Thus goes this old Italian axiom. Translator, traitor. And sometimes I join the chorus of disapproving voices whenever a book or poem I have read in the original language has failed to deliver the same hypnotic feeling in the lingo translated into.
I have already addressed this issue in previous posts (here, here, and here). But whereas before I focused mainly on my own experience as a former translator and interpreter (although every now and then I still dabble in the odd translation, especially if it's well paid), today I would like to concentrate more on the travails a language specialist faces in his or her daily labour.
So, traduttore, traditore?
I don't think so. Or at least not most of the time. A translator is a living bridge that serves as a link, and on occasions as the only link between cultures and therefore the onus on him or her is far too big to think of their work glibly or to dismiss it off-handedly. There are many examples of bad translation and one of them can be found in one of the links I provided above. Yet, the positive case studies far outweigh the negative ones. The translator's job is not just to transpose words, phrases and idioms from one language to another, but to place them ever so carefully in the right order and context so as to make the reader believe that what they are digesting is the real McCoy. And that's artistry at its best.
A few weeks ago the owner of one of the blogs I frequent, Willow from Life in Willow Manor, uploaded a couple of poems by two Italian poets. One of them you can find it here and the other one here. What captivated me from the first moment was not just the beautiful images each work evoked, but the careful and detailed translation. Remember, they were being transposed from a romance language to a Germanic one. And the translator pulled it off, in my humble opinion.
Those two poems also reminded me of the time when I came across a translation of one of my favourite pieces ever by the Mexican nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz a few years ago. This was a woman born at a time when Spain still had a strong colonial presence in America, 17th century; when 'to speak too openly was the equivalent of sinning'. Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana's talent shone from a very early age and she used it to further women's cultural rights from her ecclesiastic position. It was her achievements in this field that have led academics and scholars alike to name her Latin America's first femininist. And when you read the poem I have selected below you will find out why. And all thanks to the wonderful power of translation.
N.B. (I found this translation online but could not find the author. Please, be aware that no permission has been sought to reproduce the text and should the author want me to remove it, I will comply immediately with her/his request. Also, should the author want me to credit him/her with the translation of the poem, I will update the post accordingly. Thanks)
You MenSilly, you men
so very adept at wrongly faulting womankind,
not seeing you're alone to blame
for faults you plant in woman's mind.
After you've won by urgent plea
the right to tarnish her good name,
you still expect her to behave
you, that coaxed her into shame.
You batter her resistance down
and then, all righteousness, proclaim
that feminine frivolity,
not your persistence, is to blame.
When it comes to bravely posturing,
your witlessness must take the prize:
you're the child that makes a bogeyman,
and then recoils in fear and cries.
Presumptuous beyond belief,
you'd have the woman you pursue
be Thais when you're courting her,
Lucretia once she falls to you.
For plain default of common sense,
could any action be so queer
as oneself to cloud the mirror,
then complain that it's not clear?
Whether you're favored or disdained,
nothing can leave you satisfied.
You whimper if you're turned away,
you sneer if you've been gratified.
With you, no woman can hope to score;
whichever way, she's bound to lose;
spurning you, she's ungrateful
succumbing, you call her lewd.
Your folly is always the same:
you apply a single rule
to the one you accuse of looseness
and the one you brand as cruel.
What happy mean could there be
for the woman who catches your eye,
if, unresponsive, she offends,
yet whose complaisance you decry?
Still, whether it's torment or anger
and both ways you've yourselves to blame
God bless the woman who won't have you,
no matter how loud you complain.
It's your persistent entreaties
that change her from timid to bold.
Having made her thereby naughty,
you would have her good as gold.
So where does the greater guilt lie
for a passion that should not be:
with the man who pleads out of baseness
or the woman debased by his plea?
Or which is more to be blamed
though both will have cause for chagrin:
the woman who sins for money
or the man who pays money to sin?
So why are you men all so stunned
at the thought you're all guilty alike?
Either like them for what you've made them
or make of them what you can like.
If you'd give up pursuing them,
you'd discover, without a doubt,
you've a stronger case to make
against those who seek you out.
I well know what powerful arms
you wield in pressing for evil:
your arrogance is allied
with the world, the flesh, and the devil!
REDONDILLAS - Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
Hombres necios que acusáis
a la mujer, sin razón,
sin ver que sois la ocasión
de lo mismo que culpáis;
si con ansia sin igual
solicitáis su desdén,
por qué queréis que obren bien
si las incitáis al mal?
Combatís su resistencia
y luego, con gravedad,
decís que fue liviandad
lo que hizo la diligencia.
Parecer quiere el denuedo
de vuestro parecer loco,
al niño que pone el coco
y luego le tiene miedo.
Queréis, con presunción necia,
hallar a la que buscáis
para prentendida, Thais,
y en la posesión, Lucrecia.
¿Qué humor puede ser más raro
que el que, falto de consejo,
él mismo empaña el espejo
y siente que no esté claro?
Con el favor y el desdén
tenéis condición igual,
quejándoos, si os tratan mal,
burlándoos, si os quieren bien.
Opinión, ninguna gana,
pues la que más se recata,
si no os admite, es ingrata,
y si os admite, es liviana.
Siempre tan necios andáis
que, con desigual nivel,
a una culpáis por cruel
y a otra por fácil culpáis.
¿Pues como ha de estar templada
la que vuestro amor pretende?,
¿si la que es ingrata ofende,
y la que es fácil enfada?
Mas, entre el enfado y la pena
que vuestro gusto refiere,
bien haya la que no os quiere
y quejaos en hora buena.
Dan vuestras amantes penas
a sus libertades alas,
y después de hacerlas malas
las queréis hallar muy buenas.
¿Cuál mayor culpa ha tenido
en una pasión errada:
la que cae de rogada,
o el que ruega de caído?
¿O cuál es de más culpar,
aunque cualquiera mal haga;
la que peca por la paga
o el que paga por pecar?
¿Pues, para qué os espantáis
de la culpa que tenéis?
Queredlas cual las hacéis
o hacedlas cual las buscáis.
Dejad de solicitar,
y después, con más razón,
acusaréis la afición
de la que os fuere a rogar.
Bien con muchas armas fundo
que lidia vuestra arrogancia,
pues en promesa e instancia
juntáis diablo, carne y mundo.