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Thursday, December 11, 2014

What makes Vallejo Vallejo

One idea for translation is that the translation should convey "what makes x x." In other words, if a poet has a certain number of distinguishing characteristics, and these are on display in the source text, then these same characteristics should be on play in the translation.

Me moriré en París con aguacero,
un día del cual tengo ya el recuerdo.
Me moriré en París —y no me corro
tal vez un jueves, como es hoy, de otoño.

Jueves será, porque hoy, jueves, que proso
estos versos
, los húmeros me he puesto
a la mala y, jamás como hoy, me he vuelto,
con todo mi camino, a verme solo.

César Vallejo ha muerto, le pegaban
todos sin que él les haga nada;
le daban duro con un palo y duro

también con una soga; son testigos
los días jueves y los huesos húmeros,
la soledad, la lluvia, los caminos...

So, without even translating this, let's look for some characteristics.

The name of a specific bone (húmeros), where most poets would talk about bones or limbs in general. Vallejo liked very precise scientific names for things.

There's a colloquialism running through the poem, but it's not simply an imitation of how people talk, but a sort of "twisting motion." The reflexive verb of "me corro" for example. It means not, "I run" but "I accelerate." It can also mean ejaculate. "I'm in no hurry to shoot my load." ??

The grammar we taught in school would prescribe "le pegagan / todos sin que él les hiciera nada." He's mixing up the verbal tenses. (The poet already has memory of the future, in the second line.) The syntax is deliberately "roughed up."

There is a linguistic patterning: a use of six reflexive verbs in the quatrains.

The deictic situation, the here and now, is very front-and-center in this poem. The particular kind of staging of the poetic "I."

The rhythms scan, but are jerky. Enjambment is prominent. There are many pauses within a verse. It is a sonnet, but the rhymes are assonantal and irregular: AABB BAAB CCD EDD.

There is neologism and verbal play: "I prose / these verses." Soga is a rope, but also a whip and a noose. There's a verbal parallelism with two redundant noun modifiers: "los días jueves y los huesos húmeros" the Thursday days and the humeri bones.

So those are some features of this poem that make it Vallejo-like. We don't even know this unless we've read other poems by him. A good rule to follow is if there is a figure of diction, like asyndeton in the final line, that the poet has used it not accidentally.

Eshleman gets most of it right. He keeps the roughness but misses a lot of small details:

I will die in Paris, with hard dirty rain [with downpour]
one day I now remember. [why not already? That's the whole point]
I will die in Paris — and I don't run — [difference in meaning with reflexive verb?]
maybe a Thursday, like today, in autumn.

Thurday, because today, Thursday, when I prose
these lines, I have forced my humeri on [by saying "these lines" you miss the prose / verse antithesis. Why not "I prose / this verse"?]
unwillingly and, never like today have I again, [unwillingly for "a la mala": not as direct or foreful]
with all my road, seen myself alone. [missing parallelism between "me he puesto" / "me he vuelto"]

Cesar Vallejo is dead, they beat him [has died; the perfective aspect. Don't you think Vallejo used a particular aspect of the verb deliberately? Also, "they used to beat him"]
everyone, without him doing anything to them;
they hit him hard with a stick and hard

likewise with a rope; witnesses are [noose?]
the Thursdays and the humerus bones, [the Thursday days...]
the loneliness, the rain, the roads...

Is this too picky? There is no such thing, unless you think that what gives x its characteristic xness doesn't matter.


Anonymous said...

Gosh -- I haven't really looked as closely at these translations as I thought. I remember them as seeming more literal, less Anglified somehow. Maybe it is just this one.

A paper. There are tons of Vallejo translations now (as well as editions). Editions are a mess too but translations are a worse mess.

Jonathan said...

The version that appears in the Complete Poetry makes some improvements:

now is changed to already.

I don't budge

I have forced on my humeri (without unwillingly)

Anonymous said...

That's better, yes. I cannot stand bad Vallejo translations. I mean, by people who do not speak Spanish. These exist and Eshleman was a culprit early on (pre-Barcia).

Anonymous said...

Here is the guy who is working on translating the complete crónicas.

There is also this one who is apparently bringing out complete poetry in Japanese (with collaborators). http://hispanismo.cervantes.es/Hispanistas_ficha.asp?DOCN=9570

They are why there could be a translation panel although I do not know whether Matsumoto is an interesting speaker on *this* topic.

But anyway. My larger point is that it is soon time to brainstorm about the MLA.

Jonathan said...

Did you get my email?

Jonathan said...

It's tricky. How do you get that colloquial awkwarndess without being merely graceless?

Anonymous said...

That is the question. And in some of this poetry, the kitchiness.

Sent you baroque e-mail. This project is complex. Hope mail is comprehensible. I want to strategize by phone with Alan next week or this weekend & also with all those on my panel to give it a form. Hablaremos.