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Friday, May 26, 2017


Although Borges praises one line Roy Campbell's translation, or actually just one part of a line ("when all my house was hushed") the rest of it does not live up to a high standard. Consider this:

¿Por qué, pues has llagado
A aqueste corazón, no le sanaste?
Y pues me le has robado,
¿Por qué así le dejaste
Y no tomas el robo que robaste?

Why then did you so pierce
my heart, nor heal it with your touch sublime?
Why, like a robber fierce,
Desert me every time
And not enjoy the plunder of your crime?

This is wrong on so many levels it is hard to know where to begin.  The fourth line does not even seem grammatical, and I've italicized some stuff that not only does not appear in the original, but creates a wholly false tone. Notice how the original stanza has no adjectives!    

It might be better, though, than John Frederick Nims:

Unready yet to mend
the havoc in this heart--so quick to break it?
Possess and not intend
ever to take it?
Have it by force and forceably forsake it? (1959)

Nims revised his translation years later and came up with something equally risible:

And wounds to show. You'd cleave
clean to the heart, and never think of healing?
Steal it, and when you leave
leave it? What sort of dealing
to steal and never keep, and yet keep stealing?  (1979).

This is St. John of the Cross as translated by Dr. Seuss.  With apologies to the great children's author.

A Spanish 101 student understands the original more easily than either version by Nims.  Aside from the word "aqueste," which would now be "este," the language is transparent.

So-called feminine rhymes in English have a comic quality, associated with Gilbert and Sullivan, tin pan alley, and Dr. Seuss. I guess even before that with Byron.

The wretchedness of so much translation is a great mystery.


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