A few days ago, I came across a poem written by the Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo entitled Miré los muros de la patria mía and noticed that his poem has been translated into English by quite a few authors. The differences are enlightening. Take a look at two of the translations I have come across. This is the original poem written by the Spanish poet:
Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645)
Miré los muros de la patria mía,
si un tiempo fuertes ya desmoronados
de la carrera de la edad cansados
por quien caduca ya su valentía.
Salíme al campo: vi que el sol bebía
los arroyos del hielo desatados,
y del monte quejosos los ganados
que con sombras hurtó su luz al día.
Entré en mi casa: vi que amancillada
de anciana habitación era despojos,
mi báculo más corvo y menos fuerte.
Vencida de la edad sentí mi espada,
y no hallé cosa en que poner los ojos
que no fuese recuerdo de la muerte.
If we were to translate the text literally line by line, the task would not be too difficult. However, the real difficulty arises when the translator takes into consideration poetic elements such as rhyme, type of poem, rhetorical tricks, number of syllables and so on. If the translator forgets about those poetic elements the outcome will certainly be a different poem which will have very little to do with the original.
Consequently, it is paramount to bear in mind that Quevedo’s poem is a sonnet (14 verses) divided into two quatrains (stanza of four verses) and two tercets (stanza of three verses). Besides, the rhyme of the sonnet is ABBA ABBA CDE CDE and each line contains 11 syllables. Perfect.
With these technical elements in mind, to come up with a very good translation is a difficult task indeed. Let us take a look at the entire poem as translated by two different authors:
John Masefield (1878-1967)
I saw the ramparts of my native land
One time so strong, now dropping in decay,
Their strength destroyed by this new age's way
That has worn out and rotted what was grand.
I went into the fields; there I could see
The sun drink up the waters newly thawed;
And on the hills the moaning cattle pawed,
Their miseries robbed the light of day for me.
I went into my house; I saw how spotted,
Decaying things made that old home their prize;
My withered walking-staff had come to bend.
I felt the age had won; my sword was rotted;
And there was nothing on which to set my eyes
That was not a reminder of the end.
Robert Lowell (1917-1977)
I saw the musty shingles of my house,
raw wood and fixed once, now a wash of moss
eroded by the ruin of age
furning all fair and green things into waste.
I climbed the pasture. I saw the dim sun drink
the ice just thawing from the boldered fallow,
woods crowd the foothills, sieze last summer's field,
and higher up, the sickly cattle bellow.
I went into my house. I saw how dust
and ravel had devoured its furnishing;
even my cane was withered and more bent,
even my sword was coffined up in rust—
there was no hilt left for the hand to try.
Everything ached, and told me I must die.
Do they keep the original meaning? Do they respect the structure of the original ? Which one do you prefer? If your Spanish and English are good enough, can you try your own translation?