Tuesday, 18 August 2015

BCLT / Writers Centre Summer School
Translating Poetry 6 Morawski / Parra

On this occasion I have received an account from Carmen Morawski, the translator, herself so it makes sense to allow her to tell the story of her translation of The Flight of Icarus by Josefa Parra The translation I give here is the last version I have from Carmen. Judging by her commentary there may be a later one.

El Vuelo de Ícaro

¿Hace falta equipaje
más allá del fervor?
¿No basta con las alas del deseo?
Mírame, Padre, cómo deslizo
por encima del barro de los días posibles.
Mírame levantarme hasta las nubes,
y envídiame la muerte.

The Flight of Icarus

What luggage necessary
beyond fervour?
Are not the wings of desire enough?
Watch me, Father, as I slide
above the clay of possible days.
Watch me as I soar up to the clouds,
and covet my death.

Although “The Flight of Icarus” is short, a mere seven lines, the very brevity of this poem demands great care in the selection of each translated word. I've struggled over each line of the poem: before the workshop, during our workshop, and since. Even now, I am not entirely satisfied with the poem. I find myself fussing over some of the decisions that initially seemed most simple.

Beginning with the decisions I find most pleasing, what follows is a discussion of some of the decisions that I considered in translating this poem. Given the time limitations in our workshop, not all of these were fully discussed as a group:

I'm happy with the decision to go with the word clay for the word barro. The most common translation would be mud, but given the context of this poem, I thought that clay added just the right touch. I was happy that our workshop members were in agreement.

If only all translation decisions were so easy... the Spanish idiom, Hace falta means that something is missing, or needed. But to translate this line as Is missing luggage would obviously not work. Another possibility that could work is, What luggage is needed, but I wasn't initially happy with the way the poem sounded when I read it this way. Oddly enough, as I read this today, it sounds like the better choice, and it would open the poem in a way that more closely matches the simple, accessible language register in the original Spanish.

Another interesting problem was in deciding how to translate Mírame. Deciding to use the phrase, Watch me, maintains the reflexive nature of the original Spanish in a way that isn't possible with the word, Look, but in doing so, it also necessitates translating the word como into as instead of how

There is also a subtle difference in the resulting meaning. In the end, I decided to go with Watch me, Fatheras because I thought it conveyed the meaning in a more assertive tone than would Look, Father, how.

The final problem I'd like to discuss here has to do with translating the last line of the poem. This is the most powerful line and also the most problematic. In Spanish, the word, envídiame is reflexive, something for which I don't believe there is a suitable English equivalent. Additionally the literal translation for la muerte is the death. For this reason, the literal translation for this line would be envy me the deathObviously, this translation would not do. However, I believe that this might be best translated as covet me death, despite its strangeness. The translation we arrived upon in our workshop, covet my death may feel more natural in English, but it does not mean the same thing as covet me death, a line which begs for a slight pause between the words me and death in a way that does not occur in covet my death. 

In Spanish, the pronoun, la provides both this breath space and a certain cognitive distance. It also gives the word death a more substantive and less abstract feeling, in the same way the definite article, the functions in English when one refers to the desk, the chair, but not the death. For both these reasons I believe that maintaining the reflexive nature of the original, despite its strangeness, now seems like the better translation. As for the decision to go with the word covet over envy, this was something we discussed at some length in our workshop, a discussion for which I am very grateful.


This concludes the posts on the individual translators and the discussion of one of the poems each translated. I will post one more, using Lesley Lawn's translation from the (to her unfamiliar) Hungarian and her poem on translation.

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