Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Some poems by Antonio Machado

Still more about the bittersweet: the popularity of the phrase "we make the road by walking" finally compelled me to do my own translation of the Antonio Machado poem from which it comes. While i appreciate the way the phrase is used as a pithy statement making-it-up-as-we-go-along of self-organizing, the phrase, taken out of context, is seen as an optimistic and hopeful sentiment. However, the poem in which this phrase is found, is a melancholic lament about impermanence. Here's Machado's poem followed by my translation:
PROVERBIOS Y CANTARES - XXIX

Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino y nada más;
Caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace el camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante no hay camino
sino estelas en la mar.
Wanderer, your footsteps
the road, and nothing more;
wanderer, we have no road,
we make the road by walking.
As you walk you make the road,
and to look back
is to see that never
can we pass this way again.
Wanderer, there is no road,
only traces in the sea.

A friend sent me a Robert Bly translation of "Anoche cuando dormía", another of my favourite Machado poems, and i was so upset by his translation that i had to do my own. I like a lot of what Bly does, but i think he really blew it on this one. I'll let you read the poem before i point out Bly's flawed interpretation.
Anoche cuando dormía
soñé, ¡bendita ilusiòn!,
que una fontana fluía
dentro de mi corazòn.
Di: ¿por qué acequia escondida,
agua, vienes hasta mí,
manantial de nueva vida
en donde nunca bebí?

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé, ¡bendita ilusiòn!,
que una colmena tenía
dentro de mi corazòn;
y las doradas abejas
iban fabricando en él,
con las amarguras viejas,
blanca cera y dulce miel.

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé, ¡bendita ilusiòn!,
que un sol ardiente lucía
dentro de mi corazòn.

Era ardiente porque daba
calores de rojo hogar,
y era sol porque alumbraba
y porque hacía llorar.

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé, ¡bendita ilusiòn!,
que era Dios lo que tenía
dentro de mi corazòn.
My translation:
Last night while sleeping
I dreamt - blessed illusion! -
a fountain flowed
within my heart.
I said: why this hidden channel,
water, coming to me,
spring of new life
from which I’ve never drunk?

Last night while sleeping
I dreamt, - blessed illusion! -
that a beehive
within my heart;
and the golden bees
were making,
from my bitter disappointments,
white wax and sweet honey.

Last night while sleeping
I dreamt, - blessed illusion! –
a burning sun blazed
within my heart.

It burned because it gave
the heat of a warm home,
and sun because it illuminated
and because I cried..

Last night while sleeping
I dreamt - blessed illusion! -
that it was God that I had
within my heart.
The thing that bothers me about Bly's translation is that he translates amarguras as "failures" when the word Machado uses actually means "bitternesses". Of course we don't have such a word in English and so i choose "bitter disappointments" as the imperfect choice. Bly's choice of "failures" is a far cry from what Machado is speaking of here. Which is, to my ears, the bittersweet. The juxtaposition of the bees making honey from his amarguras seems to make this obvious. This poem beautifully evokes the notion of the bittersweet which is something much more generative for me than "failure". Machado is not talking about failures but rather about losses. Which echoes the great loss of his life (Leonor) of which most of his poetry speaks. What of life is not bittersweet? That our lives are so short, that there is death and dying (even though we know there is renewal and rebirth) makes of the bittersweet, one of the most profound truths of our humble existence. I think this is one of the aspects of Machado's poetry that makes him still one of Spain's favourite poets.

Finally, one of my colleagues at the Faculty of Environmental Studies sent me this video of Catalan singer Joan Manuel Serrat singing about Soria (from where Machado hailed) and which includes some recitation of Machado's verses (thanks, Tania).

12 comments:

liliannattel said...

That poem about the road is so beautiful & as you say it has a certain poignancy about it that is not reflected in the use of the phrase out of context. And yet in the context, perhaps not as simply optimistic, it is deeper and truer. I am going to put it in my file of poems. Thanks for the translation. Re the other poem, what you say makes sense re the imagery and language use. I would suggest that you can use the word "bitternesses" even though it isn't an English word. It is understandable enough as an English construction to work and would work well within that poem.

chris said...

Thanks, Lilian,

i appreciate the suggestion of using "bitternesses". I did consider it. And may use it in future. It's a tricky matter since, for many people, the neologism would draw their attention and perhaps detract from the poem overall.

Anonymous said...

Chris, I remember so well, going for walks with you on the streets of Soria which are in this video!
Wonderful to read and hear Machado!
Love from Spain,
"Se hace camino al andar"...
Clara

Jen said...

Thank you for this! I really love the "blessed illusion" as opposed to "marvelous error" of Bly...although they are both delicious....

Jen

Anonymous said...

Thanks for translation. Just discovered these poems and wonder how I have lived without them! HBBTT

Anonymous said...

Hey Chris,
I wanted to quote your translation of Caminante. Showing it to my 8th grade class who's now memorized the Spanish. Comparing different translations, but all I see is your first name here...I like to give translators their due, as I am one also...
Tracy

chris said...

I'm pleased that you're sharing it. And the name is Cavanagh

i'd love to know what your grade 8 class thinks of Machado.

peace

chris

Anonymous said...

Beautiful poem thks for translation and how do I read more of your poems

Anonymous said...

Hello Mr. Cavanagh. Great translation!

I was thinking I might like to use your translation of this poem at the front of a book that I'm writing. It's a book about librarians who have critical and social justice practices (see blurb at http://libraryjuicepress.com/critical-journeys.php .

I couldn't find your email anywhere so I thought I leave this comment and maybe you'd reply to me. My name is Bob Schroeder and my email is schroedr@pdx.edu

Thanks!

Bob Schechter said...

I enjoyed this. I have also translated Ayer Cuando Dormia, preserving the rhyme and meter. You can find it here, but the site accidentally uses quote marks where there should be Em dashes. http://www.firstthings.com/article/2012/06/last-night-as-i-lay-sleeping

Chris Cavanagh said...

Thanks, Bob, for sharing your translation. I've been slow to maintain my blog, so please forgive my tardiness. "oh blessed art!" is a good interpretation of Machado's intent.

Anonymous said...

I like your translation very much. And with regard to "amarguras viejas," in particular, I prefer your translation to Bly's. Yet, ideally, I'd go with still a third option: old sorrows.