. What I do know is that this was a rewarding, yet extremely frustrating, experience that I would be willing to try again. Next time, I hope to know a least a little bit of the language I’m translating.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.